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6 Interesting Facts About the Japanese Tanto

February 19, 2018

6 Interesting Facts About the Japanese Tanto


The tanto is a traditional Japanese sword that was worn by samurai warriors. With an average blade length of just 5.9 to 11.8 inches (15 to 30 cm), it was significantly shorter than the katana and even the wakizashi. Today, we're going to explore the tanto while revealing six interesting facts about this historic sword.

#1) It Was Often Concealed

Because of its small size, the tanto was often concealed in the samurai warrior's clothing. Before samurai warriors in feudal Japan began carrying the wakizashi and tanto combination, they often carried a tachi and tanto, the former of which was visible while the latter was concealed.

#2) It Was Invented During the Heian Period

The tanto was invented during Japan's Heian period (795 to 1192), making it one of the region's oldest swords. In the Kamakura period (1192 to 1333) to follow, however, the swordsmiths began designing with the tanto with an emphasis on aesthetics. This led to the production of hira and uchi-sori styles.

#3) It Could Pierce Armor

Japanese swordsmiths acknowledged the need for armor-piercing weapons when the Mongols invaded the region. Often equipped with hard leather-boiled armor, samurai warriors struggled to overcome their Mongolian opponents. But the tanto proved useful in this regard, as it was developed with thick cross sections that was capable of piercing through armor. There was even a name for this special type of tanto: yoroi toshi.

#4) Commoners Carried Them

While typically wielded by samurai warriors, some commoners also carried a tanto. Women, for instance, carried a type of tanto known as a kaiken in their obi (sash) for self-defense. Its small size made it a particularly effective weapon for self-defense.

#5) More That a Dozen Blade Types

The tanto wasn't designed with a single type of blade. Rather, swordsmiths used more than a dozen different blade types for the tanto. The hira was the most common blade type used in the tanto's construction. It featured edge bevels around the perimeter of the blade with no flats in between. The shobu was another common blade type used in the tanto. It featured a central ride running the entire length of the blade.

#6) The Tanto Is Popular Again

Like other traditional Japanese swords, the tanto faded from popularity after World War II due to restrictions on weapon production. In recent years, however, there's been a growing interest in this bladed weapon. Today, the tanto is highly sought after by collectors and martial arts practitioners alike.

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