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6 Things You Didn't Know About Traditional Japanese Swords

August 03, 2018

6 Things You Didn't Know About Traditional Japanese Swords

Japan has a long history of bladesmithing that dates back many centuries. During the country's feudal reign, bladesmithing took a turn for the better, with swords becoming stronger and more formidable. Today, Japan is regarded as being the global leader of bladesmithing. In this post, we're going to explore some fun facts about traditional Japanese swords that you probably didn't know.

#1) Swords First Appeared During the Jokoto Period

No one knows when the first sword was made in Japan, but historians say that it likely occurred during the country's Jokoto period. The Jokoto period refers to the ancient times up until the 900 A.D. Of course, these weren't the same high-quality katanas and wakizashis that you see today. Rather, they were rudimentary swords consisting of stone edges, bone fragments and other natural resources.

#2)  The Odachi Was the Largest Japanese Sword

With an average blade length of 3 shaku, which is about 35 inches, the odachi was the largest traditional Japanese sword. Like the katana, it was used primarily as a weapon among samurai warriors. However, the odachi was also used a votive offering when samurai warriors to pray before entering battle. The odachi's exceptionally long blade made it difficult to use, resulting in its gradual decline in the following years.

#3) Traditional Japanese Swords Were Decorated

Although there are exceptions, most traditional Japanese swords were decorated on the blade. After forging the blade, the bladesmith would cut intricate designs into the blade. Decorations were also added to the tang, hilt and other components of the sword, all of which were done strictly for aesthetic purposes. This is one of the reasons why Japanese swords are superior to swords produced in other regions.

#4) Blood Grooves Reduced Blade Weight

When looking at examples of traditional Japanese swords, you'll probably discover that many of indentions running the length of the blade. Known as blood grooves, these indentions are designed to reduce the blade's weight. By removing small amounts of metal from the blade, the sword becomes lighter and easier for samurai warriors to handle.

#5) A Special Person Polished Them

The bladesmith didn't polish the swords he created. Rather, he handed this task off to someone else. This person, known as a tohishi, invested hundreds of hours into polishing the blade. It was a meticulous task that resulted in a cleaner and more finished sword.

#6) The Bladesmith Signed Them

Bladesmiths typically signed swords after creating them. On the tang, the bladesmith would inscribe his name, allowing other people to see who created it. Traditional Japanese swords with genuine, authentic signatures on the tang are highly sought after by collectors because of this historical value and significance.

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