When most people think of traditional Japanese swords, they immediately envision the katana. Originating during Japan's Muromachi period (1392 to 1573), this curved, single-edged sword has become synonymous with quality craftsmanship. Even today, it's regarded as being the world's highest quality sword. Before the katana was invented, however, Japanese swordsmiths produced a different, albeit still similar, sword known as the tachi. And if it weren't for the tachi, perhaps we wouldn't have the katana today.
What Is the Tachi?
The tachi is one of the oldest traditional Japanese swords to date. This classic sword first appeared during the country's Koto period (900 to 1596), with swordsmiths producing a variety of different variants in the years to follow. In the early days of its inception, the tachi featured a 27 9/16- to 31 1/2-inch blade with prominent curvature.
Not surprisingly, the tachi was used primarily by Japanese samurai warriors as a fighting weapon during the region's feudal period. It was forged using iron-based river sand mixed with carbon-based coal. The combination of these two ingredients resulted in a high-carbon steel that was instrumental in the region's swordsmithing craft. The high-carbon steel allows Japanese swordsmiths to create swords with a strong blade that could still bend and flex somewhat under pressure.
Tachi vs Katana
Because they both feature a single-edged, curved blade, some people assume that the tach and katana are the same. Although they share some similarities, however, these are two unique traditional Japanese swords with their own unique characteristics. For starters, the katana had a shorter blade than its tachi counterparts. Reports show that traditional Japanese katana blades were about 23 5⁄8 to 28 3⁄4 inches long, compare to 27 9/16 to 31 1/2 inches for the tachi.
The tachi also featured a prominently curved blade when compared to the katana. To the unsuspecting eye, the two swords may appear to have the same curvature, but the katana's curvature was almost always less than that of the tachi's.
Finally, the katana was -- and still is -- the only traditional Japanese sword that was worn with the cutting edge facing up. The tachi, like all other traditional Japanese swords, was worn with the cutting edge facing down. This nuance may seem subtle enough, but positioning the katana with the cutting edge facing up allowed samurai warriors to draw it more quickly.
As you can see, there are some striking similarities between the tachi and the katana. They both featured a curved, single-edged blade, and they were both made of high-carbon steel. However, the katana featured a shorter blade with less curvature and was worn with the cutting edge facing up.