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Sword Spotlight: Tanto

May 05, 2017

Sword Spotlight: Tanto

With an average blade length of 25 to 28 inches (60 to 73 cm), the katana is a moderately long sword. Other traditional Japanese swords like the wakizashi and kodachi, however, were designed with shorter blades. Among the shortest Japanese swords is the tanto, which we're going to discuss in this blog post.

History of the Tanto

The tanto is a short-bladed sword that originated out of Japan's Heian period (794 to 1185). It was originally worn and used by samurai warriors as a weapon. A traditional Japanese tanto features either a single or double-edged blade with a blade length of approximately 5.9 to 11.8 inches (15 to 30 cm).

Like most the Japanese swords, however, the tanto has evolved over the years. During the Heian period, it was used primary as a stabbing -- though sometimes slashing -- weapon.

During the transition into Japan's Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), the tanto's purpose began to shift towards aesthetic. While some samurai warriors continued to use the small-bladed sword as a weapon, it gradually became more ornate. However, this didn't slow down its production. On the contrary, more swordsmiths began making the tanto towards the middle and latter years of the Kamakura period.

Several new styles of the tanto were developed throughout the years. Swordsmiths used the tachi style, for instance, to make the tanto longer and wider.  Later -- when the Hachiman faith became prevalent throughout Japan -- swordsmiths began designing the tanto with more detailed carvings in and around the hilt.

Common Tanto Blade Types

  • Shinogi: while commonly used in most other Japanese swords, shinogi is rarely found in the tanto. It's characterized by a central ridge running vertical along the blade between that separates the edge bevels and the frame of the blade.
  • Hira: characterized by the edge bevels extending from the blade to the back. The hira-style tanto does not feature separate blats between; thus, creating a triangular-shaped cross-section.
  • Shobu: similar to shinogi zukuri but doesn't have a yokote (angle between the long cutting edge and point section). Instead, the shobu-style tanto features a smoothly curved edge.
  • Moroha: another rare blade type for the tanto, moraha is characterized by a diamond-shaped cross-section with a tapering blade that comes to a sharp point.
  • Kanmuri-otoshi: shaped like a hira or shobu, but with one distinguishable feature: the Kanmuri-otoshi featured one sharp edge and one semi-dull edge.
  • Hochogata: this style of tanto is characterized by a short, wide blade. The legendary swordsmith Masamune is said to have favored this style.



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