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Sword Spotlight: The Japanese Kodachi

December 15, 2017

Sword Spotlight: The Japanese Kodachi

Meaning "short sword," the kodachi is a traditional Japanese sword wielded by samurai warriors during the country's feudal age. It lives up to its namesake by featuring a shorter construction than others like the katana. However, don't let this fool you into thinking the kodachi was a lackluster weapon. On the contrary, it was a popular choice of sword among samurai warriors in feudal Japan.

Origins of the Kodachi

The kodachi's origins can be traced by to the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), during which Japan was ruled by the Kamakura shogunate. This was a critical time for Japan, as the region was under constant attack by Mongol armies. Japan was able to defend against most of these attacks. In 1274, however, more than 600 ships carrying 23,000 infantry as well as siege weapons, combustible missiles and other equipment make land. This Mongol attack would have been successful if it weren't for a typhoon, which wiped away the invaders.

Japan viewed this as being "divine intervention," believing the Gods had saved them from the Mongols. However, this didn't stop Japan from developing new weapons to better defend against subsequent attacks. One of the weapons developed for this purpose was the kodachi.

Characteristics of the Kodachi

The kodachi was designed with the same mount type as the tachi, including the same. Unlike it's counterpart, though, the kodachi was less than 23.62 inches (60 cm). This made is shorter than the tachi and katana.

Samurai warriors would generally use the kodachi as a sidearm. In feudal Japan, samurai warriors would carry two different swords: a long sword like the katana and a short sword like the kodachi. The practice of carrying two swords was so common that it was given its own name: daishō. In 1629, the Japanese government enacted a law requiring all samurai warriors to carry two swords when on active duty.

Many people confuse the kodachi with the wakazashi due to their similarities in length and design. There's major difference between the two, though: kodachi were designed with a fixed length, whereas wakazashi were designed with a length relative to that of the katana wielded by the samurai warrior. If a samurai warrior wielded a long katana, he or she would typically use a long kodachi as well.

Because of its length, the kodachi was available to citizens of Japan. This is in stark contrast to longer swords like the katana, which were only available to samurai warriors.

Photo credit: David Sanz

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