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What Was the Nagamaki?

January 29, 2018

What Was the Nagamaki?

While not as popular or well known as the katana, the nagamaki is another traditional Japanese sword commonly used by samurai warriors during the region's feudal era. It featured the same high-carbon steel as its katana counterpart but with a few major differences. To learn more about the Japanese nagamaki, keep reading.

History of the Nagamaki

It's unknown exactly who invented the nagamaki or when they did it. However, the general consensus is that it appeared sometime during Japan's Kamakura period (1192 to 1333). By the middle of this period, the nagamaki reached its peak usage, after which its popularity began to decline in favor of other traditional Japanese swords.

According to various reports, the Japanese warlord Uesugi Kenshin, daimyō of Echigo Province had an army of special bodyguards equipped with nagamaki. Because of this, it's safe to assume the nagamaki was an effective weapon.

Overview of the Nagamaki

As shown in the photo above, the nagamaki features an exceptionally long handle -- longer than any other sword produced and used during feudal Japan. While different swordsmiths produced the nagamaki in different sizes and specifications, the sword typically featured a blade length of 2 or more feet and a handle of equal length. In other words, half the nagamaki's total length is the blade while the other half is the handle.

Like the katana, the nagamaki featured a single edge. This proved far more effective than a double-edged sword design for a few reasons. First, one edge made the nagamaki easier to maintain. Rather than sharpening two edged, for instance, samurai warriors and swordsmiths only had to sharpen a single edge. Additionally, single-edged swords like the nagamaki were stronger because of the variations of metal thickness and integrity between the edge and spine.

Nagamaki Usage

The nagamaki was wielded just like the katana: with the samurai warrior using two hands in a fixed position to hold it. It was primarily used for slicing and sweeping attacks by infantry.

Because of its long length, the nagamaki proved highly useful against cavalry. Samurai warriors could use the nagamaki to attack cavalry at a safe distance, protecting themselves from harm.

It's important to note that the nagamaki was largely unrestricted by the Japanese government. While the government placed restrictions on other swords like katana, tanto and wakizashi, it did not place restrictions on the nagamaki. This allowed swordsmiths to design the nagamaki according to their own preference and without worrying about government-imposed specifications.

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