Japanese swords were typically stored and carried in a sheath. The sheath served several purposes, one of which is protection from moisture and damage. By storing their sword in a sheath, samurai warriors could prolong the life of their blade. Additionally, carrying a sword in a sheath protected the samurai warrior from accidentally self-injury. For these reasons and others, traditional Japanese swords were almost always stored and carried in a sheath.
While sheaths produced during feudal Japan featured a wide variety of sizes, shapes and styles, there are two specific types: the shirasaya and the jindachi-zukuri. Both sheath types supported traditional Japanese swords like the katana, tanto and wakizashi. However, there are some key differences distinguishing the two. So, what's the difference between the shirasaya and the jindachi-zukuri?
The shirasaya, meaning "white scabbard," is a traditional Japanese sword sheath that's typically used for storage. As shown in the photo above, it features an all-wood construction for maximum protection. In the past, the shirasaya was made using a variety of wood types. Today, however, it's typically made using either bamboo or nurizaya wood.
When not using or carrying their sword, samurai warriors in feudal Japan would place it in a shirasaya for safe storage.
The jindachi-zukuri, on the other hand, is a traditional Japanese sword sheath used for carrying a sword. It featured a greater emphasis on aesthetics, containing intricate designs, carvings and colors. Like its shirasaya counterpart, the jindachi-zukuri was also contructed of wood, with the most common wood variety used being nurizaya wood.
Prior to the invention of the jindachi-zukuri, samurai warriors would store and carry their swords in a leather sheath. Unfortunately, this often resulted in damage to the blade. Leather would absorb and hold moisture, transferring some of that moisture to the sword's blade while subsequently causing it to rust. With its non-lacquered wooden construction, however, the jindachi-zukuri proved more effective at protecting against rust and corrosion; thus, making it a popular sheath choice for samurai warriors during feudal Japan.
These are just two of the most common types of sheaths for traditional Japanese swords. Other types of sheaths include the kyū-guntō, shin-guntō, and kai-guntō. Keep in mind, however, that the two most dominant sheaths used during feudal Japan were the shirasaya and the jindachi-zukuri. The former was used for storage, whereas the latter was used for carrying a sword.