With its curved single-edge blade, the Japanese katana is one of the world's most recognizable swords. It originating during Japan's Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), during swordsmiths produced the sword using high-carbon steel. Even after all these years, the katana remains a popular sword among collectors and martial arts practitioners alike. There are several different parts of a traditional Japanese katana, however, some of which we're going to explore in this blog post.
The blade is obviously the most important part of a traditional Japanese katana. In the past, swordsmiths produced the blade using tamahagane steel with differential heat treatment. By coating the spine in a thick layer of clay, swordsmiths could cool it more slowly than the edge, thus resulting in a strong edge and flexible spine.
The blade collar found in the katana is known as the habaki. Once the swordsmith created the blade, he would mount the habaki to it at the bottom. Like a hand guard, the habaki was primarily designed to protect the samurai warrior's hands from self-injury. If a warrior accidentally grabbed the bottom part of the katana's blade, he would touch the habaki instead of the blade itself.
The katana rarely featured a pommel like those used in European swords. It did, however, have a handle. Known as the tsuka, it was often designed with intricate carvings and included the swordsmith's signature.
The saya is the scabbard in which the katana is stored. While it may sound insignificant compared to the blade, the saya played an important role in preserving the katana and protecting it from damage. Traditionally, lacquered wood was used to make saya, though other materials have since been introduced to the craft.
Attached to the saya is a piece of cord known as a sageo. Using the sageo, samurai warriors could easily carry the katana without necessarily securing it to their uniform.
The traditional Japanese katana also features a tsuba, which is the hand guard. Normally, the tsuba is either circular or square. Although it does have some aesthetic value, it's used primarily to protect the samurai warrior's hands from self-injury. Without a tsuba, there's a greater risk the samurai warrior would cut his hands when drawing or sheathing the katana.
As you can see, a lot work went into creating a traditional Japanese katana. From forging the blade to designing the habaki, tsuba, saya and more, it was a time-consuming and laborious process.