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What Is the Japanese Wakizashi?

November 14, 2018

What Is the Japanese Wakizashi?

The katana wasn't the only world-renown sword to have originated from Japan. Another sword that's commonly associated with Japan's history is the wakizashi. As shown in the photo here, it featured a similar design as the katana, including a curved, single-edged blade. However, the wakizashi is an entirely unique sword with some key differences from the katana. To learn more about the wakizashi and how it became one of the most common weapons used by samurai warriors during Japan's feudal period, keep reading.

Description of the Wakizashi

The wakizashi is a small "companion" sword that features a curved, single-edged blade. According to Wikipedia, the wakizashi was typically constructed with an average blade length of 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm). Therefore, it was shorter and smaller than its katana counterpart.

Not only is the wakizashi smaller than the katana; it also featured a different cross section. Japanese bladesmiths often created the wakizashi with a narrower cross section so that it was a sharper, more deadly weapon. The downside to this type of cross section, however, is increased wear and tear of the blade. Samurai warriors who carried and used the wakizashi would have to maintain the blade by regularly sharpening it with stone rocks.

Why Samurai Warriors Carried the Wakizashi

You might be wondering why Japanese samurai warriors carried the wakizashi. After all, the katana was undoubtedly a powerful weapon, perhaps even more so than the wakizashi. Well, samurai warriors typically carried a katana or similar long sword, but they were also required to carry a smaller "companion" sword. In feudal Japan, there was a law requiring samurai warriors to carry both types of swords, a long and short sword. So, in addition to a katana, samurai warriors would often carry the wakizashi as well.

History of the Wakizashi

The wakizashi is believed to have originated sometime during 15th or 16th century Japan. This, of course, was Japan's feudal period when powerful warlords, known as shogun, and their families ruled the land.

The wakizashi became even more popular in the years to follow, partly because its accessibility to non-samurai citizens. The law restricted swords with a long blade to members of the samurai class. Because the wakizashi featured a shorter blade, however, it could be owned and carried by chonin class citizens, such as merchants. It wasn't uncommon for chonin to carry the wakizashi while traveling. If they encountered a bandit, they could use the short sword to defend themselves.

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