Katana swords are Japanese long swords with the edge on one side which started to be used in Japan in the 5th century. Most Japanese use this word in general, when referring to a sword. The weapon was usually worn together with a short sword similar to the katana called the wakizashi, both of which were used by Japan’s elite group of warriors called samurai. The two swords worn together are called daisho, which can be translated literally as “big-small”. They were a symbol of the social position and personal honor of the samurai.
The long katana swords were used in battle, while the short sword was considered an emergency weapon which was used for stabbing, fighting in tight spaces or seppuku – ritual suicide. The katana sheath is known as saya and tsuba is the sword’s hand guard, which together with other parts are considered true works of art.
The katana was primarily used for cutting, although its curved edge allows it to be effective for stabbing. Although the design is made for holding the handle with both hands, there are some grip techniques with one hand. According to tradition katana is carried on the belt, in sheath, blade up, making drawing the sword as quick as possible. The initial purpose for which it was used is long gone, although there are still numerous martial arts focused on swordsmanship.
Katana in Japanese society
Katana swords were considered the souls of the samurai. Although many weapons from samurai days lost popularity, the katana swords remained equally appreciated and famous until today. A large part of Japanese culture revolves around the samurai and their swords. Throughout Japanese history for a long time, only samurai were allowed to wear the sword, and for a peasant to wear one was reason enough to be killed. In samurai history there were many sad moments when disgraced samurai (called ronin) were forced to sell their swords. Since then the sword remained almost without soul.
History of Japanese sword
In the sixth century, the legendary Emperor Jimmu, the founder of the Japanese empire, ruled Japan almost entirely. Meanwhile the Japanese learned the art of building the sword smiths from China. The first Japanese swords were made the same as the Chinese, straight, with one or two sharp edges. Japanese swordsmiths quickly adapted the sword to the needs of the warriors at that time. According to a legend, the katana was created by a blacksmith named Amakuni in year 700, along with a purification technique by folding steel. Over time along with other modifications the katana swords became sharpened on one side and designed better for the cutting process.
From the twelfth century, for a long time, Japan was engulfed in civil war, and for five centuries Japan has entered a dark period marked by long and brutal wars. Katana was extensively used during that time, and when the first firearms appeared at about 1600 the samurai refused to use them and considered it dishonorable. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the samurai class was abolished and public wearing of katana swords was prohibited. That marked the beginning of the end of both the samurai and their trusted swords.