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Ancient Japanese Samurai Swords

Shashank Nakate Mar 9, 2020
Ancient Japanese samurai swords were of three types - the wakizashi, katana and tanto. These swords held an important place in the weapons used by Samurai warriors. Here is a short account of information on these ancient swords.

Quick Fact!

The Koto Period (900-1530 AD) saw the samurai sword evolving into a fine piece of weaponry having a single-sided blade. These swords had a curved shape unlike the earlier, straight swords.
The sword was one of the important weapons used for self defense till the invention of modern weapons. In Japan, samurai swords were popular because they were used by these great warriors.
Ancient Japanese swords were known by the name nihonto. There were many types of nihonto swords, with the katana being the most important.. The katana is similar to the tachi sword and is long, curved and single-edged.

Who is a Samurai?

Samurai was the term used to refer to high ranking officials of the Japanese army. The word 'samurai' is actually a Chinese verb, which means to accompany or wait upon a person who belongs to the upper ranks of society. In the Japanese language, the word saburau is used for describing this term.

Samurai Swords from Ancient Japan

Earlier, the samurai swords came with a straight blade. The curved sword was introduced only after the 8th century.


The katana has been used by Samurais from ancient times. This sword is known for its sharp edges. The length of blade of the katana is 60 cm, while its guard is either square-shaped or circular. A katana sword with a single edge and curved blade is called 'sori'.
The 'Muromachi Period' (1392-1573 AD) was the time when the katana sword originated. Length of the blade of katana underwent a lot of changes in the due course of time.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, length of the katana varied between 70-73 cm, while it was 60 cm in the first half of the 16th century. In the latter half of the 16th century, the length of this sword was once again increased to 70 cm.

Parts of the Katana Sword

  • Kissaki: It is the tip of the katana sword.
  • Mune: The mune is the back of katana sword
  • Ha: The blade edge of the katana sword is known as 'Ha'.
  • Saya: The sheath used for a katana is called Saya
  • Kojri: The kojri is the end cap of the Saya (sheath).


The wakizashi sword is a bit shorter than the katana and it varies between 30-60 cm in terms of blade length. The Samurais made use of this sword along with the katana. When used in a pair, the katana and wakizashi are together known as daisho.
The wakizashi was used as a companion sword and the samurais wore it on the side of the katana. It was first used in the period from 1332-1369 AD. During the Momoyama period, the government had set rules as to who could use the swords. Samurais were allowed to use the wakizashi.
However, these rules were not obeyed and the members of the yakuza gang and few townsmen also started using this sword. The wakizashi sword was used as a back-up or extra weapon in times of an emergency. Enemies were decapitated with the help of these swords. The wakizashi was also used for committing ritual suicides.


A unit called 'Shaku' (13.96 inches) was used to measure the length of Samurai swords. In modern-day Japan, one Shaku is equivalent to 11.93 inches.


The tanto is actually a double-edged knife with a length of 15-30 cm. Tanto was used as a stabbing weapon; the tanto originated in the Heian period. This knife had become popular during the Muromachi and Shin-Shinto periods. The specialty of the tanto knife is that it doesn't have ridge lines; in fact, it has got flat sides.
Yoroidoshi, a kind of tanto knife had thick cross-sections and was used for the purpose of piercing armors. Sometimes, the tanto was used as an alternative to wakizashi in the daisho. Nowadays, tanto knives with blunt wooden edges are used for the purpose of training or demonstrations while teaching the martial arts.
The ancient Japanese samurai swords were used for different purposes in different time periods; in short , these swords were developed as per the requirements and were the product of their times. This made the samurai swords a useful and almost indispensable weapon to fight with.