Weapons Used by the People of Japan

Weapons Used by the People of Japan

Japanese swords are classified according to their size, blade and usage. There are many different types of swords and they all may look the same to the layperson. But there are diverse characteristics, some subtler than others, as forging styles differed through the ages. The oldest type of sword is the tsurugi. The katana is more recent and the shin-gunto was used around World War II. Every sword has its own unique character signifying courage, skill and authority.

Unique Character

From straight blades to double-edged swords, worn edge up or edge down, dagger- or spear-like, wooden or metal, each Japanese sword is unique and forged for a specific purpose such as training, dueling or war. The grandfather of all swords, the tsurugi, had a double-edged, straight blade, while the katana was developed as an answer to weapons control regulations during the Muromachi period. It was like the medieval tachi, except shorter, with less curvature and designed for use on foot rather than a battlefield horse. Arguably the most famous are the samurai swords. The zanbatto, made famous in the film The Seven Samurai, wasn’t a battle sword at all, but a demonstration piece to show off iron forging skills. Still, it could reportedly cut through both a horse and its rider in one slash. The bokken was a wooden training sword modeled after the katana and popular with ninja. The lower-quality shin-gunto, also modeled after the katana, used machined steel with ground edges. Other swords include the tanto, the nodachi, the naginata, the daisho pair, and the Hollywood ninjato.

Stein's Japanese Sword Guide

Types of Japanese Swords

Japanese Sword Information and History


Swords were used on the battlefield, for training, to duel for honor, for daily use, for suicide and for show. The dagger-like tanto evolved into the name harakirigatana or “the blade you use to cut your stomach open when committing suicide,” which is what most term “harikari.” Wives of samurai husbands used throwaway swords and trained secretly to defend their villages while their spouses were off on the battlefield. Today that training is called naginata, a “women’s martial art.”

Women's Swordplay

Basic Drawing and Cutting Uses


Japanese swords are revered for their craftsmanship. Early artisans forged steel not by scientific weights and measures, but by ritual and ceremony passed down from master to apprentice. They held the blade to the sun for the perfect color. Some swords, like the famed samurai sword, were crafted using only the best iron, layer-by-layer--33,000, in this case. Today most swords are machine-made using scientific precision measures.

Blade Technology and Manufacture

Crafting a Samurai Sword

The Yamato Tradition

Warrior Maintenance

The sword identified warriors throughout the ages as personally courageous. Although now they are used mostly for show and for martial arts, history has signified their use in battle as the field of choice. Warrior usage was a dirty, bloody business and every sword had to be cleaned often and well. The warrior class, or bushi, cleaned their swords methodically as their swords were a symbol of their warrior class. Today, the main concern is not to knick the sword or let it rust.

Katana Sword Maintenance

Sword Care and Maintenance

East vs. West

One of the main differences in eastern and western swords is that Japanese swords slash, whereas Western swords stab. Eastern nations use curved blades; Western nations prefered straight blades. Although Japanese blade weight is not unlike Western sword blade weight, the blades tended to be somewhat narrower with thicker cross-sections. In both, blades are classified by length.

The Genesis of the Sword

Japanese Blades