Japanese Swords: A History
The first swords known to appear inwere actually gifts sent to queen Himeko fromin 240 A.D. Approximately forty years after this event multiple iron swords were imported tofromas well.
It wasn't until the fifth century that steel swords were manufactured in, probably from a process learned from Chinese or Korean immigrants. Unlike the common curved blades to come in the future, however, these iron blades were straight and single-edged in nature.
By the sixth century, Japanese swordsmiths had created the unique steel hardening technique that would become the trademark for future Japanese weaponry. But it wasn't until the eighth century that Japanese blades became curved as fighting moved largely from ground combat to warfare on horseback.
By the Heian Era (794-1184) Japanese smiths had devised the process of forging blades with a hard outer surface and soft inner core. They also began signing their blade typically with their name and date on the tang, a custom referred to as “tachi.”
The rise of the Samurai class came about in 1184-1333, starting when Minamoto no Yorimoto moved his shogunate to(for which this era is named). became something of afor swordsmiths and other artisans to gather, encouraging experimentation in sword styles galvanized by Masamune, one of the most famous Japanese swordsmiths of all time. Swords of this era were wider than earlier predecessors, and although highly improved in nature still had deficiencies that were illuminated during battles with Mongol hordes in 1274 and 1281. Points of these swords were often broken fighting Kublai Khan's warriors and demonstrated a need for improved design.
Starting in 1334, wars raged for over sixty years between the splintered Northern and Southern courts of Emperor Godaiko and Emperor Komyo. It was during this era that ground warfare (versus fighting on horseback) came back into fashion and a demand for longer swords began. Called odachi, these blades were typically wielded with two hands and the direct forefather to the katana.
When the wars between the two courts finally ceased there was only a brief period of peace before the era known as Senkogu-“the time the country was at war.” It was during the beginning of this era that the tachi (longer blade) was shortened to make them easier to draw for foot soldiers. The curvature of the blade also moved forward to accommodate ground fighting.
It was during the second part of this era that swords were shortened even further for ground fighting and the modern katana was brought into widespread use. Carried with the cutting edge facing upwards to allow the sword to be drawn in one motion, the katana was thereby differentiated from the tachi that hung with the edge facing downwards.
In 1542 warfare changed dramatically when the Portuguese first introduced firearms to. Armor for Japanese soldiers became thicker to protect soldiers from bullets, and thicker and longer swords were created to cut through this heavier protection.
Fortunately this era of warfare did not last long, and under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu a feudal society was created that would remain unchanged for multiple generations (until 1867). Called the Edo Era, swords created from 1596 on (when the Era began) are often referred to as “new swords” versus “old swords” of earlier ages. During this long period of time, smiths were able to exchange ideas about forging and construction, and techniques for smelting were also improved. Swords in the earlier part of the era are referred to as Shinto (“new swords”) followed by shinshinto (“new new swords”). In 1876 swords were referred to as gendaito (“contemporary swords”) followed by shinshakuto (“modern swords”) beginning in 1953 to the present age.
After the Second World War, however, Americans forbade the manufacture of swords in. It was not until 1953 when the practice became legal again, resurrecting an ancient tradition that had almost become extinct. Fortunately there were still master smiths who could teach future generations about sword and katana production, a practice that continues until today.