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Types of Far Eastern Swords



While sword-forging in the West certainly came a long way between the Iron Age and Medieval period, some of the most powerful blades were created far to the east. Far Eastern swords were created using different techniques than in the West, and this led to different varieties of blades than were seen in Europe. Japan is home to a very rich history of sword-making, and features a large number of different types of sword styles throughout its history. Here, we'll take a look at a few of the different types of blades created on the island nation. While Western swords tend to be classified by design and shape, swords of the East largely follow the same general design (a sharp edge on one side with a consistent width through the handle), and thus are broken up by size and handle.


Curved Blade Swords


The classic Japanese sword, the katana, is a medium-sized sword with a slightly curved blade. To measure the length of a Japanese sword, one uses shaku, a unit of measurement roughly equal to one foot. Shaku is taken from the average distance between nodes on bamboo. A typical katana has a blade two to three shaku in length, and is worn with the blade facing upwards through the belt. A sword with a blade the length of a katana, but with a handle almost equal in length, is known as a nagamaki. If the blade is between one and two shaku, it is either a wakizashi or kodachi, with kodachi being slightly more curved and having a longer handle.


A longer, more curved blade than a katana signifies a tachi, which were worn with the blade down, suspended from the belt (or obi). Swords with even larger blades, sometimes four to five shaku in length, are odachi (very big swords) or nodachi (field swords).


Straight Swords and Other Blades


Japan also created a few types of straight-bladed swords, though they were less common after the tenth century. During the tenth century, Japanese weaponsmiths began developing folding and hardening techniques that allowed them to create the swords we know today. Prior to this, two common straight-bladed swords included the tsurugi, a two-edged sword roughly the size of a katana, and the chokuto, a single-bladed sword that tended to be slightly smaller.


Other common weapons created by Japanese smiths include the naginata, the yari, and the tanto. Naginata are pole weapons that end in a curved, one-sided blade, and were used for slashing at range. Yari are spears that can either end in a single point, or have cross-bars to help infantry pull cavalrymen off their horses and tangle enemy weapons. A tanto is a small dagger, which can have either a single or double-bladed edge. Japanese swordmakers went on to develop an astonishing array of weapons, from various arrowheads to swords taller than most men. There are too many varieties to list here, but each type of Eastern blade offers a unique look at ancient warfare.