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Katana Sword Terminology and the Main Parts of the Samurai’s Sword


Ancient samurai swords are indeed beautiful objects. The curved steel blade, intricately designed handles and protective sheaths are works of art, which is why they are popular collector’s items today amongst amateurs and professionals. People purchase samurai swords for a variety of purposes, but displaying them amid a personal art collection or in a museum is definitely a top reason. They are a dazzling sight to behold, all glistening hard steel and fantastic handles. Not only that, but there is a beautiful and rich history behind these martial arts swords, also known as a “katanas.” This history contributes to the beauty and mystery of these sacred objects.


Hanging a katana in your home or office, or in a museum or cultural center, is sure to spark conversation and debate, as the samurai culture was one of honor and fierce loyalty, but also gruesome violence. Like other ancient war artifacts of medieval nations, samurai swords represent a time in history when class systems were rigidly defined, honor was valued above all else and violence was commonplace.


If you are interested in learning more about the astounding samurai culture through katana collection, read on to discover the basic parts of the sword and common terminology about the katana.


The History of Samurai Swords


Samurai swords were such an important part of samurai culture that they were revered by both samurai and others in the community. Swords were often passed down from generation to generation, bestowed from fathers to sons. Swords were such a big part of the samurai identity that when a samurai was on his deathbed, his sword was beside him. The sword was an extension of the samurai’s soul and was decorated to reflect that. Samurais were never without their swords, even during times of peace. The sword was a part of daily wardrobe for samurai, and it was never to be touched by others, except servants when entering someone’s house (if the samurai’s intentions were noble). The importance of the sword to the samurai cannot be understated. It was treated with respect and reverence by everyone in samurai society.


Because of the historical and cultural significance of the katana, it is important to know the various parts of the sword and the appropriate terminology to use when conversing about samurai swords. This article will provide a quick overview of the parts and terms associated with ancient Japanese samurai swords.


Standard Katana Design


A samurai sword is composed of three main parts: the blade, handle and sheath (or scabbard). However, there are many different variations and varieties of sword. One of the most popular types of sword is the “Shinogi Zukuri.” This is a standard katana.


A katana consists of a long, curved, single-edged blade and a long grip that can accommodate two hands. Katanas generally weighed somewhere in the range of 2 to 2½ pounds to ensure ease of use. Katanas also come in various lengths and blade sizes and shapes. Shorter blades were carried at the samurai’s side, commonly strapped to a belt or cord, while longer ones were strapped to his back.


A note about length: samurai swords are measured in “shaku.” This is the standard unit of Japanese measurement. One shaku is equal to roughly 1 foot. Traditional swords are between 1 and 3 shaku. A sword is measured by taking the size between the tip and the back notch.


Blades of Steel


The blade of a samurai sword is made from a kind of steel known as tamahagane. Translated, tamahagane means “jewel steel.” Construction of a samurai sword is an intricate, time-consuming process. It could take several days or weeks to construct a sword, and it involved many different sword smiths. Multiple craftsmen took part in the process, often accompanied by religious rituals. It was, and still is, considered an art form.


The typical katana blade consists of a point (“kissaki”), tempered point (“boshi”), point line (“yokote”), hard section (“yakiba”), ridge line (“shinogi”), flat section (“shinogi-ji”), grain (“hada”), back (“mune”), softer section (“ji”), temper line (“hamon”), edge (“ha”), groove (“hi”), edge notch (“ha-machi”), back notch (“mune-machi”), engraving (“horimono”), signature (“mei”) and tang (“nakago”). Detailed descriptions of some of these terms are below.


The point of the sword is known as the kissaki. Skillful artisans crafted these points to be incredibly sharp, as one can imagine. This is the most difficult part of the sword to forge. It takes truly gifted artisans to craft the piercing tip. Different sized kissaki have different names. A small point is known as “ko hissaki,” a medium point is “chu kissaki” and a big point is “o kissaki.” A chu kissaki point is the most common size on a katana.

It is common for blades to contain patterns (“hamon”). The appearance of a hamon can help determine the value of a sword. A hamon is a tempering pattern that results from the steel-making process. The hamon can reveal different layers of steel that, again, determines the style and quality of the sword. A hamon on the kissaki of a sword is known as “boshi.”


Hamon is not to be confused with “horimono,” which are designs found either on the blade or the handle. Horimono are artistic pictures that were engraved onto the sword. Commonly, horimono were religious inspired and were carved into the sword to protect the warrior or to identify the artist. Horimono could also be drawings of flowers, bamboo or dragons.


A shinogi is the most prominent part of the blade. It is the ridge line of the blade. Shinogi are most common on long blades, not on shorter ones.

The yokote is the straight dividing line that binds the tip and blade. The yakiba is the angled line near the shinogi that separates the kissaki from the rest of the blade. The shinogi-ji is the area (a flat surface) between the back edge of the blade and the ridge.

The hada is a pattern that is formed from the forging process. It is located on the actual blade itself. Ji is the softer area located above the hamon.


The opposite side of the cutting edge of the sword (the back side) is known as the mune, while the cutting edge of the sword is the ha. Blades will often contain grooves, known as hi. The reason for the hi is practical in that it reduces the weight of the sword and makes use easier. The hi is sometimes known as “blood groove” and appears in various widths ranging from wide, short and long. Because they are known as blood grooves, it was thought that the grooves provided a way for blood to escape during an attack. However, this is a myth, and the presence of these grooves is strictly practical in nature.


Ha-machi are notches on the cutting edge of the sword, towards the beginning. Notches that appear on the back edge of the sword are known as mune-machi.


A signature is often included on the blade of a katana. Signatures, also known as mei, are found on the tang of the blade, or the part of the blade that is gripped in the handle. Signatures could be letters or dates. Again, most katana blades contain a signature, but not all of them do. The swords that do contain a signature can have it on one or both sides of the tang. The tang is covered by the handle, but once the pegs used to secure the handle are removed, the signature is visible. The signature is generally 5 to 7 characters and includes the date, name of the sword-maker and city where the sword was made.   


How to Handle


Moving on to arguably the most intricately designed part of the katana, its handle (known as “tsuka”). There are many symbolic and practical elements to the handle. The tsuka consists of these parts: collar (“habaki”), guard (“tsuba”), spacer (“seppa”), another collar (“fuchi”) and end cap (“fuchi-kashira”), peg (“mekugi”), ray skin (“same’”), ornament (“menuki”) and braid (“ito”).


A katana sword handle contains two collars, a habaki and a fuchi. These bookend the tsuba, or guard, along with spacers, or seppas. The purpose of the collars is to secure the blade to the handle. The tsuba is a decorative guard around the sword where the blade and handle meet. Tsubas are often ornate and symbolize the samurai’s prosperity and wealth. The tsuba also helps keep the sword balanced in battle. Tsuba’s are either made of iron or softer metals, like gold, copper or silver. A tsuba is a popular collector’s item on its own. They are considered valuable heirlooms and are highly sought after.


The “ito” was usually made of braided silk. Today, variations of the ito include leather or cotton. It is wrapped around the handle, over the “menuki,” for grip. The fuchi and fuchi-kashira bookend the grip and are typically made of iron or other quality metals.


The bamboo peg used to secure the blade to the handle is known as the mekugi. And the ray or sharkskin wrapped around the handle is known as samé. All of this is secured with an end cap, or a fuchi-kashira.


The last component of the mighty samurai sword is the sheath, or scabbard. The traditional sheath was known as a “saya.” These offered protection for the katana and enabled easier transport. Today, swords that are displayed are normally displayed in their sheaths. Again, the sheath provides protection, even in a display situation. Never forget that swords are weapons and can be dangerous if not handled respectfully and properly. In fact, because swords are so delicate, the proper way to store a katana long term is to house the blade in what is known as a “shirasaya.” A shirasaya is a different kind of sheath that enables the sword to breath. Oftentimes, only a scabbard and the fittings of a sword will be displayed, while the blade is kept in a shirasaya for safekeeping.


To recap, the samurai sword is made up of many small pieces, all working together to create a magnificent weapon. Whether decorative or practical in nature (or, more often, both), these pieces construct one of the most sophisticated of ancient wartime weapons. Through trial and error, skilled artisans managed to erect an amazing piece of weaponry that is still admired and valued today. If a component is missing or defective, the sword as a whole won’t work. Each piece plays an important part in the effectiveness of the samurai sword.


Now that you are familiar with the different parts and components of the katana, you are able to participate in debates with experts regarding parts of the sword and the symbolic meanings and practical uses behind these parts. You may be interested in purchasing your own katana or doing research to further your interest. If so, you should visit


Purchasing your own authentic samurai sword can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t be overwhelmed. The experts at SOTE will help find the right sword for you. Whether you are a beginner who admires samurai culture and wants to start a collection, or an expert samurai aficionado looking to enhance your own stockpile, SOTE can help. We carry a multitude of styles from every different period. Please find us online at and or visit us on Facebook at