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Types of samurai swords

An ancient elite class of men, the chosen few, only the best of the best had the honor to be called Samurai in medieval Japan. They made up the ruling class of the military and later rose to be the highest class in the Japanese hierarchy. These Samurai warriors were equipped with a range of weapons such as spears and guns, and bows and arrows, but their main weapon and symbol was the sword. There are five main streams of the samurai sword, namely Katana, Wakizashi, Tanto, Nodachi, Tachi, Chokuto, Kodachi, Odachi, Uchigatana swords. 


The most iconic and well-known of all the Samurai swords; the katana is distinguished by its long blade and handle that is made to accommodate two hands and strike from a large distance. It has a curved, slender, single-edged blade with a circular or squared guard. The Katana has a set of dimensions that separate it from other samurai swords. A traditional katana will measure 3 to 4 feet in total length, with the hilt taking up one-fourth of the total and a characteristic curvature of more or less than 1 inch. 


The wakizashi is similar to the katana but shorter in length. The average Wakizashi is about 50 cm long and was usually worn together with the katana by the Samurai of feudal Japan. When worn together the pair of swords was called daishō, which translates to “large and small”. This sword acted like a side weapon and was worn by the Samurai at all times. 


The Tanto, although not technically qualifying in the category of swords, is the traditional Japanese dagger. It can have a single or double edge. It acts like a Wakizashi and is worn at all times. The main purpose of a tanto is to be used as a stabbing instrument but having a pretty sharp edge, it can be used to slice and cut. The Tanto has become more ornate over the years and towards the end of the Samurai era, they were mostly used as decorative pieces, and still are mostly used in decorations to this date. 


The sword is the predecessor to the Katana; the tachi is a japanese sword that is more curved and longer than a katana. Has an average length of 75 cm. It was primarily made for Samurais on horseback where they needed more length and curvature to effectively charge foot soldiers. 


ōdachi ("big big sword")/Nodachi ("big field sword"): Very large tachi, some in excess of 100 cm, and usually a blade of the late 14th century.


Nodachi approximately translates to “field sword” or “great sword”. They are larger and longer than a typical katana. They were typically used as weapons for foot soldiers and were effective against cavalry and open field encounters. They are not very effective in close range or constricted space.


A shorter version of the tachi, but with similar mounts and intended use, mostly found in the 13th century or earlier.


A straight single edged sword that was produced prior to the 10th century, and without differential hardening or folding.


A development from the tachi in the 15th century. Worn with the edge upwards in the obi.

While all of these are types of bladed weapons used by the noble Japanese warriors, each and every one has its unique characteristics and uses. It would be unfair to ignore all the different types of swords, just to popularize one over the others. A wider approach is needed to recognize the skill and genius of the Japanese Samurai and craftsman.