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Katana History & Culture

The first use of the term katana to describe a sword occurs as early as the Kamakura period (1185–1333), but the actual history of bladed weapon craftsmanship in Japan stretches back over twenty centuries. At first, Japanese swords were simple variations of the chinese swords that were straight, double-edged iron blades. The first original Japanese swords that are considered the precursor of the 'modern' katana began to appear during the early Heian period (around 700 CE).

Katana was mainly used by the samurai, the military nobility of feudal Japan (1185-1600) up through the Edo period (1603–1868). The increased popularity of the katana among samurai came about because of the changing nature of close-combat warfare. The quicker draw of this sword was well suited to combat where victory depended heavily on fast response times. The katana was worn and thrust through a belt-like sash (obi) with the sharpened edge facing up. Ideally, samurai could draw the sword and cut the enemy in a single motion.

With the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period, Japan began a rapid process of industrialization and westernization. Regarding the military, the weapons shifted from swords to firearms. The use of the katana in Japanese daily life came to an end at almost the same time with the Haitōrei (sword prohibition) Edict of 1876, which allowed only police and military personnel to carry them. Many of the swordsmiths were required to close their businesses, leading to the near extinction of katana swordsmithing until 1906. At that time, two well-known swordsmiths were appointed as imperial household artists, thus preserving the skills of the swordsmiths, a cultural legacy that has been passed on to the present day.