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20 Types Of Japanese Swords | Guide To Samurai Swords Explained!

Apr 18, 2024Shopify API

Wondering what are the different types of Japanese swords? Well, check out this list of different legendary Japanese sword names as well as their functions. Read further to know more.

Step into the world of Japanese swordsmanship and discover the various types of traditional Nihonto.

Each blade, from the revered Katana to the Wakizashi, has a story etched into its steel. This introduction will unveil the history, craftsmanship, and unique characteristics that define these legendary weapons of the samurai.

Types of Japanese Sword: Summary

Types of Japanese Sword Distinctive Characteristics
Katana a curved, slender, single-edged blade
Tachi More prominent curvature than Katana
Chokuto Straight, single-edged blade
Wakizashi slightly curved blade with a square-shaped hilt
Nodachi Blade length is at least 3 shaku
Kodachi Shortest sword, short blade
Shin Gunto Japanese ceremonial sword
Tanto Sharp, single-edge, short
Ninja Sword Straight and short
Uchigatana Refined curved, single-edged blade
Tsurugi extremely sharp, two-handed blade

Types of Japanese Swords

Katana

This is probably the most famous of all types of Japanese swords. The reason why it is so popular is also because of its use in modern pop culture. you will see Katana being used in anime movies as well as modern Samurai movies. 

The Katana Sword is also known as the Samurai sword. When translated in English Katana means sword. The Katana was a very important tool and equipment of every Samurai in ancient and feudal Japan. 

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Source: Shutterstock

You can easily distinguish this sword from other swords because of its characteristics. The Katana has a slightly curved and single-edged blade. Katana’s length is almost 60 cm.

You must have seen the handle of European swords; these European swords do not have a long handle. However, the Katana has a long grip that lets you use both your hands to hold it. To protect the hands of the warrior either a circular or squared guard is used.

The Katana is known worldwide for its superior and excellent cutting ability and sharpness. Also, using a Katana is no joke. As compared to all the medieval swords, a Katana can easily chop off the entire limb. 

Tachi

As compared to the Katana, the Tachi has a curvier and longer blade. It is because of this reason that the sword is named so. 

When translated in English, Tachi means ‘big sword’. This sword was used quite extensively before the 15th century. It is believed that this sword is the predecessor of the famous Katana swords. 

This is the sword that was used by Japan’s warrior class and was used on horseback. These types of Japanese swords are used as war swords have an extra length to it. 

The blade of the sword is also curvier, which comes in extremely handy during wartime. The curvy blade helped the warriors to cut the foot of enemy soldiers. 

The warriors used to wear the Tachi suspended with the edge facing downwards. This way of carrying the Tachi also helps you differentiate it from a Katana.

Nagamaki

Nagamaki is a type of Japanese sword that emerged during the Heian and Kamakura periods (8th to 14th centuries). 

It is characterized by its long grip and a blade similar to that of a katana, but mounted on an extended handle. The name "nagamaki" can be translated as "long wrapping" or "long wrapping sword," referring to the way the handle is traditionally wrapped with cords or leather.

The nagamaki typically had a blade length ranging from 60 to 90 centimeters, although some variations could be longer. The handle, also known as the tsuka, measured around 30 to 45 centimeters, resulting in an overall length of over one meter. 

This made the nagamaki longer than most other Japanese swords, giving it an extended reach in combat.

The design of the nagamaki was influenced by the need for effective use on the battlefield, particularly against cavalry. Its long handle allowed for two-handed wielding, providing greater control and power. 

The extended reach and versatile cutting capabilities of the blade made it effective against opponents on horseback and in close-quarters combat.

The construction of the nagamaki was similar to other Japanese swords, with a single-edged blade and a curved profile. 

It was typically forged using the differential hardening technique known as "hamon," which created a visible temper line along the blade. 

The handle was often made of wood and covered with samegawa (ray or shark skin) and wrapped with silk or cotton cords in a hineri-maki (twist-wrap) style.

Naginata

The naginata is a traditional Japanese polearm that consists of a long shaft with a curved blade attached to the end. 

It is often referred to as a "glaive" or "halberd" in English. The naginata has a rich history and was widely used by samurai warriors, particularly by female warriors known as "onna-bugeisha."

The naginata typically features a wooden shaft, known as the "ebu," which ranges from around 1.8 to 2.5 meters in length. 

At the end of the shaft, there is a curved blade, similar in design to a katana but larger, with a length of approximately 30 to 60 centimeters. The blade of the naginata is single-edged and sharpened on the concave side, with a cutting edge on the convex side.

The naginata's design allowed for a versatile and effective weapon. It provided reach advantage over opponents, allowing the user to strike from a safer distance while still maintaining significant cutting power. 

The curved blade facilitated slashing, slicing, and hooking techniques, making it effective against both mounted and unmounted opponents. The length of the shaft also allowed for effective thrusting attacks.

Originally, the naginata was developed as a weapon for foot soldiers to counter cavalry charges. However, it eventually became associated with female warriors, particularly during the feudal era of Japan.

Onna-bugeisha, female samurai warriors, were trained in the use of the naginata and played a crucial role in defending their households and communities.

Yari

The yari is a traditional Japanese polearm that was widely used by samurai warriors during feudal Japan. It is often referred to as a "spear" in English. 

The yari consisted of a long wooden shaft with a blade attached to one end, designed for thrusting and slashing attacks. It was a versatile weapon that played a significant role in Japanese warfare.

The yari typically had a shaft length ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 meters, although variations existed. The blade attached to the shaft was usually straight and double-edged, resembling a long dagger or spearhead. 

The shape and size of the blade could vary, with some yari featuring wider blades for slashing, while others had narrower, more needle-like blades for thrusting.

The construction of the yari involved attaching the blade to the shaft using metal ferrules and often securing it with wooden pegs or bindings for stability and durability. The blades were typically forged from steel and had a sharp cutting edge. 

Some yari also had decorative elements or patterns engraved on the blade, showcasing the craftsmanship of the weapon.

The yari was renowned for its effectiveness in battle due to its reach advantage and versatility. Its long shaft allowed samurai warriors to engage enemies from a safer distance, giving them an advantage against opponents armed with shorter weapons. 

The blade allowed for both thrusting attacks to pierce armor and slashing attacks to cut through flesh and limbs. The yari could be used in formation as part of a unit or individually, depending on the situation.

Tessen

The tessen is a unique weapon in Japanese history, known as the "iron fan." It was not a traditional sword but rather a folding fan made with iron or steel ribs. The tessen served a dual purpose as a fan for cooling oneself and as a concealed self-defense weapon.

The tessen was primarily used during the feudal era in Japan, particularly during the Edo period (17th to 19th century). It gained popularity among the samurai and ninja as a discreet tool for self-defense in situations where carrying a conventional weapon was prohibited or suspicious.

The tessen typically had a sturdy frame made of iron or steel ribs, allowing it to be used as an offensive weapon. 

The outer covering of the fan was often made of decorative materials such as silk or lacquered paper, which concealed the metal framework. When opened, the tessen appeared to be an ordinary folding fan.

In combat, the tessen was employed in various ways. The solid construction of the iron or steel ribs allowed the tessen to be used as a striking implement. It could deliver powerful blows to an opponent's vital areas, such as the head, neck, or limbs. 

The pointed ends of the ribs could be utilized for stabbing attacks, while the flat surface of the fan could be used for blocking or parrying incoming strikes.

The tessen was not only a close-quarters weapon but also a defensive tool. It could be used to deflect or redirect an opponent's weapon, providing an opportunity to counterattack. 

The tessen's lightweight and portable nature made it a convenient weapon for surprise attacks or ambushes, especially for individuals who needed to conceal their true intentions.

Shirasaya

Shirasaya refers to a specific type of mounting for Japanese swords rather than a distinct type of sword itself.

 It is a simple and minimalistic style of scabbard (saya) and handle (tsuka) that is used for storing and preserving the blade of a sword, typically a katana. The term "shirasaya" can be translated as "white scabbard" or "plain wooden scabbard."

Shirasaya mountings are characterized by their clean, unadorned appearance. The scabbard is made of wood, usually in a light natural color, with a smooth and simple design. 

The handle is also made of wood and does not have any decorative elements such as wrapping or guard. Instead, it is often shaped to provide a comfortable grip.

The primary purpose of the shirasaya is to protect the blade when it is not in use. The wooden scabbard helps prevent moisture and humidity from affecting the sword, reducing the risk of rust and corrosion. 

The lack of intricate fittings or decorations allows for easier maintenance and cleaning of the sword.

Shirasaya mountings were commonly used for long-term storage or transportation of swords. They were also used during times of peace when the sword was not intended for regular use. 

Samurai warriors would often remove their swords from their more elaborate and ornate mounts and store them in shirasaya when not on the battlefield.

Shikomizue

A shikomizue (仕込み杖, lit. "prepared staff") is a Japanese sword disguised as a walking stick. It is a type of hidden weapon (kobudō) that was developed by the ninja during the Sengoku period (1467–1568). 

The shikomizue is a hollowed-out staff or cane that contains a hidden blade. When sheathed, it looks like an ordinary walking stick.

The shikomizue was used by ninjas for self-defense and for assassinations. The blade of the shikomizue is typically shorter than a katana, making it easier to conceal. The shikomizue can also be used as a walking stick, which made it a very versatile weapon.

The shikomizue is a popular weapon in Japanese culture. It has been featured in many movies, anime, and video games. 

Kogatana

Kogatana is a type of small utility knife that was commonly carried alongside a main Japanese sword, such as a katana or wakizashi. The term "kogatana" translates to "small blade" in English. 

It served various practical purposes and was an essential tool for samurai and other individuals during feudal Japan.

The kogatana typically had a straight, single-edged blade that measured around 10 to 20 centimeters in length. The blade was often forged from high-quality steel and had a sharp cutting edge. 

The handle of the kogatana was usually made of wood or sometimes wrapped with cord for better grip.

The primary function of the kogatana was as a utility knife. It was a versatile tool used for everyday tasks such as cutting ropes, opening packages, carving wood, or preparing food. Its compact size and sharp blade made it ideal for precision cutting and detail work.

In addition to its practical uses, the kogatana also served as a backup weapon. While not as effective as a larger sword in combat, it could still be used for self-defense in close-quarters situations. 

The kogatana was easily concealed and could be quickly drawn as a surprise weapon if the main sword was unavailable or impractical to use.

The kogatana was typically carried in a small pocket or slot within the saya (scabbard) of the main sword.

Yoroi Toshi

Yoroi Toshi is a Japanese word that means "armor piercer." It can refer to a type of sword or dagger that was used to pierce armor, or it can refer to a specific move in the Street Fighter fighting game series.

In the context of swords, yoroi toshi typically refers to a short sword or dagger with a thick blade. These swords were designed to pierce armor, and they were often used by samurai warriors.

Yoroi toshi swords were typically made of high-quality steel, and they were often decorated with intricate patterns.

In the context of Street Fighter, yoroi toshi is a move used by the character Ibuki. The move is a powerful projectile that can be used to knock back opponents. 

Yoroi toshi is a very effective move, and it is one of Ibuki's most popular moves.

Kinko Tachi

A Kinko Tachi is a Japanese sword that was made during the Muromachi period (1336-1573). It is characterized by its golden color, which comes from the use of shakudo, a type of alloy that contains copper, gold, and silver. 

Kinko Tachi are often decorated with intricate patterns, such as flowers, dragons, and birds.

Kinko Tachi were originally made for the Japanese samurai class. They were used for both ceremonial and practical purposes. Today, Kinko Tachi are prized by collectors and martial artists alike.

Chokuto

It is believed that the Chokuto is one of the earliest types of  Japanese swords in the history of Japanese swords. It is also believed that this sword originated in China and arrived before the 10th century in Japan. 

Despite being so ancient, this sword is quite special. Unlike most other swords, this one was neither differentially hardened nor folded. 

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Source: Shutterstock

Because it has a very old history, it is believed that the technique that was used for tempering and folding swords was not used commonly. 

It is a sword with a basic style. It has a one-edged and straight blade. I am sure you must have seen this type of sword in classic Japanese movies. This type of sword was used on foot for slashing or stabbing the enemy. The warriors wore this sword hung from the waist. 

Wakizashi

This sword, when translated, means ‘side insertion’. It is yet another traditional Japanese sword that was used as a backup weapon. It is also believed that the early warriors used this sword as a sidearm. 

Usually, the Wakizashi sword is paired with the Katana by the Japanese samurai. By pairing these two types of Japanese swords together, they form a Daisho, which means ‘large and small’ when translated. 

The properties and features of the Wakizashi sword are quite similar to that of a Katana. However, unlike the Katana, the length of Wakizashi is shorter. 

The average length of the blade for the Wakizashi sword falls between 40 and 60 cm. This is the sword that was the chosen option when fighting in confined spaces. The sword was also used at the same time along with the Katana. 

Nodachi

Nodachi, when translated to English, means ‘field sword’ and it is quite a huge two-handed sword that is used in Japan. When it comes to its appearance, it looks almost similar to a Tachi sword. However, unlike Tachi, this sword is larger and longer. 

Tsurugi,
Source: Shutterstock

Because the Tachi is large in size, it is most commonly used by foot soldiers on open battlefields. The soldiers carry this sword with the flat edge against their shoulders. The blade also has to face outward.

Kodachi

Kodachi is one of the types of Japanese swords that is commonly used by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The shape of this sword is almost similar to the Tachi. 

The length and size of this sword, however, are shorter and smaller. Usually, this sword is about 60 cm long, or even less. 

When we look at the features of Kodachi, we may often mistake it for Wakizashi because of the similarity in their length, size, and using techniques. 

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The way you can recognize and differentiate a Kodachi from a Wakizashi is that the Kodachi has a fixed length whereas the size of the Wakizashi may differ and generally depends on the size of the Katana. 

Kodachi is normally used as a companion sword or as a self-defense weapon. It is also the perfect weapon for regular Japanese citizens. This sword was most commonly used by travelers, caravans, and merchants.

Shin Gunto

This is the sword that was adopted and adapted by Japanese army officers. The Shin Gunto was a part of the Imperial Japanese army’s uniform. This was the norm until the end of World War II. Most of the Shin Gunto swords were fitted with machine-made blades.  

Tanto

You must know all about daggers. This is a Japanese-styled dagger, which used to be known as the stabbing weapon in the past. These are one of the sharpest types of Japanese swords.

The dagger features either a single or a double-edged blade. The average length of this dagger is not more than 12 inches. Also, this sword does not have a curved blade. Rather, it is straight and is usually an accompaniment to the Katana.

 The wearers of Tanto can carry it as a self-defense weapon at all times. You do not need to leave it outside the door when paying a visit to somebody.

Ninja

Are you a fan of Japanese culture just like me? If yes, then I am sure that you already know about the Ninja sword. I absolutely love seeing the warriors holding the Ninja sword in their hand. The Ninja sword is truly legendary.

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Source: Shutterstock

Ninja sword is also known as Ninjaken or Shinobigatana. This is the sword that was used by the Shinobi of feudal Japan. 

I love this beautifully carved sword that has distinctive features as compared to other types of Japanese swords. It is sleek and straight and comes with a square guard.

Uchigatana

These are types of Japanese swords that came at the beginning of the 16th century. This is a weapon that you will most commonly see being used by the samurai class. The blade of this sword can be between 60 and 70 cm. 

The sword is short and light, which makes it extremely convenient for you to hold with just one hand. You may get confused between the Uchigatana and the Tachi. However, these two types of swords have different characteristics that can help you differentiate between the two. 

The most visible feature of Uchigatana is that it is worn with the edge up in the samurai-s belt. The best part about Uchigatana is that it can be used both in a confined fighting space or on horseback. It is extremely convenient and effective. 

Tsurugi

Types Of Japanese Swords
Source: Shutterstock

This is an extremely special type of sword. It has a straight and double-edged blade. You may feel that this sword closely resembles the Chinese Jian. It is believed that this sword was one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan. 

Japanese Swords Types: FAQs

What are the 3 samurai swords called?

The three main types of samurai swords are called the katana, wakizashi, and tanto. These swords are collectively known as the "Nihonto," which translates to "Japanese sword."

  • Katana

The katana is the longest and most well-known of the three swords. It typically has a curved, slender blade with a length of around 60 to 80 centimeters. 

The katana is characterized by its distinctive single-edged, curved design and is known for its cutting power and versatility in combat. It was the primary weapon of the samurai and was traditionally worn slung through the belt with the cutting edge facing upward.

  • Wakizashi

The wakizashi is a shorter sword that is considered the companion sword to the katana. It typically has a blade length between 30 to 60 centimeters. The wakizashi shares similar design features with the katana, including the curved blade, but it is shorter in length. 

It was worn by samurai as a secondary weapon and was used for close-quarters combat, indoor fighting, or as a backup weapon. The combination of the katana and wakizashi was known as the "daisho."

  • Tanto

The tanto is a small dagger or knife with a blade length usually less than 30 centimeters. It has a straight or slightly curved blade and was primarily used as a stabbing weapon. 

The tanto was employed by samurai as a utility knife, for self-defense in close-quarters combat, or for ritualistic purposes. It could also be carried as a sidearm in conjunction with the katana and wakizashi.

These three swords were not only weapons but also symbols of the samurai's status, honor, and craftsmanship. They are highly regarded for their exquisite designs, intricate fittings, and the skill required to forge them.

The art of Japanese swordsmithing, known as "sword making" or "swordsmithing," is considered a traditional craft and continues to be practiced today by a select few artisans.

What is the most feared katana?

The most feared katana in terms of reputation and legend is the sword known as "Muramasa." These blades were said to be exceptionally sharp and possessed a reputation for bloodthirstiness. 

Muramasa swords were believed to cut through anything and were associated with a curse that made their wielders more prone to violence. 

While the "cursed" nature is part of folklore rather than historical fact, Muramasa blades have remained the subject of fascination and fear in Japanese sword lore.

What is a big katana called?

The big katana is known as an odachi or nodachi. This is a traditional Japanese sword that used to be used by the samurai class of feudal Japan. It’s one of the most known types of Japanese swords.

What is Daishoo?

Daishoo is the formal set of swords, which contains the katana and the wakizashi or tsurugi. Both the swords are worn with the cutting edge facing up. The short sword was worn by the samurai even when they were indoors. 

What is the deadliest Japanese sword?

The deadliest Japanese sword is Nanbokucho period Katana. Literally, it means Old Sword, but it was not the first sword to be made in the period. The period began in 1336 and ended in 1392. The most famous swords to be made during this period are late Kamakura period swords and earlier Muromachi period swords.

The Various Types of Japanese Swords

There are several different types of Japanese swords, each with its own distinctive features. These also have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. 

For the Japanese people, their swords are a symbol of their pride. I hope this guide helped you get a better understanding of the various types of Japanese swords. 

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