Japanese swords have been around for centuries and represent a significant piece of Japanese history. Historians have separated the production of Japanese swords into several specific time periods which include:
- Jokoto – While the official starting date is unknown, ancient swords were developed until around 900 A.D.
- Koto – From the years 900 to 1596 old swords were being developed in Japan.
- Shinto – New swords began to be produced from 1596 to 1780.
- Shinshinto – From 1781 to 1876 newer swords began to be produced.
- Gendaito – Beginning in 1876 and ending around 1945 was the production of modern swords in Japan.
- Shinsakuto – Since 1953, newly made swords have been produced and are still being produced today.
There a many different varieties of Japanese swords differing in size, shape, use, and method of manufacture. Three of the most commonly known Japanese swords are the Katana, Wakizashi, and Tachi.
Katana were one of the first traditionally made Japanese swords often associated with the samurai of feudal Japan. The sword is characterized by its unique appearance: a curved, slender single-edged blade with a circular guard and a long grip leaving space for both hands. Katana became more popular with samurai as the nature of close-combat warfare began to change. Because victory depended largely on quick response times, the fast draw of the katana was ideal for fighting in combat. The katana was worn through a sash around the belt with the sharpened edge facing up, allowing the samurai to draw the sword and strike their enemy all in one single motion.
Preceding the development of the katana, the tachi was another traditionally made Japanese sword also associated with the samurai of feudal Japan. Original tachi swords were produced during the Koto period, before the year 1596. Unlike the katana sword, the tachi was traditionally hung from the belt with the sharp cutting-edge facing down. This type of sword was more effective for warriors riding on horseback.
The wakizashi sword is another traditional Japanese sword worn by the samurai of feudal Japan and often paired with the katana. The wakizashi is a smaller sword with a blade between 30 and 60 cm long. When the wakizashi was worn with the katana, it was referred to as the daishō, which translates literally as “big-little”. Only samurai were authorized to wear the daishō. Wearing the daishō was a representation of social power and personal honor for the samurai.