The katana is the iconic Japanese sword, so it is essential that we understand its characteristics. Here we explore its history and core philosophies.
A katana is a two-handed sword composed of the Tsuka, Pouch (Kashira), and Saya pieces, each designed to reflect its master’s individual aesthetic.
One of the most widely used katana blade shapes in Japan, it offers speed and cutting power. Distinguished by a distinctive line separating its finish from the point, this type is often distinguished by a “yokote,” or dividing line, running along its main blade section from finish to point.
Shobu zukuri is another variation of shinogi zukuri that uses similar techniques but without the yokote yanmar blades, most often found on wakizashis and tantos.
Kissaki Moroha-Zukuri, also referred to as Kiriki Hazuzukuri or Hira Zukuri, features a double-edged blade with a curvature characteristic of its design.
Kogarasu maru, a blade belonging to Heike clan in Japan and now part of their Imperial Collection., can be considered as an intermediary sword between straight Japanese blades (chokuto) and the more complex and curved styles found in tachi and katana swords. Its most famous example is Kogarasu maru.
Kissaki-moroha-zukuri was popularly used as ceremonial swords among nobilities; later when shinogi-zukuri with its curved blades became popular among warriors, this shape gradually fell out of use by warriors; nevertheless, kissaki-moroha-zukuri kept its value as a beautiful and elegant ceremonial blade, and some samurai used them after their age had ended.
The Gendaito Era
The soujiyi is one of the most well-known traditional Japanese swords and was introduced during Muromachi period as part of ritual and ceremonial use or carried into battle for ritual use or war purposes.
As fighting methods shifted away from cavalry to mass infantry, smiths produced shorter blades known as uchigatana that could be worn through belt loops for thrusting, usually 70 to 73 cm long.
By the Genroku era, katana had returned to their classic longer shape; also at this point came more extravagant hamon designs.
Miyairi Akihira, Gassan Sadakazu and Kasama Ikkansai Shigetsugu became well-known smiths after the Meiji Restoration for crafting swords with classical themes that are still revered today. Blades made post-1876 Haitorei decree are commonly known as Gendaito (Gendai-to in Japanese), including ones from Taisho, Showa and Heisei periods.
The Masamune Style
Masamune, one of the greatest swordsmiths in Samurai history, is best-known for creating Soshu-style blades characterized by intricate hamons and ji-nie finishes. He was responsible for spearheading this design revolution.
Muramasa was also well known for the legend surrounding their sword fight: each placed their best blade in a river with the cutting edges facing upstream; but only Muramasa’s was successful at cutting through anything – leaves, fish and even air that passed by it!
Honjo Masamune would soon meet an unfortunate end. When Japan adopted nonviolence at the close of World War II, Tokugawa clan head Takehiko Tokugawa turned over his Nihonto collection to police in Mejiro for safekeeping; and here the Honjo Masamune met its end – most likely being melted down along with many other historical swords from his collection.
The Forging Process
The katana is the iconic Japanese sword, easily identifiable by its characteristically curved blade with either circular or squared guard, long handle for two-handed grip, and two-pronged spiked pommel. A powerful weapon with deep cultural significance and beauty.
Legendary swordsmiths who created these extraordinary blades were known for their meticulous attention to detail and unparalleled artisanship, creating blades that not only delivered in battle, but were easier to manufacture and more readily available as well.
Forging a katana requires an intricate process. It starts by melting iron using the Tatara-buki technique, which involves melting black iron sand found at nearby beaches to achieve rapid reduction at lower temperatures and form stronger and more refined steel – this specialized steel known as Tamahagane is essential to its design and performance; it gives the sword its ability to bend without breaking and creates its beautiful lines down its middle called hamon.