A Slash Through History: The Katana

  • Although it would look awesome in the kitchen, the following item is meant for much more: the traditional Katana. As one of the most famous swords of all time, it has a lot of history on its beautifully curved back. Let’s take a look.

    The Katana is one kind of the traditional swords in Japan. It is easy to recognize: the slightly bent blade with a single edge, the decorated guard in round or square form and the likewise decorated grip to hold it with two hands. The sword carried in the belt of a Samurai? Most likely a Katana.

    History of Swords

    Swords were produced in Japan for centuries. They are divided into eras. There is the Joukoto (around 900 A.D.), Koto (900 – 1596), Shinto (1596 – 1764), Shinshinto (1764 – 1876), Gendaito (1876 – 1945) and the Shinsakuto (1953 until today).

    Characteristics of the Katana

    The Katana appeared around 1400. It was a new style of sword developed from the old “tachi”-swords and therefore also got his name. Katana-style means “cutting-edge up”. The name itself simply indicates a new style of blade such as “Uchigatana” or “Tsubagatana”.

    This new kind of sword also changed the ways of combat. Warriors were able to draw and strike with a Katana in a single motion, making the fight fast and heavily dependent on the first move. Swordsmiths recognized this trend of change and produced their swords according to it. Under these circumstances the length of a Katana in the 16th century varied from 70-73 cm down to 60 cm and about 100 years later was restored back to the original length.

    A Katana could also be paired with a smaller blade called “wakizashi” or “tantō”. The wearing of both weapons was called “daishō” and it showed the social power and honor of a Samurai.

    History of the Katana

    During the Meiji period the Katana slowly lost its significance with the decline and modernization of the Samurai. The Katana wasn’t used anymore and with the forbiddance to openly carry weapons in public it nearly vanished. Until the time of the 2nd World War only military officers were allowed to carry swords but they were produced industrially with lower quality and a different appearance. The traditional knowledge regarding sword making became lost in the process.

    After it was forbidden to make swords from 1945 to 1953, smiths could start working again but under strict rules. Even today they still must undergo an apprenticeship of five years, they can only forge two longswords a month and every sword must be registered with the government.
    Today most of the Katana are produced industrially and with other cheaper materials and methods. The traditional Katana is presently a rare and expensive item but they are loved by collectors worldwide.