|Place of origin||Japan|
|Produced||Muromachi period (1392-1573) to present|
|Blade length||approx. 60-80 cm (23.62-31.5 in)|
|Blade type||Curved, single-edged|
|Hilt type||Two-handed swept, with circular or squared guard|
A katana (? or ) is a Japanese sword characterized by a curved, single-edged blade with a circular or squared guard and long grip to accommodate two hands. Following tachi, it was used by samurai in feudal Japan and worn with the blade facing upward. Also, since the Muromachi period, many old tachi were cut from the root and shortened, and the blade at the root was crushed and converted into katana. The official term for katana in Japan is uchigatana () and the term katana (?) often refers to single-edged swords from around the world.
Pronounced [katana], the kun'yomi (Japanese reading) of the kanji ?, originally meaning dao or knife/saber in Chinese, the word has been adopted as a loanword by the Portuguese. In Portuguese the designation (spelled catana) means "large knife" or machete.
The katana is generally defined as the standard sized, moderately curved (as opposed to the older tachi featuring more curvature) Japanese sword with a blade length greater than 60.6 cm (23.86 inches) (Japanese 2 Shaku). It is characterized by its distinctive appearance: a curved, slender, single-edged blade with a circular or squared guard (tsuba) and long grip to accommodate two hands.
With a few exceptions, katana and tachi can be distinguished from each other, if signed, by the location of the signature (mei) on the tang (nakago). In general, the mei should be carved into the side of the nakago which would face outward when the sword was worn. Since a tachi was worn with the cutting edge down, and the katana was worn with the cutting edge up, the mei would be in opposite locations on the tang.
The production of swords in Japan is divided into specific time periods:
Katana originates from sasuga (), a kind of tant? (short sword or knife) used by lower-ranking samurai who fought on foot in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Their main weapon was a long naginata and sasuga was a spare weapon. In the Nanboku-ch? period (1336-1392), long weapons such as ?dachi were popular, and along with this, sasuga lengthened and finally became katana in the Muromachi period (1337-1573) . Also, there is a theory that koshigatana (), a kind of tant? which was equipped by high ranking samurai together with tachi, developed to katana through the same historical background as sasuga, and it is possible that both developed to katana.
The first use of katana as a word to describe a long sword that was different from a tachi, occurs as early as the Kamakura Period. These references to "uchigatana" and "tsubagatana" seem to indicate a different style of sword, possibly a less costly sword for lower-ranking warriors. Starting around the year 1400, long swords signed with the katana-style mei were made. This was in response to samurai wearing their tachi in what is now called "katana style" (cutting edge up). Japanese swords are traditionally worn with the mei facing away from the wearer. When a tachi was worn in the style of a katana, with the cutting edge up, the tachi's signature would be facing the wrong way. The fact that swordsmiths started signing swords with a katana signature shows that some samurai of that time period had started wearing their swords in a different manner.
Traditionally, yumi (bows) were the main weapon of war in Japan, and tachi and naginata were used only for close combat. The ?nin War in the late 15th century in the Muromachi period expanded into a large-scale domestic war, in which employed farmers called ashigaru were mobilized in large numbers. They fought on foot using katana shorter than tachi. In the Sengoku period (period of warring states) in the late Muromachi period, the war became bigger and ashigaru fought in a close formation using yari (spears) lent to them. Furthermore, in the late 16th century, tanegashima (muskets) were introduced from Portugal, and Japanese swordsmiths mass-produced improved products, with ashigaru fighting with leased guns. On the battlefield in Japan, guns and spears became main weapons in addition to bows. Due to the changes in fighting styles in these wars, the tachi and naginata became obsolete among samurai, and the katana, which was easy to carry, became the mainstream. The dazzling looking tachi gradually became a symbol of the authority of high-ranking samurai.
On the other hand, kenjutsu (swordsmanship) that makes use of the characteristics of katana was invented. The quicker draw of the sword was well suited to combat where victory depended heavily on short response times. (The practice and martial art for drawing the sword quickly and responding to a sudden attack was called Batt?jutsu, which is still kept alive through the teaching of Iaido.) The katana further facilitated this by being worn thrust through a belt-like sash (obi) with the sharpened edge facing up. Ideally, samurai could draw the sword and strike the enemy in a single motion. Previously, the curved tachi had been worn with the edge of the blade facing down and suspended from a belt.
From the 15th century, low-quality swords were mass-produced under the influence of the large-scale war. These swords, along with spears, were lent to recruited farmers called ashigaru and swords were exported. Such mass-produced swords are called kazuuchimono, and swordsmiths of the Bisen school and Mino school produced them by division of labor. The export of katana and tachi reached its peak during this period, from the late 15th century to early 16th century when at least 200,000 swords were shipped to Ming Dynasty China in official trade in an attempt to soak up the production of Japanese weapons and make it harder for pirates in the area to arm. In the Ming Dynasty of China, Japanese swords and their tactics were studied to repel pirates, and wodao and miaodao were developed based on Japanese swords.
From this period, the tang (nakago) of many old tachi were cut and shortened into katana. This kind of remake is called suriage (). For example, many of the tachi that Masamune forged during the Kamakura period were converted into katana, so his only existing works are katana and tant?.
From the late Muromachi period (Sengoku period) to the early Edo period, it was sometimes equipped with a katana blade pointing downwards like a tachi. This style of sword is called handachi, "half tachi". In handachi, both styles were often mixed, for example, fastening to the obi was katana style, but metalworking of the scabbard was tachi style.
In the Muromachi period, especially the Sengoku period, anybody such as farmers, townspeople and monks could equip a sword. However, in 1588 Toyotomi Hideyoshi conducted a sword hunt and banned farmers from owning them with weapons.
The length of the katana blade varied considerably during the course of its history. In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, katana blades tended to have lengths between 70 and 73 centimetres (28 and 29 in). During the early 16th century, the average length dropped about 10 centimetres (3.9 in), approaching closer to 60 centimetres (24 in). By the late 16th century, the average length had increased again by about 13 centimetres (5.1 in), returning to approximately 73 centimetres (29 in).
Swords forged after 1596 in the Keich? period of the Azuchi-Momoyama period are classified as shint? (New swords). Japanese swords after shint? are different from kot? in forging method and steel (tamahagane). This is thought to be because Bizen school, which was the largest swordsmith group of Japanese swords, was destroyed by a great flood in 1590 and the mainstream shifted to Mino school, and because Toyotomi Hideyoshi virtually unified Japan, uniform steel began to be distributed throughout Japan. The kot? swords, especially the Bizen school swords made in the Kamakura period, had a midare-utsuri like a white mist between hamon and shinogi, but the swords after shint? have almost disappeared. In addition, the whole body of the blade became whitish and hard. Almost no one was able to reproduce midare-utsurii until Kunihira Kawachi reproduced it in 2014.
As the Sengoku period (period of warring states) ended and the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the Edo period started, katana-forging also developed into a highly intricate and well-respected art form. Lacquered saya (scabbards), beautifully engraved fittings, silk handles and elegant tsuba (handguards) were popular among samurai in the Edo Period, and eventually (especially when Japan was in peace time), katana became more cosmetic and ceremonial items than practical weapons. The Umetada school led by Umetada Myoju who was considered to be the founder of shinto led the improvement of the artistry of Japanese swords in this period. They were both swordsmiths and metalsmiths, and were famous for carving the blade, making metal accouterments such as tsuba (handguard), remodeling from tachi to katana (suriage), and inscriptions inlaid with gold.
During this period, the Tokugawa shogunate required samurai to wear Katana and shorter swords in pairs. These short swords were wakizashi and tant?, and wakizashi were mainly selected. This set of two is called a daish?. Only samurai could wear the daish?: it represented their social power and personal honour. Japanese swords made in this period is classified as shint?.
In the late 18th century, swordsmith Suishinshi Masahide criticized that the present katana blades only emphasized decoration and had a problem with their toughness. He insisted that the bold and strong kot? blade from the Kamakura period to the Nanboku-ch? period was the ideal Japanese sword, and started a movement to restore the production method and apply it to Katana. Katana made after this is classified as a shinshint?. One of the most popular swordsmiths in Japan today is Minamoto Kiyomaro who was active in this shinshint? period. His popularity is due to his timeless exceptional skill, as he was nicknamed "Masamune in Yotsuya" and his disastrous life. His works were traded at high prices and exhibitions were held at museums all over Japan from 2013 to 2014.
The idea that the blade of a sword in the Kamakura period is the best has been continued until now, and as of the 21st century, 80% of Japanese swords designated as National treasure in Japan were made in the Kamakura period, and 70% of them were tachi.
The arrival of Matthew Perry in 1853 and the subsequent Convention of Kanagawa caused chaos in Japanese society. Conflicts began to occur frequently between the forces of sonn? j?i (), who wanted to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate and rule by the Emperor, and the forces of sabaku (), who wanted the Tokugawa Shogunate to continue. These political activists, called the shishi (), fought using a practical katana, called the kinn?t? () or the bakumatsut? (). Their katana were often longer than 90 cm (35.43 in) in blade length, less curved, and had a big and sharp point, which was advantageous for stabbing in indoor battles.
During the Meiji period, the samurai class was gradually disbanded, and the special privileges granted to them were taken away, including the right to carry swords in public. The Hait?rei Edict in 1876 forbade the carrying of swords in public except for certain individuals, such as former samurai lords (daimy?), the military, and the police. Skilled swordsmiths had trouble making a living during this period as Japan modernized its military, and many swordsmiths started making other items, such as farm equipment, tools, and cutlery. The craft of making swords was kept alive through the efforts of some individuals, notably Miyamoto kanenori (?, 1830-1926) and Gassan Sadakazu (?, 1836-1918) , who were appointed Imperial Household Artist. The businessman Mitsumura Toshimo (?, 1877-1955)tried to preserve their skills by ordering swords and sword mountings from the swordsmiths and craftsmen. He was especially enthusiastic about collecting sword mountings, and he collected about 3,000 precious sword mountings from the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period. About 1200 items from a part of the collection are now in the Nezu Museum.
Military action by Japan in China and Russia during the Meiji period helped revive interest in swords, but it was not until the Sh?wa period that swords were produced on a large scale again. Japanese military swords produced between 1875 and 1945 are referred to as gunt? (military swords).
During the pre-World War II military buildup, and throughout the war, all Japanese officers were required to wear a sword. Traditionally made swords were produced during this period, but in order to supply such large numbers of swords, blacksmiths with little or no knowledge of traditional Japanese sword manufacture were recruited. In addition, supplies of the Japanese steel (tamahagane) used for swordmaking were limited, so several other types of steel were also used. Quicker methods of forging were also used, such as the use of power hammers, and quenching the blade in oil, rather than hand forging and water. The non-traditionally made swords from this period are called sh?wat?, after the regnal name of the Emperor Hirohito, and in 1937, the Japanese government started requiring the use of special stamps on the tang (nakago) to distinguish these swords from traditionally made swords. During this period of war, older antique swords were remounted for use in military mounts. Presently, in Japan, sh?wat? are not considered to be "true" Japanese swords, and they can be confiscated. Outside Japan, however, they are collected as historical artifacts.
Between 1945 and 1953, sword manufacture and sword-related martial arts were banned in Japan. Many swords were confiscated and destroyed, and swordsmiths were not able to make a living. Since 1953, Japanese swordsmiths have been allowed to work, but with severe restrictions: swordsmiths must be licensed and serve a five-year apprenticeship, and only licensed swordsmiths are allowed to produce Japanese swords (nihonto), only two longswords per month are allowed to be produced by each swordsmith, and all swords must be registered with the Japanese Government.
Outside Japan, some of the modern katanas being produced by western swordsmiths use modern steel alloys, such as L6 and A2. These modern swords replicate the size and shape of the Japanese katana and are used by martial artists for iaid? and even for cutting practice (tameshigiri).
Mass-produced swords including iait? and shinken in the shape of katana are available from many countries, though China dominates the market. These types of swords are typically mass-produced and made with a wide variety of steels and methods.
According to the Parliamentary Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Japanese Swords, organized by Japanese Diet members, many katana distributed around the world as of the 21st century are fake Japanese swords made in China. The Sankei Shimbun analyzed that this is because the Japanese government allowed swordsmiths to make only 24 Japanese swords per person per year in order to maintain the quality of Japanese swords.
Many swordsmiths after the Edo period have tried to reproduce the sword of the Kamakura period which is considered as the best sword in the history of Japanese swords, but they have failed. Then, in 2014, Kunihira Kawachi succeeded in reproducing it and won the Masamune Prize, the highest honor as a swordsmith. No one could win the Masamune Prize unless he made an extraordinary achievement, and in the section of tachi and katana, no one had won for 18 years before Kawauchi.
Katana are distinguished by their type of blade:
Katana are traditionally made from a specialized Japanese steel called tamahagane, which is created from a traditional smelting process that results in several, layered steels with different carbon concentrations. This process helps remove impurities and even out the carbon content of the steel. The age of the steel plays a role in the ability to remove impurities, with older steel having a higher oxygen concentration, being more easily stretched and rid of impurities during hammering, resulting in a stronger blade. The smith begins by folding and welding pieces of the steel several times to work out most of the differences in the steel. The resulting block of steel is then drawn out to form a billet.
At this stage, it is only slightly curved or may have no curve at all. The katana's gentle curvature is attained by a process of differential hardening or differential quenching: the smith coats the blade with several layers of a wet clay slurry, which is a special concoction unique to each sword maker, but generally composed of clay, water and any or none of ash, grinding stone powder, or rust. This process is called tsuchioki. The edge of the blade is coated with a thinner layer than the sides and spine of the sword, heated, and then quenched in water (few sword makers use oil to quench the blade). The slurry causes only the blade's edge to be hardened and also causes the blade to curve due to the difference in densities of the micro-structures in the steel. When steel with a carbon content of 0.7% is heated beyond 750 °C, it enters the austenite phase. When austenite is cooled very suddenly by quenching in water, the structure changes into martensite, which is a very hard form of steel. When austenite is allowed to cool slowly, its structure changes into a mixture of ferrite and pearlite which is softer than martensite. This process also creates the distinct line down the sides of the blade called the hamon, which is made distinct by polishing. Each hamon and each smith's style of hamon is distinct.
After the blade is forged, it is then sent to be polished. The polishing takes between one and three weeks. The polisher uses a series of successively finer grains of polishing stones in a process called glazing, until the blade has a mirror finish. However, the blunt edge of the katana is often given a matte finish to emphasize the hamon.
In Japan, Japanese swords are rated by authorities of each period, and some of the authority of the rating is still valid today.
In 1719, Tokugawa Yoshimune, the 8th shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, ordered Hon'ami K?ch?, who was an authority of sword appraisal, to record swords possessed by daimyo all over Japan in books. In the completed "Ky?h? Meibutsu Ch?" () 249 precious swords were described, and additional 25 swords were described later. The list also includes 81 swords that had been destroyed in previous fires. The precious swords described in this book were called "Meibutsu" () and the criteria for selection were artistic elements, origins and legends. The list of "Meibutsu" includes 59 swords made by Masamune, 34 by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu and 22 by Go Yoshihiro, and these 3 swordsmiths were considered special. Daimyo hid some swords for fear that they would be confiscated by the Tokugawa Shogunate, so even some precious swords were not listed in the book. For example, Daihannya Nagamitsu and Yamatorige, which are now designated as National Treasures, were not listed.
Yamada Asaemon, who was the official sword cutting ability examiner and executioner of the Tokugawa shogunate, published a book "Kaiho Kenjaku" (?) in 1797 in which he ranked the cutting ability of swords. The book lists 228 swordsmiths, whose forged swords are called "Wazamono" () and the highest "Saijo ? Wazamono" () has 12 selected. In the reprinting in 1805, 1 swordsmith was added to the highest grade, and in the major revised edition in 1830 "Kokon Kajibiko" (), 2 swordsmiths were added to the highest grade, and in the end, 15 swordsmiths were ranked as the highest grade. The katana forged by Nagasone Kotetsu, one of the top-rated swordsmith, became very popular at the time when the book was published, and many counterfeits were made. In these books, the 3 swordsmiths treated specially in "Ky?h? Meibutsu Ch?" and Muramasa, who was famous at that time for forging swords with high cutting ability, were not mentioned. The reasons for this are considered to be that Yamada was afraid of challenging the authority of the shogun, that he could not use the precious sword possessed by the daimyo in the examination, and that he was considerate of the legend of Muramasa's curse.
At present, by the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, important swords of high historical value are designated as Important Cultural Properties (J?y? Bunkazai, ), and special swords among them are designated as National Treasures (Kokuh?, ). The swords designated as cultural properties based on the law of 1930, which was already abolished, have the rank next to Important Cultural Properties as Important Art Object (J?y? Bijutsuhin, ). In addition, The Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords, a private organization, classifies it into four categories, the highest grade being equal to Important Cultural Properties. Although swords owned by the Japanese Imperial Family are not designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties because they are outside the jurisdiction of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, there are many swords of the National Treasure class, and they are called "Gyobutsu" ().
Katana were used by samurai both in the battlefield and for practicing several martial arts, and modern martial artists still use a variety of katana. Martial arts in which training with katana is used include iaijutsu, batt?jutsu, iaid?, kenjutsu, kend?, ninjutsu and Tenshin Sh?den Katori Shint?-ry?. However, for safety reasons, katana used for martial arts are usually blunt edged, to reduce the risk of injury. Sharp katana are only really used during tameshigiri (blade testing), where a practitioner practices cutting a bamboo or tatami straw post.
If mishandled in its storage or maintenance, the katana may become irreparably damaged. The blade should be stored horizontally in its sheath, curve down and edge facing upward to maintain the edge. It is extremely important that the blade remain well-oiled, powdered and polished, as the natural moisture residue from the hands of the user will rapidly cause the blade to rust if not cleaned off. The traditional oil used is ch?ji oil (99% mineral oil and 1% clove oil for fragrance). Similarly, when stored for longer periods, it is important that the katana be inspected frequently and aired out if necessary in order to prevent rust or mold from forming (mold may feed off the salts in the oil used to polish the blade).
As of April 2008, the British government added swords with a curved blade of 50 cm (20 in) or over in length ("the length of the blade shall be the straight line distance from the top of the handle to the tip of the blade") to the Offensive Weapons Order. This ban was a response to reports that samurai swords were used in more than 80 attacks and four killings over the preceding four years. Those who violate the ban would be jailed up to six months and charged a fine of £5,000. Martial arts practitioners, historical re-enactors and others may still own such swords. The sword can also be legal provided it was made in Japan before 1954, or was made using traditional sword making methods. It is also legal to buy if it can be classed as a "martial artist's weapon". This ban applies to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This ban was amended in August 2008 to allow sale and ownership without licence of "traditional" hand-forged katana.
Generally, the blade and the sword mounting of Japanese swords are displayed separately in museums, and this tendency is remarkable in Japan. For example, the Nagoya Japanese Sword Museum "Nagoya Touken World", one of Japan's largest sword museums, posts separate videos of the blade and the sword mounting on its official website and YouTube.
Mounting for a katana forged by Motoshige. late 16th or early 17th century, Azuchi-Momoyama or Edo period. Important Cultural Property. Tokyo National Museum.
Japanese katana showing a horimono (blade carving), Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Koshirae (mountings) of an Edo period daish?, rayskin wrapped with silk.
Calls for a ban came after a number of high-profile incidents in which cheap Samurai-style swords had been used as a weapon. The Home Office estimates there have been some 80 attacks in recent years involving Samurai-style blades, leading to at least five deaths.