The katana is a traditional Japanese sword which was primarily used by samurai warriors in feudal Japan (1185-1603) and up through the Edo period (1603–1868), before eventually losing popularity due to the Sword Abolishment Edict (Haitōrei) of 1876.
Even in modern times, Japanese citizens are only allowed to own katana swords which were made by licensed blacksmiths and registered with the Nihon Token Kai, the Japanese Sword Association. Despite this restriction, katana swords remain popular and are frequently depicted in movies or kept as collector’s items.
Today we are going to discuss the basic components of a katana sword.
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The sword itself has a distinct appearance, owing to its long, curved blade.
The curvature of the blade, which is known as the sori, is intended to increase the sword’s cutting power.
The best katana blades are forged from tamahagane (玉鋼), which is a high-carbon steel of Japanese origin.
These swords will often be crafted from multiple layers of steel, with softer steel forged into the center of the blade, and harder steel formed around it. This process is intended to create a blade that is strong, yet flexible. While the cutting-side of the blade is formed into a sharp edge, the back of the blade is thicker in order to provide structural support and aid in durability.
A katana may also feature a distinctive temper line or “hamon,” which is created during the heat-treating process and is visible along the length of the blade.
The core of the katana’s handle, which is also known as the tsuka, is typically made from wood.
A layer of ray-skin, leather or plastic is then affixed to the handle with glue. This component is known as the same. Silk or cotton cord, known as the ito, is then wrapped over-top the the same. This configuration provides a comfortable grip that is resistant to slippage from sweat or other moisture.
To attach the handle to the blade, Japanese sword makers use two bamboo pegs called mekugi. These pegs are located near the top of the handle and can be seen when the sword is sheathed. When necessary, the mekugi can be removed to disassemble the sword for maintenance or repair.
A katana handle may also feature menuki, which refers to a pair of small decorative ornaments that are placed underneath the handle wrap of the sword.
Finally, the pommel of a katana is known as the “kashira” and is placed at the lower end of the handle.
As for the fittings of a katana, there quite a few different components.
A tsuba serves as both a hand-guard and a component of a sword mounting. Positioned between the blade and grip of the sword, its purpose is to shield the user’s hands when the opponents blade slides down upon impact.
The habaki is a collar that sits at the base of the blade and helps to secure the sword in its scabbard. It’s made of brass or copper and is an essential part of the sword’s construction. The habaki is often decorated with intricate designs and can be removed to allow for maintenance of the blade.
A seppa is an additional brass component that is inserted onto the blade following the “habaki” collar. While it can serve as a decorative element, its primary function is to secure the guard in position.
The scabbard, which is also known as the saya, is typically made from local Japanese wood, such as honoki, but can also be made from carved bone. The scabbard is designed to protect the blade when it’s not in use.
Finally, the sageo is a cord that passes through the kurigata of the sword’s saya. It’s often made of silk or cotton and is used to help balance the sword on so that it can be comfortably worn around the waist.