Common Myths and Facts About Japanese Katanas


Some Facts and Common Misunderstandings About Katana

Common Myths and Facts About Japanese Katanas

The Katana, or samurai sword, is widely recognized as one of the world's most iconic blades. The Katana is a traditional Japanese sword famous for its curved blade and fine craftsmanship. You will see them in numerous films and TV productions, often exaggerating their historical accuracy. So how much do you know about Katanas that is true?

In modern times, people primarily use katana for ceremonial purposes and in some martial arts events. However, people still hold them in great regard as the weapons of a master. If you're curious about Japanese art and culture, you probably want to know more about Katana, the most critical part of the samurai culture. It is a well-known sword; therefore, let's examine some interesting facts below. These trivial facts will undoubtedly increase your understanding, from the unusual manufacturing procedure to the facts demonstrating the potency of Kanata.

9 Common Myths and Facts About Japanese Katanas!

It's no exaggeration to say that samurai swords have a remarkable impact on Japanese culture and popular culture. These days, when we think about samurai, we see unstoppable warriors who can swing a sword without trouble, cut through their enemy, and catch and twirl their blades with their bare hands.
But how accurate are the things we see in movies? Here are some exciting myths and facts regarding the legendary samurai blades:

Myth 1: Katana Can Cut Thought Rocks, Steel Etc.

Tanjiro slice the boulder - Common Myths and Facts About Japanese Katanas

In the famous anime Demon Slayer, Tanjiro cut though a giant rounded rock to be eligible for the Demon Slayer test. But in real life, no one can cut though rock.

Katanas have a high steel carbon content, resulting in incredible sharpness and ability. Thus, they can smoothly cut through softer materials such as cloth, bamboo, and even samurai armor at the hand of skilled samurai!
However, they cannot cut through steel or rocks. Steel is much harder than the type of steel used to make traditional katanas, and rocks are still even harder. A katana is a weapon that primarily cuts flesh. It is not a tool for cutting through hard materials like rocks or steel. 

Myth 2: Ninjato is the Weapon of a Ninja

Chukou in real life

Popular culture often portrays the ninjatō as the weapon of choice for ninjas. But in reality, the ninjatō was not a specific weapon that ninjas would use. Instead, ninjas used various weapons, including the Shuriken, kusari etc. Depending on their mission and situation.
Much of the popular image of ninjas and their weapons, including the ninjatō, comes from fictional stories and popular culture rather than actual historical accounts. There is limited historical evidence about their weapons and tactics. Historically, a straight-edged sword is called "Chokuto."

Myth 3: All Katana Should be worn Edge Upward

Katana and Tachi different way to display

In traditional Japanese sword arts, wearing a Tachi, a Japanese longsword with the edge facing downward in a formal or non-combat setting is common. The design of a Tachi was originally for use on horseback. This design makes it easier for the wielder to unsheathe the sword quickly and use it for defence.
On the other hand, the Uchigatana, a short sword, is often worn with the edge facing upward in a formal or non-combat setting. The Uchigatana is a more versatile weapon, and its shorter length made it easier to carry and use in confined spaces.
So technically, not all katana should be worn edge upward. 

Myth 4: What Are the Lengths of a Katana, Wakizashi, and Tanto?

Katana collection
Fact: Three Japanese blades—Katana, Wakizashi, and Tanto—come in various lengths. But these are some general guidelines:
Katana: A traditional katana is usually about 100 centimetres ( 40 inches) in length, including the hilt. The blade itself is usually around 70 centimetres (28 inches) long.
Wakizashi: The Wakizashi is a short sword typically about 80 centimetres (30 inches) in length, including the hilt. The blade itself is usually around 50 centimetres (20 inches) long.
Tanto: The Tanto is a small, single-edged Japanese knife or dagger whose length can vary. But it is typically about 50 centimetres (22 inches) in length, including the hilt. The blade itself is usually around 33 centimetres (13 inches) long.
However, these are only general guidelines. The actual length of a katana, wakizashi or tanto can vary depending on the manufacturer and individual specifications. Many samurai will order a custom katana that suits their needs.

Myth 5: Why and How Does a Katana Get Its Curve?

Clay tempering quenching makes katana curved
The Katana gets its curve because of the clay temper process.
The clay temper process is one of the key factors contributing to a katana's distinctive curve. It is a specialized technique to manufacture Japanese swords, including the Katana. The clay temper process involves applying a layer of clay to the blade in a specific pattern before the artisans heat and quench it in water.
The thicker clay areas will slow the cooling process, resulting in a softer spin. At the same time, the thinner regions of the edge will cool more quickly, resulting in a harder edge. This combination of hard and soft steel creates a robust and durable edge, yet flexible enough to withstand the cutting stresses.
The curve of the blade, known as the "sori," increases the speed and power of a cut. It also helps to transfer energy from the wielder to the target efficiently. Overall, the curve makes it easier to quickly draw and change direction in the middle of a cut. Thus, you can quickly shift from a defensive to an aggressive stance or switch from one target to another!

Myth 6: How Long Does it Take to Make a Katana Sword?

Fact: Generally, making a katana sword is a time-consuming process that can take anywhere from several weeks to several months or even longer.
The process of making a katana involves several steps. Each step requires a significant amount of time, skill, and attention to detail. Generally, making a Katana will involve seven steps, and seven expert artisans would perform the entire process typically by hand. These seven craftsmen represented the seven essential skills needed to make a Katana and include:
The Swordsmith: The swordsmiths are only responsible for making the blade.
The Togi-Shi (Sharpener/Polisher): The Togi-shi is skilled artisans who polish the blades that swordsmiths make to make them sharper and look better. After more than ten polishing sessions over two weeks by a Togi-Shi, a beautiful Katana blade is born!
Shirogane-Shi (Habaki Crafter): Shirogane-shi are craftsmen making metal fittings that go above the tsuba handguard, called 鎺 Habaki. They make tiny but significant fittings for a Katana!
Saya-Shi (Sheath Manufacturer): Saya-shi are artisans who make sheaths to hold a Katana.
Tsukamaki-shi (Handle Wrapper): Tsukamaki-shi is a craftsman who wraps ray skin and braided strings around the 柄 Tsuka. The Tsuka is the handle of a Katana.
Nuri-shi (Laquer Painter): Nuri-shi tend to apply lacquer on the outside of the sheaths.
Kinko-Shi/Tsubaki-shi (Metal Fittings/Tsuba Manufacturer): Kinko-shi makes various exterior metal fittings for a Katana, like Kozuka, Menuki, Kougai, and Fuchigashira. Tsubako-shi is skilled artisans constructing tsuba handguards, but Kinko-shi often make them.

Myth 7: The Harder a Katana, the Better!
Fact: The harder a Katana, the brittler it is; thus, the sword will break easily!
The hardness of a katana is a trade-off between toughness and sharpness. A harder blade is more likely to hold a sharp edge. But it is also more brittle and prone to breaking or chipping under stress or impact.

Myth 8: Bohi is Used to Drain Blood

Katana Bohi
Fact: Traditionally, the primary function of the Bohi isn't draining blood!
Bohi is a Japanese term that refers to a groove or channel carved into a katana's blade. The purpose of the Bohi is to reduce the weight of the blade. Thus, it helps to make a Katana easier to handle and wield, balance the blade, and improve its overall performance.
In some cases, the Bohi may also improve the Katana's cutting performance by reducing the blade's air resistance and drag as it passes through the air. Some legends and myths suggest that it channels the blood away from the point of impact. Thus, it made the blade easier to clean and maintain. Even so, this is not the primary function of the Bohi!

Myth 9: Tamahagane is the Best Material for a Katana!

Fact: This myth may be true in following an ancient tradition. However, nowadays, modern steels can also make high-quality katanas!
Compared to modern steels, Tamahagane has several advantages. For one, it has a high carbon content, which gives it a hardness and sharpness that makes it ideal for cutting. Additionally, the process of producing Tamahagane allows the blacksmith to control the carbon content of the steel. So they can create a blade specifically tailored to their needs and preferences.
However, modern steels also have several advantages. For one, they are often easier to obtain and are more widely available than Tamahagane. Additionally, the production of modern steels has much higher precision and consistency. They often have higher levels of strength and toughness than traditional steel too!
Whether your blade calls for Tamahagane or contemporary steel is a matter of your preference. It also depends on the skill and preference of the blacksmith.

Myth 10: Katana is the primary weapon for samurai

Contrary to common belief, the katana was not always the primary weapon of the samurai. In the early stages of Japanese warfare, the main weapons utilized were the yumi, which is a type of bow, the naginata, a bladed pole weapon, and the tachi, a traditional Japanese sword. Both the katana and the tachi were primarily used for close combat situations.

However, the military tactics underwent a significant transformation during the Sengoku period in the 15th century. The warfare strategy shifted towards group battles involving large numbers of foot soldiers, known as ashigaru. This change in battle dynamics led to the katana gaining prominence on the battlefield. The katana’s design, which made it easy to carry, and its suitability for combat situations where quick response times were crucial for victory, made it an increasingly preferred weapon.

As Japan moved into the relatively peaceful Edo period, the importance of the katana as a weapon continued to grow. By the end of the Edo period, the katana had become a significant weapon, often used by shishi, the political activists of the time, in their numerous battles. Thus, while the katana was not always the primary weapon for samurai, it eventually became a symbol of their warrior class and an essential part of their arsenal.

The Katana is the most vital part of the Samurai culture The Katana has come to represent not only the samurai warrior but also Japan itself. However, as famous as this Japanese sword is, there are many misunderstandings about them too! So I bring you the most common facts and misconceptions about a Katana to help you know more about them. Thanks for reading!

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing
You have successfully subscribed!
This email has been registered