Katana Samegawa Ray skin on the tsuka that provides comfortable grip


What You Should Know About The Samegawa

Samegawa is the Japanese term for shark skin or sting ray, which acts as a binder for the handles of traditional Japanese swords, known as Katana. It is one of the most integral parts of the Katana that increases its durability and appearance. Curious to know how crucial Samegawa is for a Katana? Keep on reading to find out everything about it!
Japanese sword makers have used Samegawa since ancient times, which is an integral part of the craft today. This part provides a secure grip on the handle while protecting against corrosion and wear. It also adds an aesthetic appeal to the sword, making it look more elegant and beautiful.
Samegawa is a crucial component in creating a katana that has been a part of the craft since ancient times. Its unique properties can help to preserve a sword's value for many years. So if you plan to own a Japanese Katana, carefully examining whether it has a real or fake Samegawa is crucial. Here, I also share how to differentiate between authentic and counterfeit Samegawa.

What Is Samegawa?

Samegawa, which means "shark" in Japanese, is also the term for shark skin. It is a crucial part of the Katana, and you can find it on the Tsuka, the sword's handle. The Tsuka (handles/hilt) of a Samurai sword is wooden, and the sword's maker uses the Samegawa to wrap around the wooden hilt.
The wood handle is cut flat on both sides for the Samagawa panel to fit beneath the handle wrap (Ito). Shark skin, or more popularly, ray skin, provides a rough surface that prevents the wrapping from moving around.
Given its longevity and resilience to wear and tear, Samegawa is a common choice for katana handles. Because of its durability, the blade can withstand the strains and demands of combat while also looking aesthetically appealing.
Since Samegawa has a highly secure grip, the Tsuka or handle can be covered without extra wrapping. You can see this on some katana, although it was more frequent on the shorter Tanto swords. You will also see Samagawa on the Saya of the Katana, or sheath, to improve grip or serve as a decorative accent.

What Is Samegawa Made From?

Although "Samegawa" directly translates to "shark" in Japanese, highly sought-after Katana Samegawa typically uses high-quality ray skin. The species of ray used is Pastinachus Sephen or Cowtail Stingray.
The Cowtail Stingray is caught primarily for its meat, making the skin a byproduct of the fishing industry. Fortunately, these fishes are plentiful in warm, tropical environments and perfectly edible. So you won't have to worry about their extinction.
Ray skin is exceptionally durable, coarse, and sticky. Authentic ray skin is an organic material made from dried stingray skin. Typically only featured on the highest-end Katana, this is a very pricey material. Because of its coarse texture, excellent grip, and extreme durability, ray skin is frequently used to wrap a high-quality Katana Tsuka's steel core.
Today, crafters can choose from various materials. Such materials include classic ray skin or synthetic replications to accomplish the same goal. However, most sword collectors prefer genuine ray skin to the synthetic version that only a few manufacturers offer.
The genuine Samegawa still has considerable gaps and distances between its nodes, even after being painted. It's not as thick as the artificial ray skin, but it still looks tidy and is naturally bonded together. Real-painted Samegawa has protruding nodes, while synthetic ray skin has flat, rounded nodes.

How Much Does Samegawa Typically Cost?

A single sheet of ray skin can cost anywhere from $100 to $200. No doubt, Samegawa is pretty expensive.
Traditionally, a single Ito wrap would cover the entire handle. However, due to the high price of ray skin, most mass-produced swords nowadays have panels of Ito arranged into recessed strips.
Since getting four separate panels out of a single sheet of ray skin is not uncommon, the per-use cost drops significantly. Since this material is so costly, it is not rare to see minor gaps between two shorter lengths on production swords. Swords will employ different parts of the ray skin. Some of them may have thicker and more abundant nodes than others.

How To Tell Real Vs. Fake Ray Skin?

Nowadays, suppose you are shopping for a hand-forged Katana online. In that case, you will notice many self-proclaimed high-quality Katanas sold for hundreds or even more dollars. But a closer look at them will readily tell you that the Samegawa on their Tsuka is far from authentic.
But of course, if you are new to the world of Japanese Katanas, you might not be able to tell the genuine from fake. None of us want to end up spending our precious money on counterfeit products. So how do you tell fake Samegawa or ray skin from a genuine one? It's pretty simple, and all you need is a sharper look!
First and foremost, the nodes on an authentic Ray skin will be uniform and look delightful. A fake ray skin will have nodes that look nice and pretty but won't be consistent. Thus, no matter how pretty the fake one looks, it can't be as appealing as the real one.
Another way you can tell the real from the fake is through a red hot needle! Genuine Samegawa is inherently resistant to fire or heat. Thus, a red-hot needle cannot do much to it. On the other hand, plastic-molded Samegawa will melt within seconds when it comes near heat or fire.
Genuine ray skin is also comparatively sturdier and highly resistant to scratches and disfiguration. However, it's not the same for fake, plastic ray skin. These are highly susceptible to scratches and disfiguration.

Our custom katana service offer real ray skin for samegawa in various color as well.


That’s all on the Samegawa. It is a crucial part of the katana with many historical and usage significance. Hopefully, by now you have an in-depth idea about this part of the katana. For more katana parts info you can check our katana anatomy guide.

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