What is Nagamaki


"Nagamaki" (長巻) refers to a weapon similar to a "Naginata" (薙刀). It is said to have been developed to make large swords more manageable, and differs from a naginata in its shape and handling. This article introduce the basic knowledge of Nagamaki along with its difference from Naginata.

Difference between Nagamaki and Naginata

There is no clear definition of the difference between a nagamaki and a naginata. Therefore, there are various theories about the characteristics that can be mentioned as differences, and it is still a topic of discussion today. Generally mentioned are the "difference in size", "the state of the forward curve", "the presence or absence of Yokote", "the difference in Koshirae", "the difference in types according to shape", "the difference in handling".

Difference in size
The size of the naginata varies depending on the era, but the typical blade length of the naginata used in the Muromachi period is about 2 shaku (about 60cm), and the handle length is about 9 shaku (about 270cm), with the handle being longer than the blade.
On the other hand, the blade length of the nagamaki is about 3 shaku (about 90cm), and the handle length is about 3 shaku (about 90cm) to about 4 shaku (about 120cm), and the lengths of the blade and handle are almost the same.
Condition of forward curve

"Forward curve" refers to the degree of curvature (Sori) of the tip/cutting edge. The naginata has a deep forward curve, while the nagamaki has a shallow one.
Also, one of the features of nagamaki is that there is no curvature in the Yakiba (hardened edge) of the "Boshi" (the side of the cutting edge), which is called "Yakizume".

With or without Yokote
"Yokote" refers to the boundary line that enters the lower part of the tip/cutting edge.
This is a feature seen in swords made in the "Shinogi-Zukuri" style, and it is said that there is no Yokote in the naginata and there is Yokote in the nagamaki.

Difference in Koshirae
"Koshirae" refers to the general term for tools that make up a sword, such as a scabbard, handle, and guard.
There is hardly any decoration on the handle of the naginata, but it is characteristic of the nagamaki to wrap hemp string or leather around the handle, which is also the origin of the name Nagamaki.

Difference in types due to shape
The naginata is roughly divided into three types according to its shape: the "Shizuka-style Naginata" named after "Shizuka Gozen", the mistress of "Minamoto no Yoshitsune", the "Tomoe-style Naginata" named after "Tomoe Gozen", the mistress of "Kiso Yoshinaka", and the "Tsukushi Naginata" which was widely used in the Kyushu region. On the other hand, there is only one type of nagamaki.

Difference in handling
Both the nagamaki and the naginata are weapons specialized for mowing down people and horses, but their handling was different. Because the handle of the naginata is longer than the blade, the reach is wide and it was suitable for swinging around. However, the nagamaki, with the length of the handle and the blade almost the same, had a high power, but it is said that it was physically difficult to swing around like a naginata.

Famous Nagamaki: 

"Nagamaki Naoshi" and "Nagamaki Naoshi-zukuri"
As the format of battles changed from cavalry battles to foot battles, and from sword fights to firearms, long-handled weapons such as nagamaki gradually became obsolete. The swords known as nagamaki naoshi were created by repurposing the blades.

Nagamaki Naoshi
"Nagamaki Naoshi" refers to swords that have been reshaped into Uchigatana (a type of Japanese sword) or Wakizashi (short sword) by grinding the tang (nakago: the part inside in the tsuka) of the nagamaki. It was common to remake old swords into other swords, and even in the Muromachi period when the warlords of the Sengoku period were active, Tachi, Naginata, and Nagamaki made in the Kamakura and Nanbokucho periods were often ground and reshaped into Uchigatana or Wakizashi. The reasons for this include making prestigious swords easier to handle, as well as the fact that it was less expensive and took less time than making new swords. Incidentally, it is often said that "there are no blunt swords in Nagamaki Naoshi". This is because they reused fine swords that had proven themselves in battle. In fact, it is said that many of the surviving Nagamaki Naoshi are fine swords. "Katana Signature: Bishu Osafune resident Kinkage" is a sword of Nagamaki Naoshi that was made in the late Kamakura period and reshaped into Uchigatana in later years. It has a shallow sori (curvature) and yokote (line separating the body and the tip of the blade), making it a prime example of Nagamaki Naoshi.
Nagamaki Naoshi-zukuri
"Nagamaki Naoshi-zukuri" refers to swords that were made to resemble Nagamaki Naoshi. Rather than being remade from nagamaki to sword in later years, like Nagamaki Naoshi, these swords were made as Nagamaki Naoshi swords from the beginning. It is not clear why they were made this way, but it is said that they may have been made to take advantage of the slogan "There are many fine swords in Nagamaki Naoshi". "Wakizashi Signature: Minamoto Kiyomaro, February, Kaei 2" is a Naginata Naoshi-zukuri sword made in the Edo period. The maker, "Minamoto Kiyomaro", is one of the representative swordsmiths of the Shinto period, known as "Edo Sansaku". Swords made by Minamoto Kiyomaro are among the most popular of the swordsmiths of the Shinto period.
Existing Nagamaki
Nagamaki Signature: Bizen Osafune resident Shigemasa
The "Nagamaki Signature: Bizen Osafune resident Shigemasa" is a nagamaki made in the late Kamakura period. It was passed down to the Niwa family, the daimyo of Nihonmatsu domain in Mutsu province (now Fukushima prefecture) with 100,000 koku, and later presented to the Tokugawa family, becoming the favorite sword of the 15th shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The maker of this nagamaki was Jirobee Shigemasa, a swordsmith of the Osafune school active in Bizen province (now Okayama prefecture). Jirobee Shigemasa was the younger brother of Okuranojo Moto Shige, and left many works that mixed the Aoe characteristics into the Bizen tradition. With a wide width and shallow curvature, it appears to be a "Shizuka Naginata" at first glance. It is a precious piece that retains the appearance of the Nagamaki, which was popular in the Kamakura and Nanbokucho periods.

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