What is Naginata
"The Naginata" (Longsword) is one of the weapons with a long handle that emerged during the Heian period. It is the weapon that appears most frequently in the historical literature "Taiheiki." It was widely adopted as a primary weapon during the Nanbokuchō period because it has a wide range and can be used not only for slashing but also for thrusting and striking. Here, we will introduce some basic knowledge about the naginata.
The "Naginata" is a weapon designed to "mow down" an opponent. It is characterized by a large curve at the tip of the blade, and it is broadly divided into "large naginata" and "small naginata" depending on the length of the blade, but the form varies depending on the production era and the strength of the user.
Naginata of the Kamakura Period
The naginata of the Kamakura period is characterized by being shorter than later naginatas, with a handle length of about 4 shaku (about 120 cm), a blade length of about 3 shaku (about 90 cm), and a total length of about 7 shaku (about 210 cm).
Large and Small Naginata of the Nanbokuchō period
During the Nanbokuchō period, the large naginata emerged with a longer blade length and handle length. Among them, it is said that a large naginata was produced with a handle length of about 5 shaku (about 150 cm), a blade length of 6 shaku 3 sun (about 190 cm), and a total length of about 1 jo 1 shaku 3 sun (about 333 cm).
In the case of small naginata, naginatas were produced with a handle length of about 3 shaku (about 90 cm) and a blade length of 2 shaku 2 sun (about 82 cm), and each was used as the main weapon of infantry.
Naginata of the Muromachi Period
The naginata of the Muromachi period has a handle length of 9 shaku (about 270 cm) and a blade length of 2 shaku (about 60 cm), and the blade is short compared to the length of the handle.
This is said to be because spears came to the forefront as the main weapon, and it is characterized by not only the length but also a shallow curve.
History of Naginata
The naginata is said to have started with a blade of the shape called "Shōbuzukuri" attached to the end of a long handle. In the construction at that time, the blade was too light and lacked power, so from around the Kamakura period, the width of the blade was widened and the shape changed to a stronger curve.
Also, in order to increase the weight, naginata with mountain-shaped protrusions on the ridge (opposite side of the blade tip) began to be made.
Naginata became popular as the main weapon of the Northern and Southern Courts period, but during the Warring States period when the combat format changed to group combat, accidents occurred where allies were accidentally slashed. And what permeated in place of the naginata was the spear. The spear is a long-handled weapon of a different shape from the naginata and is used not by swinging it widely but by thrusting or swinging it down.
The naginata, which declined with the advent of the spear, then disappeared from battles as a long-handled weapon, being reshaped into Japanese swords called "Naginata-Naoshi," which greatly reshape the blade.
The naginata began to be used again after the Edo period. Various schools were born in various domains nationwide with the establishment of the martial art of "Naginatajutsu." In addition, naginatajutsu was counted as one of the disciplines for samurai daughters to learn, and it also permeated as a self-defense technique for women.
On the other hand, from such a background, the recognition was born that "naginata is one of the weapons that women uses."
Types of Naginata
Naginata are divided into three types not only by their size but also by their shape. One is the "Shizuka-style Naginata" (Shizuka-gata Naginata), named after the mistress of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, "Shizuka Gozen." Another is the "Tomoe-style Naginata" (Tomoe-gata Naginata), said to be named after the mistress of Kiso Yoshinaka, "Tomoe Gozen." The last one is the "Tsukushi Naginata," which was widely used in the Kyushu region.
The Shizuka-style naginata, also known as the "male naginata," is a naginata without a clear specification in shape or length. Generally, it has a shallow curve, and its tip is narrow, similar to the typical Japanese sword in Ayasugi form. It is said that the beginning of the Shizuka-style naginata technique, called "Shizuka Ryu," was when Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who learned swordsmanship from a demon, applied his swordsmanship to naginata technique and taught it only to Shizuka Gozen.
The Tomoe-style naginata, also known as the "female naginata," is a naginata without a clear specification in shape or length. Typically, the tip (kissaki) curves more strongly and the width of the blade expands. It is the shape of the naginata for women made during the Edo period, and the name Tomoe-style naginata was also given during the Edo period. Although it is said to be named after Tomoe Gozen, there is also a theory that Tomoe Gozen has nothing to do with the origin of the name.
The Tsukushi naginata was a naginata that was widely used in the Tsukushi region, centered on the Kyushu Daimyo "Otomo House." The biggest feature is that there is no tang (nakago) contained in the handle. The blade has a circular metal fitting called a "Hitsu" on the ridge side, and the handle is passed through it, making it a unique structure.
"Iwatooshi" was the favorite sword of "Musashibo Benkei," known as a master of the naginata. Musashibo Benkei, who served Minamoto no Yoshitsune, is known as a monk who died standing after a fierce battle in the "Battle of Koromogawa." The Iwatooshi, handled by Musashibo Benkei, who was said to have been born with a full set of teeth and a large body, was a large naginata, about 106 cm in the blade part alone. The maker of Iwatooshi is said to be "Sanjo Kokaji Munenaga," who forged one of the "Five Best Swords Under Heaven," the "Mikazuki Munechika." Sanjo Kokaji Munenaga is a famous craftsman of the Heian period who is said to have forged the "Kogitsunemaru," a sword he forged with the spirit of a fox. Although it is generally accepted that Musashibo Benkei did not exist, there is a large naginata said to have been dedicated by Musashibo Benkei at the "Oyamazumi Shrine" in Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture, which is designated as an important cultural property of the country.
"Gondo Shizunori" is a famous naginata listed in the "Kyoho Meibutsu Cho," a list of famous swords compiled by the Edo Shogunate. It was one of the three masterpieces handed down to the Fukuoka feudal lord, the "Kuroda family," and the maker is the swordsmith "Taira Shizunori" of Bungo Takada (now Bungo Takada City, Oita Prefecture). There are two theories about the origin of the name Gondo Shizunori. One is a story about when "Kuroda Kanbei" (Kuroda Takatomo) was attacked by a tiger during his expedition to Korea. His retainer Gondo saved him by slaying the tiger with a naginata, which led to the name. Another theory is related to an episode of "Gondo Heizaemon," a retainer of "Takahashi Mototane," the lord of Nobeoka Castle, who sided with the Western Army in the "Battle of Sekigahara" in 1600 (Keicho 5). Gondo Heizaemon, obeying his lord's orders, defended Miyazaki Castle, but it fell to the Eastern Army's attack. Gondo Heizaemon continued fighting with his naginata until just before the castle fell, slaying 18 enemy soldiers before committing suicide. It is said that the name Gondo was given in relation to this event.