What is Tachi Sword
"太刀" or "Tachi" refers to large swords made in Japan. They come in various types due to their size and fittings (Koshirae), and they were mainly used as weapons for horseback combat. This article will introduce the basic knowledge about Tachi and some of the most famous ones.
Characteristics of Tachi
Tachi is a term for katana with approximately 80cm blade length that are hung from the waist using a cord or leather strap called "Tachi-o." There's a wide spectrum of opinions about the origin of the name, but the generally accepted theory is that it comes from "Tachi," which means "to cut." In museums, they are typically displayed with the edge of the blade pointing downward, but sometimes they are displayed with the edge upwards so that the maker's signature (Mei), which is carved into the handle (Nakago), can be seen.
History of Japanese Swords
The history of swords in Japan is long, and straight swords (swords without a curve) that came from places like China were used around the Yayoi era. Swords started to be forged domestically around the late Kofun period, and the curved swords (Wantou), which are said to be the prototype of Japanese swords, started to be made around the Heian period. These curved swords became known as Tachi and were more suitable for slashing opponents, so they continued to be used until the Nanbokuchō period when warfare was mainly conducted on horseback.
As the style of warfare changed to infantry combat (Kachiikusa), changes occurred in the shape and carrying method of swords. To adapt to infantry combat, the swords were made lighter by making the blade thinner, reducing the curve, and carving grooves into the blade. Also, instead of hanging the sword from the waist using a Tachi-o, they started to wear it in the waist belt, which made it easier to unsheathe. These swords were called "Uchigatana," which is the katana we all familiar today, and the long Tachi gradually fell out of use.
Types of Tachi
Classification by blade
"Ootachi" or "Oodachi" are large Tachi with a blade length of more than 3 shaku (about 90cm). Also known as "Nodachi," these swords were offered to shrines and temples, but it is said that they were also used on the battlefield as weapons for horseback combat.
The owners of Ootachi were usually high-ranking samurai, so if they were used on the battlefield, the Ootachi would be carried by servants. It is said that when using the Ootachi, either the servant would pull the sword from the scabbard, or the servant would unsheathe the Ootachi and hand it to the owner.
"Kodachi" refers to small Tachi with a blade length of less than 2 shaku (about 60cm), which were made from around the middle of the Kamakura period.
Due to their size, they are sometimes confused with "Wakizashi," but the shape and curvature are similar to Tachi, so they are different from Wakizashi. There is also a theory that they are shortened Ootachi, but there are existing Kodachi that were made as small Tachi. The purpose of the Kodachi is unknown.
Classification by fittings (Koshirae)
Itomaki no Tachi
"Itomaki no Tachi" refers to Tachi where the handle and the upper part of the scabbard are wrapped with the same material such as a cord.
The practice of wrapping the fittings with a cord began around the Muromachi period. They were mainly used as offerings from monks to the Shogun, and by the Sengoku period, they were used as gifts and were known as "Jintachi." Jintachi had more luxurious fittings, using more lavish materials for the cord wrapping and metal parts, and were used for ceremonies and prayers for victory in battle. In the samurai society of the Edo period, they came to be viewed as a symbol of high status and power, and were known as "Buke Tachi Koshirae."
Ikamonozukuri no Tachi
"Ikamonozukuri no Tachi" refers to Tachi used in the Kamakura period, which were known for their ornate and magnificent appearance, and were mainly used in ceremonies.
The name is believed to have originated from the term "Yukamono" for offerings to the gods. The term "Yukamonozukuri," which referred to ceremonial swords, gradually became distorted to "Ikamonozukuri." There are also theories that fittings covered with animal fur were called "Ikamono," but the exact origin is unknown. A representative example of Ikamonozukuri no Tachi is "Hyogokusari no Tachi," which were popular among high-ranking samurai from the early Kamakura period. They were characterized by "Hyogokusari," a chain made of metal wire, used for the Obidome (the part that fixes the Tachi-o when hanging the Tachi from the waist belt) and Sarude (a decorative metal fitting that is placed on the tip of the handle).
Kokushitsu no Tachi
"Kokushitsu no Tachi" refers to Tachi with a scabbard wrapped in leather and coated with black lacquer.
The definition is not fixed, and it refers not only to fittings where black lacquer is applied to the scabbard, handle, and other parts such as the Tsuba (handguard) and metal fittings, but also to fittings where black lacquer is applied to the base of the scabbard and handle, and nothing is applied to the metal parts. The reasons for applying lacquer include preservation, strength enhancement, and improving the appearance.
Tachi, inscription: Bishu Osafune resident Kagemitsu" refers to a tachi made by Kagemitsu of Osafune, an active swordsmith in Bizen province (now eastern Okayama Prefecture) during the late Kamakura period. Kagemitsu was the grandson of "Kotada," who is said to be the actual founder of the Osafune school of swordsmiths that flourished during the Kamakura period, and his father was the first-generation "Osafune Nagamitsu." Kagemitsu is known for his creation of a type of blade pattern called "kataochi gunome," and his works are said to have the most beautiful steel in the Osafune school.
Tachi, inscription: Kuniyuki" refers to a tachi made by Raikuniyuki, a swordsmith active in Yamashiro province (now the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture) during the mid-Kamakura period. Raikuniyuki is known as the actual founder of the Rai school of swordsmiths. His works are divided into two styles: a robust style suited for practical use popular during the mid-Kamakura period, and a slim and graceful style; this sword represents the latter style.
Tachi, inscription: Raikunimitsu" refers to a tachi made by Raikunimitsu, a swordsmith active in Yamashiro province from the late Kamakura period to the Northern and Southern Courts period. Raikunimitsu is said to be the son or disciple of Raikunitoshi, who represents the Rai school and is a grandson of Kuniyuki. Raikunimitsu's works are often more robust than those of Raikunitoshi, and he produced many tachi and short swords.