What is Yari
"Yari" (Spear) refers to a pole weapon with a blade attached to the end of a long handle. It is a weapon that has been used all over the world, regardless of region, and is said to have played the most active role as a primary weapon in close combat. In Japan, the predecessor of the spear, the "spear" (hoko), was used around the Yayoi period, and various shapes and uses of spears developed over time. This article will introduce the basic knowledge of spears and some famous spears.
Structure of the Yari
A Yari is a weapon made by combining a "tip" (ho) and a "handle" (e). The tip is the blade part attached to the end of the spear, and in a "long-handle spear" (nagaeyari: spear with a long handle) it is about 20cm, in a "large body spear" (oomiyari: spear with a long tip) it is about 60cm, and the size varies depending on the type of spear. The handle is the part that is attached to hold the spear or sword by hand, and it is an important part that determines the strength depending on its construction. The shape varies depending on the maker and the age, with a long-handle spear being about 4-6m, and a large-body spear being over 4m. Also, there were records of long-handle spears with handles up to about 8m.
History of the Yari
Yari appear in history around the Yayoi period. In the biography "Fujiwara House Legend" (Toushikaden) where the early history of the Fujiwara family is written, there is a description that the "Emperor Tenmu", who was drunk at a banquet, stuck a spear into the floor, but the main weapons of this period were the spear, shield, and bow. Spears appeared on the battlefield in the Kamakura period when the Mongol invasion occurred. The main weapons of this time were the long-handle weapons "naginata" and "tachi" specialized for mowing down, and the spears that had been used as main weapons disappeared temporarily. After that, spears played an active role on the battlefield again from the Azuchi-Momoyama period. As the combat format shifted from horseback battles to foot battles, and from individual battles to group battles, spears were more useful than naginata and became widely popular. In the Edo period, spears came to be seen as a tool to express the status of daimyos, and various schools of the martial art "Sojutsu" (spear technique) were born all over the place.
How to Use a Yari
The advantage of the spear is its wide reach. It allowed attacking opponents with katana or shields from a slightly distant place, or adding power by swinging it around. It is said that its length was inconvenient for handling and carrying, but it is said that if the position of the handle was shortened, it could also cope with close combat. In addition to combat, spears were used to transport goods or people by lining up two points, creating walls using multiple spears, hooking them to high places to use as clotheslines, and so on.
Types of Yari
Spears come in a variety of types, differentiated by the length of their blade and handle, the shape of their tip, and other factors.
The "long-blade spear" is characterized by a long blade. The handle is shorter and thicker than the blade for easy handling. The longer the blade, the heavier it becomes, making it harder to handle, thus only the spear users with excellent strength and arm power could handle a long-blade spear. Among the most famous are the "Three Great Spears of Japan", all of which are long-blade spears.
The "Kikuchi spear" is a spear made by attaching a long handle to a short sword. Because it uses a short sword for its blade, it is characterized by being single-edged. There are various theories about its origin, but it is said to have originated when Kikuchi Takeshige bound a short sword to the tip of a bamboo during the Battle of Hakone-Takenoshita in 1336. There are two types, with blade lengths of approximately 6 sun (18 cm) and 1 shaku (30 cm), the latter being called "Kazutori", and was carried by the squad leader. Using Kikuchi spears of different lengths made it easy to see the number of soldiers at a glance.
A "scythe spear" is a spear with a branched blade, called a "scythe", on the side of the blade. While it was said to be used for the purpose of slashing an opponent's legs, it also served the role of preventing the spear from penetrating too deeply. A spear with a scythe on only one side is called a "single-scythe spear," and a spear with scythes in a cross shape is called a "cross-spear," "double-scythe spear," or "cross-spear." Various types of cross spears include the "single-scythe cross spear," whose left and right branched blades are different lengths, the "chidori cross spear," which resembles a bird taking flight, the "detachable cross spear," which allows the branched blades to be removed, and the "up-down scythe cross spear" (or "swastika scythe spear"), whose left and right scythes face up and down. However, because they cost more to make than regular spears, they were mainly used by generals. Sanada Yukimura, a warlord of the Warring States period, left a legend of holding a red cross-spear and charging on horseback into the headquarters of Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Winter and Summer sieges of Osaka. From this feat, Sanada Yukimura came to be known as the "Greatest Soldier in Japan."
A "pouch spear" is a spear with a tubular stem (nakago: the part of the blade that is fitted into the handle). It is also known as a "cover spear," and because the blade can be easily detached, you can cut out nearby bamboo, insert it into the tip, and use it as an emergency spear. Among the Shinkuni School of swordsmiths, which expanded nationwide until the Meiji era, the Shinkuni School in Chikuzen Province (now the northwestern part of Fukuoka Prefecture) was known for its skill in making spears and has left behind many pouch spears.
A "tube spear" is a spear with an iron tube fitted to the upper part of the handle near the blade. Because the tube allows for quick thrusting, it is also called a "quick spear".
"The three famous spears in Japan, known as the 'Tenka Sanmei Yari'
The 'Tonbogiri' is formally known as 'Spear Mei Fujiwara Masamasa,' but it is also known by its nickname Tonbogiri. It is a large Sasaho type spear known for being used by Tadakatsu Honda, a loyal retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Sasaho type means that the blade is similar to a bamboo leaf. It is said that the blade was 43.7cm in length and the handle was about 6m, although it was shortened to about 90cm in his later years. It is said that the name 'Tonbogiri' ('Dragonfly Cutter') came from an incident where a dragonfly that landed on the blade of the spear was cut in two, and this anecdote symbolizes that the Tonbogiri was the sharpest of the Tenka Sanmei Yari.
The 'Nihon Gō' (also called Hinomoto Gō) is formally known as 'Spear Mumei (named Nihon Gō).' It is a large spear known for its history of being bestowed by Emperor Gomomozono to the fifteenth shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, who then passed it on to Oda Nobunaga, and later received by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Then, it was given to Fukushima Masanori and eventually transmitted to the Kuroda family. The blade is 79.2cm long, the tang is 80.3cm long, and the total length including the sheath is 321.5cm. This spear, which was praised as 'the spear with the third rank,' also has a famous anecdote that it was taken over by Tomonobu Mori, a retainer of Kuroda Nagamasa, who overwhelmed Fukushima Masanori in a drinking contest. From this anecdote, it gained the nickname 'The Spear Won in a Drinking Contest,' and the folk song 'Kuroda Bushi' was born.
The 'Otegine' is formally known as 'Spear Mei Yoshisuke,' and its name comes from the sheath's resemblance to a hand mallet used for pounding mochi. The blade length was about 139cm, the longest among the Tenka Sanmei Yari, the total length including the tang was about 215cm, and the total length from the tip to the end of the handle was about 333.3cm. Harutomo Yuuki, a feudal lord in Shimosa Province (now northern Chiba Prefecture and part of Ibaraki Prefecture), pierced a dozen or so severed heads of his enemies onto his spear after a battle. When one of the heads rolled off, it looked like a hand mallet, so he had a hand mallet-shaped sheath made. However, this spear was burned in the Tokyo air raids of 1942, and only replicas remain today."