Anatomy of a Samurai sword (Katana)
The Katana, also called the Samurai sword, is a Japanese sword used by the Samurai in feudal Japan. A Katana consists of 4 main parts, which all have very specific elements.
The blade, officially called Ken, is generally between 60 and 80 cm long and has a slight curve to it.
A Katana has one sharp edge, which faces downwards. The other edge is blunt.
Along the length of the blade is a ridge line called the Shinogi. The part above the Shinogi, the Shinogi-ji, is flat, thus blunt. The part below the Shinogi is angled. This angled part ends in the edge of the blade which is called the Ha or the Yaibi. Along the edge you can see a wavy pattern. This caused by the folding and hardening process used for these swords. This pattern is called the Hamon.
Between the main part of the blade and the tip is a line extending over the width of the blade, the Yokote. The point of the blade is called the Kissaki and this point is often sharp enough to pierce through armour.
At the base of the blade, right before the guard, is the Habaki or blade collar. The Habaki provides sturdiness and stability to the sword.
The blade has a narrow extension, which is called the tang or Nakago. The tang is used to fit the blade to the handle. A Katana made by a traditional Japanese swordsmith would have the maker's name and other important information engraved onto this part.
You can find a circular handguard on a Katana where the blade and handle meet. This handguard is called the Tsuba and is mostly used to protect the hands. It stops the wielder’s hand from sliding upward and onto the blade. In some cases, the Tsuba can also be used to influence the balance of the sword.
The Tsuba started out as a purely practical element of the Katana, but over time they became more and more decorated. Highly detailed Tsuba are considered pieces of art in and of themselves.
On both sides of the Tsuba are the Seppa. The Seppa are metal spacers used to tighten or loosen the sword handle and to keep the Tsuba in place.
The handle of a Katana is called the Tsuka. The Tsuka is made of wood and goes around the tang of the blade. There are two pins that go through the Tsuka and the tang to keep it secure. These pins are the Meguki.
Traditionally, the Tsuka is wrapped in ray skin, or Samekawa in Japanese. For modern and affordable Katana leather or faux leather is often used. The Samekawa provides friction for the wrap that goes around the handle. This wrap is called the Tsuka-ito and can be made of a variety of fibers, ranging from cotton to silk.
For decoration, there are small engravings on top of the Samekawa, but underneath the Tsuka-ito. These decorations are called Menuki.
At the end of the handle is a pommel, the Kashira, which protects the sword and can also be decorated.
A Katana always has a scabbard, which is called Saya in Japanese. The Saya is vital to protect the sword from sustaining damage when not being used. It also prevents unintentional injuries to people who come in contact with the Katana.
A Saya is traditionally made of wood and it’s either decorated with carvings or with fabric. Modern and affordable Katana can also have a Saya made of plastic.
Attached to the Saya is the Sageo, which is a rope used to tie the Katana to the belt of the person carrying it.
A Shirasaya katana is a specific type of katana in terms of the sword mount. Shirasaya katana have a plain wooden handle and sheath. This type of mount was used to make storage of the blade easier and to protect the blade while in storage. When carrying a katana was prohibited in the late 19th century, the Shirasaya mount was used as a way to disguise a katana and make it look like a staff or wooden training sword.
Because this mount was designed as a way to store the blades, it is less sturdy than that of a regular katana, which makes it dangerous to use a Shirasya katana in fights or for training purposes.
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