WEAPONS OF ANCIENT JAPAN
 

Today, the katana is the most well-known of Japanese weapons.
However, it was 17th century when Samurai began to consider the katana as the spirit of Bushido .
Before then, bows and spears are the spirit of Samurai.

Age of Bow

Until 16th century, bows and arrows were the most potent weapons for the Bushi.
There was the art of mounted archery, called Bakyujutsu , which consisted of archery and horseback riding.
Many styles of Bakyujustu existed, and among them, Ogasawara style was the most famous and respected.
It was not just the skills of mounted archery, but also decorums and etiquettes for Samurai.
The most famous legend about bow is perhaps that of Nasu-no-Yoichi , a soldier of Minamoto no Yoshitsune.

Age of Spear

In 17th century, a wrecked Portuguese ship drifted ashore at Tanegashima island, and the musket was brought into Japan.
The musket was much far powerful than bow, of course.
Oda Nobunaga saw it as the key for victory, and ordered to produce it with concerted efforts.
He won numerous battles with his Ashigaru , light infantry battallions equipped with muskets.
As a result, the importance of archers declined.

In the Civil War Era, samurai used spear not to impale but to beat enemies. All of them wore heavy armor.
They swung their spear and knocked enemy Samurai down from horseback.
Thus a Samurai's strength was equal to his muscle power in those days.

Age of Sword

After Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Edo Shogunate in 1603,
the Shogunate became so strong that no major battles occured until 19th century.
Since there wasn't any war, armor was seldom worn by Samurai and the spear was also abandoned by Samurai and the sword took its place.
Skill became more important than strength, thus kenjutsu, the art of sword-fighting, flourished.
Samurai came to consider the sword as the spirit of Bushido.
They always equipped themselves with two swords, the katana and the wakizashi.

The samurai wore two swords ( daisho ). One was long; the other short.
The long sword ( daito - katana ) was more than 24 inches. The short sword ( shoto - wakizashi ) was between 12 and 24 inches.
The samurai often gave names to their swords and believed it was the "soul" of their warriorship.
The oldest swords were straight and had their early design in Korea and China.
The samurai's desire for tougher, sharper swords for battle gave rise to the curved blade we still have today.
The sword had its beginning as iron combined with carbon.
The swordsmith used fire, water, anvil and hammer to shape the world's best swords.
After forging the blade, the sword polisher did his work to prepare the blade for the " furniture " that surrounded it.
Next, the sword tester took the new blade and cut through the bodies of corpses or condemned criminals.
They started by cutting through the small bones of the body and moved up to the large bones.
Test results were often recorded on the nakago ( the metal piece attaching the sword blade to the handle ).


Weapons of the Bushi

Yumi

The yumi ( bow ) is 2.3m length, made of bamboo with a string of silk and pine resin. The ya ( arrow ) is made of bamboo and bird feather.
Bamboo is the best material for bow in the plant kingdom.
Though inferior to modern composite archery bow in penetration and accuracy, it was still a deadly weapon.
Until the musket was brought from Europe in 17th century, the yumi was the most popular weapon of the bushi.

 Today, Kyudo is enjoyed as a sport just like western archery.


Yari

The yari is a very simple form of weapon, no different from spears of other countries.
During the Civil War Era, the yari was the most standard weapon of bushi.


Naginata

The naginata is actually quite similar to the yari. Instead of a spearhead, the naginata has sword-like blade.
The naginata became very popular with modern women.


Nodachi

A Japanese sword with a long, curve blade.
Used more frequently on horseback during the Sengoku Jidai.


Kodachi

The kodachi is a sword of medium-length, shorter than the katana but longer than the wakizashi.
Besides being a lethal throwing weapon, the kodachi can be used as a second sword.
The kodachi has a higher defensive capability than the katana as it is easily to maneuver.


Katana

The katana is  the longer of the daisho. It is not just a weapon, but the soul of Bushi.
It is the most sophisticated form of the beauty of killing. The more beautiful it is, the more deadly sharpness it has.
The katana is distinguished from other swords from their extremely sharp edge and the slightly curved blade.
The beauty of a katana appears on its blade and edge. Its grace, form and grim beauty has been fascinating many warriors.
Muramasa ( swordmaker ) or Katanakaji ( swordsmiths ) are the craftsmen who forge swords ( not only katana but also wakizashi and other edged weapons ).
Forging katana is art rather than manufacture. They heat and hammer iron repeatedly with extreme keen sense.
A finished katana has stratified structure which makes extreme beauty when it is wetted.
The quality of a finished katana depends on various factors, such as a bit of impurities within raw iron, temperature of fire, water, etc.
Even a master swordsmith cannot maintain the good quality all the time.
Today, Japanese law prohibited people to have edged weapon, including the katana.
All edged katana must be registered with the government. However, Yakuza members still possess edged katana.
There are also replicas of katana, which has no edge. Such replicas are popular as interiors.

Wakizashi

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The shorter of the daisho.
The wakizashi is used as a secondary weapon, as well as for committing seppuku/harakiri in battle.


Tanto / Aikuchi

Basically a pocket-knife, but in the hands of a skilled user, this weapon can also be quite deadly in close-combat.
It can be used as a throwing weapon as well.
 
 
 
 

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