The Main Weapons of the Samurai
The known main Samurai weapons of Fuedal Japan includes the Katana and the Wakizashi – two swords that represented their class in the society. The Samurai were the warriors of feudal Japan. They completed the ruling military class that turned into the highest-ranking caste in the Edo period. Aside from swords, they utilized a variety of weapons. These included bows & arrows, spears, and guns.
The Culture & Weapons of a Samurai Warrior
The culture of a Samurai warrior revolved around the concept of the Bushido – the Way of a Warrior. Their primary tenets are honor and freedom from the fear of death. In the past, the Samurai had the right to legally cut down anyone who dishonored him.
Since the Samurai were individuals who were instilled with the spirit of Bushido, they fought without fear, and died honorably instead of surrendering upon defeat. Out of the disregard for the idea of death came the tradition of Seppuku. Defeated warriors or those humiliated government officials, committed suicide with honor by going through a process of disemboweling themselves using a short sword, usually a Wakizashi.
The earliest Samurai were archers who usually fought on foot or on horseback. They utilized longbows called the Yumi but was still proficient with swords just as well. The use of swords was done in close combat and mainly for finishing off their wounded opponents.
After the invasion of the Mongols in 1272 and 1281, the Samurai began improving their long curved Tachi swords. Naginata, Yari and spears were also used but was further adopted in the 14th Century. The Samurai used to wear two swords at early time, the Tachi and the Tanto.
However, at the end of the 14th Century, the Katana was introduced and the concept of wearing two swords known as Daisho has changed to the Katana and Wakizashi. Those were eventually banned from use in the late 16th century.
The Katana – A Trusted Blade and Soul of the Warrior
The most prominent and vital weapon of the Japanese warriors was the Katana sword. The Katana was one of the deadliest Samurai weapons that were introduced from oriental cultures. The Katana origins still remain unclear.
Studies have proven that during the Edo Period, the government established an official department for Tameshigiri or sword testing. This was to ensure that all swords were made with quality and were ready to use for battle. Through this test, a swordsman would try out his new Katana by slicing through the bodies of criminals. The results were also carved on the blade which added to the sword value.
Sometime in the past, the Katana was a status symbol. Only the members of the Samurai class had the privilege to wield this sword. the Katana was considered as an extension of a Samurai soul, so those who did not belong to the said class and were caught carrying a Katana were instantly put to death. The warriors treated their blade as a sacred piece and used only when absolutely necessary.
When it comes to maintaining the sword’s beauty, polishing the Katana was also a lengthier process than forging a blade. A lot of people are unaware of this, but sword polishing is also a highly essential part of creating a sword. This revealed the Katana’s true quality and made the steel’s grain and hamon line more visible.
A Vital Auxiliary Blade – The Wakizashi
The Wakizashi is a shorter sword than the Katana and was used as its companion. The warrior used this sword when battling in small spaces since the katana was too long for combat in areas with low ceilings and in close quarters. Other types of short swords included the Chisa Katana and Yoroi Toshi.
The Wakizashi was an auxiliary or backup weapon that was also used for beheading a defeated enemy. It was sometimes used to commit ritualistic suicide called Seppuku.
When it comes to its exterior, the Wakizashi featured a slightly arched blade. It came with a square-shaped Tsuba that was intricately decorated with classic themes. The Wakizashi is more richly decorated compared to the Katana. This is because the smaller sword was rarely used compared to the Katana.
The Little Deadly Piece – A Tanto
El Tanto was not the Samurai primary war weapon since it hardly had any use against spears and swords. However, it did prove to be very efficient in penetrating armor.
A Tanto was a weapon featuring a single-edged and curved blade. This was designed specifically for soft targets and was one of the Samurai weapons. The Tanto was highly effective for close-range fighting since its blade can measure from six to twelve inches long. Just like with most knives, the samurai used the Tanto for both stabbing and slashing.
This blade first appeared between the years 794 and 1185. It was a standard weapon without any artistic qualities since it was a practical piece created out of need. Between 1185 and 1333, more artistic and highly improved quality Tanto were created.
Interestingly, when the fighting commenced from 1336 to 1573, the Tanto was further improved for fighting purposes. This caused its artistic appeal to slowly decline. Because of the Tanto’s mass production during the said period, the blade became narrower. This was to lessen the use of materials to be able to produce more blades.
A Deadly Weapon of Range, The Naginata
El Naginata was a long-bladed pole weapon. It was one of the traditional pieces used throughout the feudal period of Japan. It was popular among the Sohei – a group of warrior monks. It was also common for the infantry to utilize this. The Samurai also used the Naginata in the battlefield, especially when they required an extended reach.
The weapon was highly notable due to its long length. The entire Naginata was over two meters long. With that, it became extremely popular in the military during the earlier days of the Tokugawa era. During those times, the cavalry units were still a vital part of the military, and the Naginata was distinguished for its efficiency in taking down mounted enemies.
Male fighters and warrior monks utilized the O-naginata, while the Ko-naginata was used by women. Since the Naginata was much heavier and slower compared to the other Samurai swords, the Ko-naginata blade was made smaller compared to that of the O-naginata. This was also to compensate for the lesser upper body strength and height of a female compared to a male warrior clad in armor.
Yari – The Classic Weapon of the Warrior
Bushi is the label given to the Japanese warriors. They were skilled in a variety of Samurai weapons. While the sword was considered as the soul of the samurai, there was another weapon that proved just as vital as the sword. This is the Yari, and it has acquired more acclaims in the earlier period of Japan’s history.
The Yari was a traditionally-made Japanese blade. It appeared in the form of the straight-headed spear. The Yari was one of the very first Japanese blades based from the classic Chinese spears. Later on, a variety of these weapons were crafted: from the Sankaku to the Juji yari.
The Sankaku Yari was designed to penetrate any form of Japanese armor including metal armor. The Juji Yari is specifically made with a cross-section that helped block the enemy’s weapon. This allowed for easy striking using elaborate techniques.
A Precise Shot to the Enemy, The Samurai’s Yumi
El Samurai were skilled archers. Archery was a vital skill to learn since it was how they fought and protected themselves. When it comes to their bows, these warriors carried little quiver boxes along their belts which held the arrows for easier reach.
Yumi is the term for bow in Japanese. When utilized in English, this refers to a more specific type of weapon – the classic asymmetrical bows. It features the shorter Hankyu and longer Daikyu. The Samurai utilized the latter for practicing Japanese archery. This also shoots the Ya, the classic Japanese arrows.
The Yumi is a tall bow that stands more than two meters. It usually surpasses the archer’s height and is classically created by laminating wood, bamboo, and leather.
The origin of bows dates all the way back in history. In Japan, these may have first been used in the Yayoi era. The bows then were the Maruki-type: longbows crafted from a piece of wood. These were usually painted black and bound with birch. Based on the Gishi Wajin Den or Record of the Wei Biography of Wajin, the Japanese warriors utilized the longbows.
In the Sengoku period, specifically the latter part of the 15th century, Heki Danjou Matsugu transformed and developed archery with a new and precise approach. He called this the Hi Kan Chu or the fly, pierce, center; and from this, a large number of schools were created. Some of these still remain today, like the Heki Ryu Chukurin Ha, Heki Ryu Sekka Ha, and the Heki Ryu Insai Ha.
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