The Great Battlefield Sword – The Japanese Nodachi
In history, the samurai warriors fought on the battlefield wielding different types of deadly swords. The most famous one was the katana, yet there were other notable blades that were used. One of these was the nodachi which was known as a field sword.
The Nodachi was also referred to as the odachi which means large or great sword. It was a traditionally-made Japanese sword or nihonto that could only be wielded by the samurai class. The Nodachi blade length is expected to be at least three Shaku (around 90 centimeters) and that does not include the handle.
The Chinese had an equivalent for the Japanese Nodachi. This is based on the length and weight of the weapons and it was called the Miao Dao. Of the western the claymore is considered an equivalent to the Nodachi on the battlefield; however, it was less similar compared to the Miao Dao.
Sasaki Kojiro and the Monohoshizao
Sasaki Kojiro was a prominent swordsman who was said to be a master of his craft. His fighting name was Ganryu which meant Large Rock style. This was also the name of the school he founded for kenjutsu.
Since his master, Toda Seigen, used the kodachi, Sasaki made use of the nodachi which he later excelled in. His favored weapon for combat was a straight-edged nodachi called the “Monohoshizao” which his blade measured over 90cm. Despite its measurements, Sasaki was able to execute unusually quick and precise strikes with the nodachi.
His school, Ganryu, was founded after he defeated his master’s younger brother. Aside from this, he was also principally remembered for duelling against Miyamoto Musashi, a well-known swordsman during that time.
The Nodachi – A Blade of History
The nodachi was one of the swords used by the samurai class. There were different information as to when it was actually produced. However, research claims that it was crafted during the 5th century. This was due to the discovery of an unearthed sword that was located from a mound in Tochigi-ken.
Some time in history, there were different stories claiming that the nodachi instilled fear in enemy soldiers. When the Japanese battled against Koreans, just the mere sight of it made the Korean soldiers step back and flee. Because of this, the nodachi became a prominent and very important weapon.
Siege of Osaka 1615 A.D
During the war of Osaka Natsu no Jin or Siege of Osaka, the recognition and importance of the nodachi eventually declined. Ever since, the large weapon turned into a piece used for a variety of ceremonies. It was barely used as a weapon of war.
When the Bakufu government took reign, different rules on carrying swords were set. One was prohibiting any individual from carrying swords of specific length. This was when the nodachi’s length was cut down, making it shorter into a more acceptable and legal length.
Nodachi for Battle
Though it was strong, the nodachi was undeniably too long to be carried on one’s waist. Samurai warriors who used this had different ways of carrying it. One was by slinging the sword over their back, and the other was by carrying it by hand.
Thing is, there were also inconveniences in these methods: making a quick draw was impossible when carried over the back. It also needed to be sheathed to protect the wielder. Yet when sheathed, the samurai would find it difficult to draw.
During the Muromachi era, the samurai warriors followed a trend to carry these blades. They needed an assistant or follower to help draw the sword. Also, there was a special technique taught by Tanaka Fumon where the Nodachi could be worn on the waist. He claims that the saya should be pulled out instead of drawing the sword.
Decline of the Nodachi
During the Osaka Natsu no Jin in 1615, the final battle between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyori, the nodachi became more of a ceremonial piece than for battle. This was due to the imposed law set by the Shogunate.
After the law was set and the nodachi was trimmed down to a more legal size, these were no longer of practical use. However, the nodachi were still utilized as offerings in Shinto shrines, thus, became their primary purpose.
Since it required a lot of skill to craft a nodachi, its exotic exterior was considered adequate as an offering to the gods.
Render of a Nodachi – Samurai Swords Store App
Purpose of the Nodachi
Generally speaking, the use of most nodachi fall into the first few categories: the nodachi functions as infantry weapons and ceremonial pieces. The possible functions of this weapon are categorized as follows: as an offering to a shrine to their patron gods, or as a piece used in prayer before battle.
Other nodachi were used for display in temples and were noted as legendary blades from mythology.
The Production and Issues of the Nodachi
The creation of a nodachi took several days. Also, only the highly skilled and experienced smiths were selected to produce such long swords. Crafting this sword required a lot of extraordinary teamwork. It was also vital to have special facilities for its creation.
Since it was longer than the average sword, the heating and forging process proved to be complicated. Heating was required to cover the entire blade. This was necessary to reach its hardening temperature. It was also similar to the quenching process.
Heat treating a nodachi was also challenging. Smiths needed to hang down these swords with a long cord to complete the process. They required a bigger medium for quenching since uneven quenching can warp the blade. This is unlike regular swords that only need to be set over polishing stones.
Shop: Hand Forged Custom Made Nodachi Swords
Read: Japanese Spears and Polearms
Compare: Different Sword Steel Types
The Nodachi in Japanese Myths
It was said that the sword was inspired by legendary myths. Some also claim that the nodachi was used by the Gods from Japanese mythologies. However, most of these blades that have been discovered only date back to the fifth century.
One sample is the Hutsunomi Tamano Tsurugi in Kashima Shrine, Ibaraki. It was believed to be a blade given to the Emperor by a God to stop a revolt. After numerous research, it was found that the sword was produced during the Heian period and is not really the sword from myth. Upon further research, the sword appears to be an imitation piece which was based on the sword from myths. This is one reason why people believed it to be utilized by the Gods.
Its appearance also led people to believe that it was used by Gods. If it has a unique appearance, was large, and featured intricate designs, people would assume it was the sword from myths.
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