The Parts of the Deadly Katana Sword
What’s in this article?
The Japanese Katana is one of the most well-known swords in the world. Swordsmiths in Japan made swords of high-carbon steel during the Kamakura period. The Katana has a single-edged blade that is curved at one end. The sword is popular among collectors and people who do martial arts, but few are familiar with the parts of the sword.
In this article, we will talk about the different kinds of Katana and all the parts it contains, how they were made, and their features.
Tsuka – Handle
A sturdy Katana requires a firm handle, called a Tsuka. Given that it is often a work of art, the handle of the Samurai sword may contain personal and symbolic inscriptions.
The Tsuka is the wooden grip that slides onto the “tang” of the sword and makes it easy to hold.
The Tsuka Ito is the wrap that goes around the wooden handle and is patterned. It can be made of silk or cotton. This colorful string is wrapped tightly around the smooth piece of wood to increase friction and make it easier to hold. The wrapping process is another skill that takes time and practice to learn and master.
The Same is the layer wrapped under the cotton (or string). The layer consists of leather, ray skin, or shark belly. However, some cheaper Katana models use plastic. The Same is usually in a white or contrasting color to the Menuki so it can be easily seen.
These are small, ornate symbols and sculptures stuck on top of the ray-skin Menuki, right above the wrapping. These works of art show animals, flowers, parts of nature, or personal symbols that will be important to the future owner of the sword.
Surprisingly, these decorative pieces had a practical use too! By making the surface bumpy, it becomes easier to grip. However, if the handle is too smooth and polished, like sanded wood, you might lose your grip if you have sweaty hands.
The Fuchi is the metal sleeve between the handle and the guard and keeps the Tsuka and the other pieces together.
Kashira – Pommel
The Kashira is the cap attached at the bottom end of the Katana, also known as the pommel. It’s well made with strong material and used to hit opponents on the head when they come within close range.
Apart from that, the Kashira is actually a very big decorative piece. It holds the wrapping of the handle and has a tiny hole for the Makidome.
The last step in wrapping the Tsuka-Ito silk around the hilt is called Makidome. Most of the time, the Tsuka-Ito comes together in a knot on one side of the handle. The end knot is made when the wrapping goes through the Kashira or pommel and the final part of the Katana handle.
The blade is the most dangerous and important part of the sword. The Katana blade can cut, slash, slice, and pierce. The two parts of the Katana blade are the edge and the heel.
The Kissaki is the tip of the Katana’s blade. The shape of the tip is different from medieval swords. Most European swords have their tips pointed to the center, but the Kissakis’ point is on the edge of the blade.
The Kissaski is a big part of why a Katana is so good at cutting. Its purpose is to give the sword the ability to thrust. This way, the Samuari would have the ability to cut and stab.
This is the sharp bottom end of the blade tip. When the Katana is thrust into the flesh, the Boshi cuts its way through its target. The angled shape makes it easier to slice through soft and hard tissue. The Boshi is the curvature that helps the Kissaki easily enter the enemy’s flesh.
Hi or Blood Groove
The front of the blade, which has a triangular shape, is known as the Hi. Note that this is not the edge but just the front of the Katana. It is made of hard steel that maintains its cutting edge well.
The Ha allows the side faces to come together to make the sharp edge. This is what gives the Katana its unique ability to cut and slash. It is made from hard steel, so it doesn’t easily lose its ability to cut.
The Ha is the part of the blade that gets sharpened most often and makes the Katana deadly.
The Hamon is not actually the Katana. It’s just a wave-like pattern that crosses the sharp edge. After baking and crafting the sword at high temperatures, the clay covering makes the sword harden unevenly, leaving this pattern.
Nakago or Makago
The Nakago is the dull appendage of the Katana blade placed on the other side of the sharp edge. It is the lowest part of the blade that goes inside the handle. To see the Nakago, you will have to pull off the handle.
The Yaibi is the sharp point and the razor-sharp edge of the Katana. This is the most harmful part of the Katana and what makes it so famous. The sword shouldn’t be too sharp because an edge that is too thin can be dangerous in other ways. For example, it can get small dents or wear unevenly when it hits something.
The back of the blade is called Mune. It is flatter and wider than the cutting edge. The Mune is largely made of soft and medium steels to make the Katana stronger and less likely to break. Japanese swordsmiths used multiple crafting procedures to make the Mune very strong to withstand clashes with other steel swords.
If a certified bladesmith made the sword, his name would probably be carved on the tang. Professional collectors or experts can look at the sword to tell a real Katana from a fake. You can track the sword back to a particular time or bladesmith in history too.
The Nagasa is the length of the blade, which for the Katana is the traditional 60-80cm long, but it can sometimes reach up to 90-95cm.
Sori is the curvature of the blade. It is what makes the Katana different from the straight blades.
Shinogi & Shinogi Ji
The Shinogi is the ridge line where the sword goes from the angled part that forms the edge to the Shinogi-Ji. The Shinogi Ji is the flat part of the Katana blade. They go together in a pair.
The higher the ridgeline, the better a sword will be able to cut harder targets (and the worse it will do on softer targets), and vice versa. A sword with a ridgeline of medium height is the most versatile and can cut both light and heavy targets.
The blades that do not have a Shinogi or a Shinogi Ji are called Hira-Zukuri.
Boshi & Bo-Hi
The Bo-Hi is a line that is cut into the blade of the Katana. It can be used to make the blade lighter and change where the sword is balanced. This Bo-Hi throat is also important for the sound it makes and reveals if the cut is good.
The Mei is the signature made on the sword but from the opposite side of the Tachi. The main reason is that the Katana was worn with the edge up. After the Muromachi period, the Katanas were specifically made in this way.
The Yokote is the line from which the Kassaki (edge) starts. Almost all Katanas have this feature. The Katanas that don’t have a Yokote means the blade runs throughout the length.
Munemachi & Hamachi
The Munemachi is just a 3-5mm notch at the back of the spine of a Japanese sword that fits into the Habaki (blade collar). It is used to measure a blade in a straight line from this notch to the very tip of the Kissaki.
The “notch” or step in the cutting edge between the edge and the tang is called the Hamachi, which is on the other side of the Munemachi.
Saya – Scabbard
The Saya is the sheath or scabbard that makes it easy to move and carry the Katana. It keeps the blade from oxidizing or getting rusty. Japanese warriors always kept their Katanas in their sheaths when they didn’t use them to keep the steel from rusting and reduce the chance of an accident.
Japanese swordsmiths made the Saya specifically to go along with each Katana to fit the size, length, width, etc.
The thick cord holding the Saya to the wearer’s back, shoulder, or belt is called Sageo. The Sageo wraps through the Kurikata. The Sageo makes it easier to take hold of the sword and move around. This is usually the visual representation we get in modern Holywood movies or Anime of how the Katana was worn. However, it wasn’t that much a reality.
The Kurikata is that small extension node or piece on the Saya that is meant to place a tight rope inside and through it. It was often used when wanting to secure the Saya on the waist or when wearing the Saya on the back.
The Koiguchi is the part of the Saya where you slide the sword into the sheath. This was usually done with specific and various types of metals to produce a kind of sound when it was being taken out, usually for ceremonies and such. It needed to be of strong material so that the Katana blade doesn’t damage the Saya.
The Koiguchi Ito is the rope used to carry the Katana on the shoulder or the back. It goes through the Kurikata.
Shitodome is part inside the Kurikata which made it fit and stay together. This was the holding point which was usually made of metal to keep everything together.
The Kojiri is the end point of the Saya (sheath) of the Katana.
The Fittings are the touching point of the blade and handle of the Katana. Even after much use, the blade and handle of the Katana need to be a strong and stable unit. No matter how sharp and strong the steel is, a Katana with weak fittings is not very useful.
Fittings are the second most important katana part if you want a bladed weapon that works.
The Habaki is the name for the blade collar. After making the blade, the swordsmith would attach the Habaki to the bottom of the blade. Like a hand guard, the Habaki was made to keep the samurai warrior from hurting his own hands. If a warrior accidentally grabbed the bottom part of the Katana’s blade, he would touch the Habaki instead of the blade itself.
The Seppa is another brass piece placed behind the Habaki collar on the Katana blade. The Habaki and Seppa keep the guard in place and prevent it from sliding off the blade. They also keep the katana stable by gluing everything together.
Menuki & Mekugi
Mekugi are the two tiny holes on the end of the tang. These are used to firmly attach the wooden handle to the blade. Both the tang and the handle have these little holes that line up perfectly when you put them together.
This is a very small hand guard on a Samurai sword which can be rendered almost ineffective. Each katana guard is different and beautifully made with traditional designs like flowers, dragons, and other natural symbols. The Tsuba is circular but can also be square or even rectangular.
When an opponent slides his blades down toward the wrists and fingers of a Katana wielder, the guard, or Tsuba, keeps your hands safe.
Construction of the Main Katana Parts
The construction of Katana parts will determine if the Katana will be effective and of high quality. Producing them will take time and skill.
A high-quality Katana blade cannot be held firmly without a quality handle and cannot be well preserved without a well-made scabbard.
The most important part of a Katana sword is, of course, the blade. Steel with more than 4% carbon was used to make traditional Japanese Katanas. So, the Japanese swordsmiths had to find a way to reduce the amount of carbon in the steel as a sword with more than 1% carbon becomes too fragile.
They invented a way called ‘folding.’ This makes the Katana look very unique and causes the parts of the blade to look very different from European swords. Japanese swordmakers also used a method of forging called ‘differential hardening,’ which gives the Katana its most recognizable look.
The Tsuka, which is the handle, is made to fit each blade. It is made of wood covered with ray skin, which makes it very easy to hold. A braided Tsuka-Ito, usually made of silk, is attached to it. The Katana handle is great because it softens the blows and allows for a firm grip.
There are holes on the tang that match holes on the Tsuka. Bamboo linchpins are put into the holes on the Tsuka to hold the blade securely to the handle. Even if the linchpin breaks, the sword won’t fly away because of how the bamboo is made. The broken linchpin would slip between the handle and the blade, keeping the sword in its original position.
The scabbard for Japanese sabers, swords, and daggers like the Katana, Wakizashi, Aito, and Tant is called the Saya. It is usually made of very light wood and has a layer of lacquer on the outside. Magnolia is the best kind of wood to use for making Saya because it can hold water.
The Saya is made by working with the wood. Wooden sheaths made in a factory may cause the sword to move around in its sheath. Parts of these Katanas can be brightly decorated with hand-painted designs, ray-skin patterns, and other things. They can also be plain, lacquered wood.
A master smith and a student of the Katana must also know the parts and its anatomy to be able to create a perfect sword because, in feudal Japan, the Katana was ‘the’ sword that the Samurai used. It was a very important part of their training, way of life, and beliefs. Because these parts of the Katana were so important, they had to be made and forged with the greatest care.