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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Oriental Japanese Swords: Weapons Par Excellence


The sword is one of the oldest weapons used by man. It was a weapon of personal combat as well the foot soldiers. Horsemen who were part of the cavalry made significant use of it. Swords from the east had a slightly curved shape. The Japanese had a martial tradition and developed the sword to a great extant. If one has seen the movie 'The Last Samurai" one will be able to appreciate the significance of the sword in Japanese culture. No other nation had so great a love for the sword as the Japanese. At the end of the war there were perhaps a million swords in Japan and 70% of them found their way to the United States.

Samurai and swords
 The Japanese trace the lineage of their swords to almost 600 BC. This is later than the Indian period which boasts the history of the sword from 4000 BC. The exponent of the Japanese culture as far swords was concerned were the Samurai a class of warriors. The samurai was an elite class of warriors whose profession was to fight for the emperor. They came into prominence from about the 12th century and developed a number of swords of varied designs.
Designs of Japanese swords
 The Samurai used a variety of long swords. The blade was slightly curved with the edge on the outer side. The sword was light weight, but lethal and was used by the Samurai to behead the enemy in one single stroke. The length of the Japanese swords was measured in a unit called ‘Shaku’. This was roughly equal to about 30.3 centimeters.

 The Japanese swords were classified according to their lengths. Generally the long swords used by the Japanese warriors had a length of 2 Shaku. The swords used by the Samurai were shorter than the Indian and oriental swords used by the Persians.
The Japanese did have longer swords as well which had lengths of 3 Shaku or more. They were the swords that were used by the Japanese foot soldiers and the cavalry. The long sword made the cavalry more effective and was carried in a belt tied to the waist.
Rituals
The Japanese used the swords not only for fighting, but also for rituals like Hara-kiri the art of disemboweling oneself. For this the Japanese used a shorter special sword and is peculiar to Japanese culture and nothing like this is seen any where else. The swords have now gone out of fashion as weapons of warriors. They can be found only with collectors and museums. But their study is essential to understand the evolution of the weapons of the soldier.