Home Home

THE HISTORY OF THE SAMURAI SWORD, FROM THE EARLY DAYS TO THE PRESENT - The Samurai sword is unquestionably the most well known sword in the history of the world. Its presence in the batlefield as an astonishing weapon and in the homes of the Samurai warriors beautifully adorning rooms, has been felt for the last 1500 years.

It is believe that it was originally started in China, then the technology moved to Korea and finally ended up in Japan. The development and evolution of the construction and design of the Samurai sword is closely tied to the different periods in Japanese history. As technology and political events unfolded in Japan, the Samurai sword morphed to adapt to the needs of the day.

The biggest challenge of the sword maker is to successfully combine two different qualities of metal. The sword that is borned from this marriage is light, reliable in battle and practical.

The following section provides a comprehensive view of the various periods in Japanese history;

This information is brought to you courtesy of MilitaryItems.com. The source for military antiques and collectibles.

Swords of this period were primarily made by Chinese and Korean masters. There aren't very many examples of these swords around today. This period marks the begining of the Japanese culture under the reign of emperor Jimmu.

The swords from this period were called "Chokuto". Unlike the current version, the blades of these swords had a straight shape. No curvature. It is possible that some of these swords were made in China.

Some of these swords have been found in tombs. Their blades are too thin to be designed for combat. It is likely they were created for ceremonial purposes.

NARA PERIOD (650 to 793)
The first capital city of Japan was established during this period. New laws were introduced and the imperial family established a stronghold. The need for a better equipped army started creating the need for the development of better swords.

HEIAN PERIOD (794 to 1191)
Kyoto became the capital of Japan and was ruled by the Fujirawa clan. This era produced some of the best examples of Samurai swords as new techniques were developed.

Warfare had evolved. Samurai warriors were now fighting from horseback. The old swords were designed for a thrusting motion, the new swords will now require a slashing motion. This required for the sword to have a curvature. In addition, the sword had to be light enough to be hels with a single hand.

The length of the blade was incremented. The cutting edge was around 3 feet in length. The curvature was uniform. The sword was very strong. The warrior would wear the sword slung from the waist with the edge facing down.

The swords from this period are called "Tachi". The hammon was broader. This was the first time that "Ashi" was employed. The Ashi were strips of soft steal positioned in the hardened area of the edge. Designed to protect the blade when swords clashed in combat.

KAMAKURA PERIOD (1192 to 1336)
Feudal Japan is started. The Shogunate form of government is in place. The Mongols attempt to invade Japan and are met by Kamatura warriors who defend the island ferociously. However, their weapons are no match to the Mongol forces and are beaten. Suddenly, typhoon season starts and the mongol ships are destroyed stopping the invasion of Japan.

The Kamakura warriors see the need for better swords and begin working on developing better techniques. Some of the best built swords emerge at this time. The Kamakura period is known as the golden age of the Samurai Sword.

Some of the advancements in sword development include the insertion of a soft core of low carbon steal into the blade. This technique replaced the single piece of high carbon construction employed earlier.

The size of the hardened edge was increased. The blades became broader with a bigger point. The larger hardened area permitted for the sword to be polished multiple times. This is quite an advancement in technology.

As a result of experiences fighting the Mongols, sword makers saw the need for the development of a shorter sword. The reduction in size would make it easier to maneuver in hand to hand combat. This marks the birth of the "Tanto" sword.

The importance of the foot soldier grew during this period. A reflection of this fact is that the "Tachi" required two hands to be used.

Emperor Godaigo gathers up forces and manages to overthrow the Shogunate.

Era Name Year Comments
Kennin 1201
Genkyu 1204
Ken-Ei 1206
Shogen 1207
Kenreki 1211
Kempei 1213
Jokyu 1219
Jo-O 1222
Gennin 1224
Karoku 1225
Antei 1227
Kwangi 1229
Jo-Ei 1232
Tempuku 1233
Bunreki 1234
Katei 1235
Beki-Nin 1238
En-O 1239
Ninji 1240
Kwangen 1243
Ho-Ji 1247
Enchou 1249
Shoka 1257
Era Name Year Comments
Shogen 1259
Bun-O 1260
Kocho 1261
Bun_Ei 1264
Kenji 1275
Ko-An 1278
Sho-O 1288
Sho-An 1299
Kengen 1302
kagen 1303
Tokuji 1306
Enkei 1308
O-Cho 1311
Showa 1312
Bumpo 1317
Gen-O 1319
Genko 1321
Shochu 1324
Kareki 1326
Gentoku 1329
Gen-Ko 1331
Kemmu 1334
Engen 1336

MUROMACHI PERIOD (1337 to 1573)
The Shogunate returns to power. Japan is split in two as civil war erupts. The conflict lasts for over 100 years and causes a huge supply of swords to appear. Lack of materials, the need to outfit armies with swords in a short period of time, constant attacks and other factors contributed to a sharp decline in the quality of the swords.

The constant fighting leads to the development of new technology. This period marks the birth of the "Uchigatana". This is a companion sword measuring roughly 24 inches and designed for single hand use. It was ideal for fighting indoors where the larger "Tachi" was not practical.

Era Name Year Comments
Ko-Koku 1340
Shohei 1346
Kentoku 1370
Bunchu 1372
Tenju 1375
Ko-Wa 1381
Genchu 1384
O-Ei 1394
Shocho 1428
Ei-Ko 1429
Kakitsu 1441
Bun-An 1444
Ho-Toku 1449
Ko-Toku 1452
Kosho 1455
Choroku 1457
Era Name Year Comments
Kwansho 1460
Bunsho 1466
O-Nin 1467
Bunmei 1469
Cho-Ko 1487
Entoku 1489
Mei-O 1492
Bunki 1501
Eisho 1504
Dai-Ei 1521
Ko-Roku 1528
Tembun 1532
Ko-Ji 1555
Eiroku 1558
Genki 1570
Tensho 1573

Japan is reunited under the control of the warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The existing large armies are put to use by invading China and Korea. A decree is issued that prohibits farmers from owning swords.

This period saw the birth of the "Katana". Measuring between 24 to 30 inches in length. A companion sword called the "Wakisashi" was also created. Measuring around 18 inches long. The swords were meant to be worn together. This became an icon and tradition of the Samurai warrior until the end of WWII when the swords were outlawed.

The swords were more appealing to the eye. They were more shiny and had larger hammons. These styles of swords are known as Shinto (meaning "New sword"). As peace spread through the country swords started becoming more an ornament or sign of status rather than a weapon.

Changes in warfare tactics are developed as a result of the introduction of the gun.

Era Name Year Comments
Bunroku 1592
Keicho 1596

EDO PERIOD (1603 to 1867)
Modern day Tokyo becomes the capital of Japan. This is a period of relative peace. Japan's first contact with the west took place during this period with the coming of Commodore Perry in 1853.

The quality of the Shinto blades were an improvement from those created during the warring years. However, this came to an end when shortages of materials, high taxes and corruption placed a heavy toll on the craft. Quality began to suffer again.

A chief swordsmith was appointed. This organization was in charge of issuing certificates to individuals, allowing them to become authorized sword makers. It is thought that this organization contributed to the fall in quality of the swords. They would sell the titles at a very high price. In turn, the sword makers would charge an increased fee for their swords in an effort to recuperate their investment and make some profit.
Nearly 1,000 people purchased the certification. Many of them produced blades at a very quick rate compromising quality. An example is a maker named Tsuda Sukehiro, who produced a total of 1,620 blades during his career.

The 1780's saw a revival of interest in quality. A new type of sword named the "Shishinto" (Meaning New New Sword) was borned. One of the founders of this movement was named Suishinshi Masahide. He traveled the country and trained around 100 sword makers.

In 1876 the Samurai class was abolished. It was illegal to wear swords in public. This marks an end to the classical Samurai sword.

Era Name Year Comments
Genwa 1615
Kwan-Ei 1624
Sho-Ho 1644
Keian 1648
Jo-O 1652
Meireki 1655
Manji 1658
Kwanbun 1661
Em-Po 1673
Tenwa 1681
Jo-Ko 1684
Genroku 1688
Ho-Ei 1704
Shotoku 1711
Ko-Ho 1716
Gembun 1736
Kwanpo 1741
En-Ko 1744
Kwanen 1748
Horeki 1751
Era Name Year Comments
Meiwa 1764
An-Ei 1772
Tem-Mei 1781
Kwansei 1789
Ko-Wa 1801
Bunkwa 1804
Bunsei 1818
Tempo 1830
Ko-Kwa 1844
Ka-Ei 1848
Ansei 1854
Man-En 1860
Bunkyu 1861
Genji 1864
Kei-O 1865

MODERN PERIOD (1868 to now)
Emperor Meiji regained power and moved the capitol to Tokyo. In 1876 he created a law prohibiting anyone from wearing a Samurai sword. The eras included in this period are:

Era Name Year Comments
Ansei 1854
Bunkyu 1861
Genji 1864
Keio 1865
Meiji 1868
Taisho 1912 This era includes swords created during WWI.
Showa 1926 This era includes swords created during WWII.

The WWII Samurai Sword

The Samurai sword had a prominent status during WWII. Just about every member of the Japanese armed forces was either issued a sword or brought their own family sword into combat. The spirit of the Samurai warrior was very present in the minds of the soldiers.

During WWII swords were mass produced for officers in the Imperial Army. These blades were made from foundry steel. The were of very low quality. They did not have a hammon, hardened edge or many of the other characteristics found in hand-made swords.

The Post-WWII Samurai Sword

After the war strict rules were put in place to control the existance of weapons in Japan. These rules also applied to Samurai swords. A family who had a sword which had been handed down from generation to generation could keep ownership. However, the sword had to be registered with the government.

Any of the swords which were mass produced during WWII cannot be registered and must be destroyed.

The manufacturing of swords was completly banned. The restriction in manufacturing and posession was lifted in 1953. However, sword makers were held under rules to ensure that they were producing works of art rather than weapons for war. A list of the rules is included here. They are still in place today.

Rule 1 All swordsmiths must be licensed. to obtain a license the person must serve an apprenticeship under a licensed sword maker for a period no less than five years.

Rule 2 The maximum production of swords from a licensed sword maker is two long swords (over 2 feet) and three small swords (under 2 feet) per month.

Rule 3 All swords must be registered with the police.

Rule 4 Any cutting instrument with a length of under 6 inches, which has no hole in the tang is considered to be a knife an is exempt from these rules.

WE BUY JAPANESE SWORDS - All types of Japanese edge weapons. Whether it is a WWII era Samurai sword or an older type of blade.

The process gets started by you sending us an Email . We will respond to your inquiry normally within 24 hours and in many cases much faster.

We can tell you what you have, what it is worth and how much we can pay you.

One sword or an entire collection - Email Us .

1997 - 2013 MilitaryItems.com - All rights reserved.