top of page



The Katana, quite a symbol

THEJapanese sword is intimately linked to the history of feudal Japan, because it is the very symbol of the Samurai. It has undergone many transformations during its evolution, to give an instrument remarkable for its qualities. The Katana, which is approximately one meter in length, is usually wielded with two hands (although some techniques, such as Myamoto Musashi's famous two-sword technique, or techniques involving the use of the scabbard, require one-handed handling ). Its handle (Tsuka), depending on the political climate, varied between the length of two or three hands. A guard (Tsuba) protects the hands that are on the Tsuka. The weight of a katana with a steel blade varies from 900 grams to 1200 grams.

Some periods of Japanese history being calmer, the katana had more of a ceremonial role than a real weapon. In this case, the Tsuka (guard) was shorter, making it easier to wear the obi (belt), to the detriment of the balance of the weapon. Thus, it is said that the sabers do not all behave in the same way. Whoever wields them can find in them a very special "character", determined according not only to the degree of skill of the blacksmith, but also to his spiritual level. There are several types of swords, varying in shape and length: The Nippon-to or katana or Japanese sword has the blade as its main frame.


The sword is one of the three treasures of Japan.

It was also the most precious possession ofare samuraiand Des Bushi (warriors).

Symbol of the upper class, the saber is the soul of the Samurai. Much more than a formidable weapon, some have been revered in temples since the dawn of time. The artists who forged them very quickly sought the artistic aspect in addition to the combat quality of the blades.

Thanks to a complex technique, the ancient blacksmiths succeeded better than anywhere in the world in reconciling the hardness which gives the edge, with the flexibility which allows the blade not to break.

The evolution of blades according to the times
























































3rd century - 10th century Yamato, Nara and early Heian period

During the Kofun era, weapons evolved and became sharper. At this time, the blades created are flat, two-sided. The beginning of the Asuka era will see the creation of the Kiriha-Zukuri blades. These blades are not yet sabers, but rather swords, "KEN" in Japanese, then will come Chokuto or Tsurugi. They are influenced by the continental cultures of China and Korea. From the year 645, mid-Asuka, the weapon called "Jokoto" appears, a saber or sword with a beginning of curvature. perfect condition due to the particular climate of Japan, which is very corrosive. Fortunately for the story, some, however, were preserved in good condition: it appears that these blades were forged from a single piece of metal, unlike the future forge and they often reflected a lack of skill in their structural design. Moreover, the practice of clay tempering seems not to have existed at that time. On the other hand, despite the defects stated above, these blades sport a fairly good quality in terms of steel and grain, thus proving that the fundamental principles of blacksmithing were already established, known and applied in their entirety at that time._cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   The birth of the first blades worthy of fame dates back to the end of the Asuka era, with the one considered the father of the Japanese forge, Amakuni which worked in the years 700-710. These ancient blades are recognized as national treasures or "Kokuho - Kondoso Kanto No Tachi dating back to the late Kofun era.



10th century - 12th century - Mid Heian era / Early Kamakura era

At that time, the Samurai (which is rather called Bushi) fought mainly on horseback, most often in man-to-man duels. The blades are long. (80 cm) The upper part, towards the tip, is thinned to lighten the blade. The Shinogi (stops it on the sides) is high placed, the curvature is more pronounced towards the Tsuba (guard). This large saber is called TACHI. It is worn suspended from the belt, cutting towards the ground. The temper is straight and narrow. The blacksmith looks for the solidity and the beauty of the blades is not a priority. However, as the quality of the blades depends on good steel, well forged and well tempered, very quickly the blacksmiths and the Bushi realize that the best blades in combat are also the most beautiful. Towards the end of the Kamakura era, the quenching lines begin to wave slightly. Already, the artistic value of the blades is beginning to be recognized.

13th century - Mid Kamakura era

For the first time, the Samurai drive the nobles from power. Warlords quarrel for control of castles. The Tachi of the earlier era resulted in heavier and sturdier armor. To overcome these armors, the saber becomes thicker and heavier. The difference in width between the base and the tip is reduced. The curvature is raised towards the middle. The tip is stubby and short. The elegant silhouette of the previous sabers gives way to larger and more robust blades. The handling of these heavy sabers requires great strength, and the two-handed combat technique is becoming widespread. The forge has made considerable progress. The styles of each workshop are very distinct according to the regions, the techniques and the ore used. Very great artists reveal themselves with perfect work... The golden age of the Japanese sword.

End of the Kamakura Era

In 1274 and 1281 the Mongols of Kublai Khan tried to invade Japan. The Japanese lords, divided by their struggle for power, were both nearly defeated. Twice the Kamikaze (divine winds) engulfed the invading fleets. These fights changed a lot of things. While the Samurai fought man to man in Homeric duels, with their heavy armor, the Mongols, without thick protection, fought in groups and did not hesitate to surround an isolated Samurai to defeat him. This led to lightening the armor. The saber saw its upper part thinned again. The point was lengthened and refined. The temper settles down. Thanks mainly to the typhoons, the Mongols were defeated after hard fighting. However, the Kamakura government forgot to reward the Samurai who had fought valiantly... In revolt, the Samurai brought down the government!


14th century - Nambokucho era

Emperor GODAIGO was also in trouble with the great Samurai. There was a revolt, and a prince caused the division of the imperial family. The country was plunged into civil war. The two clans each raised large armies. Group fights are becoming commonplace. Foot soldiers grew in importance, equipped with polearms, the Yari (pike) and the Naginata (halberd). To stand out from the rank and file, the ornaments of the armor grew larger. The saber becomes gigantic, wide, with a long point, the curvature is very pronounced. To keep the weight reasonable, the blade becomes thinner. Very impressive but impractical, a second, smaller saber appeared. Slipped into the belt, sharp towards the sky, the KATANA appeared. The forge is very well mastered. Artist Masamune is at his peak. His techniques influenced all of Japan.

15th century - 16th century - Muromachi era

After the long wars of Nanbokucho, peace saw the disappearance of very long swords considered too cumbersome. The second sword, Katana, smaller and more practical begins to replace the Tachi. The blades of this period, shorter and narrower, with a more collected point, saw their thickness increase to compensate for the robustness. Armors also become simpler. Very beautiful blades will be forged. Towards the end Muromachi the troubles resume. The intrigues are numerous and the power often changes hands. The demand for swords is enormous and the workshops are overwhelmed. The very large number of swords produced allowed the smiths to try many things, but overall, the artistic value is left aside in favor of the number. There are still special orders from Samurai, and the excellent blades are still produced. Most forged blades are Katanas, not too large, well suited to sudden combat by ambitious civilians.

Late 16th century - Early 17th century - Momoyama era

At this time, the Portuguese introduced the first firearms. Rudimentary and imprecise, they nevertheless led to reinforcement of the armour, often by a wrought iron sheet on the torso. Ideal support for engraving and decorations of any style, these armors are characteristic. A great lord and his ally, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi put an end to anarchy and reunited Japan. The calm that followed and the discovery of important gold mines enriched the whole country. The frames are richly decorated. The old Nambokucho blades, which are very showy, are very popular. However, too long, they are shortened and equipped with fashionable frames. Gold and precious metal alloys are widely used. These old blades thus reassembled are so appreciated, that the blacksmiths produced blades which imitated the characteristic silhouette of the old shortened blades. That is to say, a little too wide compared to their size, but very curved with a big tip. The only difference was the thickness. The old, shortened long blades remained thin, of course, while the new ones are thicker. Tempers become lively and showy again. It was at this time that the new Shogun, Hideyoshi, took preventive riot control. He ordered the hunt for sabers. At that time everyone was armed. Farmers, merchants, craftsmen... Only the Samurai will be able to wear the pair of swords. As a result, all the blades of the troubled times, produced in large quantities and without artistic value, were destroyed. This natural selection, and the significant use of precious metals in the frames, makes it possible to speak of the great Momoyama era.

17th century - mid 18th century - Early and mid Edo era

After Hideyoshi's death, the new Shogun Ieyasu exterminated his predecessor's family. Then he reorganized all the distribution of large families and estates, with the aim of establishing his power. Each lord who was moved left with his court, and of course, his blacksmiths. There followed a complete overhaul of the workshops and styles, which until then had been well separated. The means of communication and imported materials further increased this revival. This is the end of the Ko-to swords or old swords. From this moment, the new ones will be called Shin-To. (new sword). Highly sophisticated fencing techniques, including slashing and thrusting, led to new blades. A reasonable size, less curvature, a thin upper part and a fairly small tip. Two major centers coexist at this time. Edo, political capital, martial and strict, and Osaka, center of trade, less austere. We begin to discern two types of blades and mounts. In Edo, sober and martial blades. In Osaka, more showy blades, highly worked tempers, very fine grains of steel. Wealthy merchants, who were entitled to the short sword, spent fortunes on very rich blades and mounts. The Samurai, they were bored by these times of peace. During the peace, the demand for swords became less strong, and beauty and wealth were favored rather than the martial aspect of the sword.

 Late 18th century - Mid 19th century - End of the Edo era

The Tokugawa government is at its wit's end.The Samurai, idle for too long are unhappy. Moreover, ruin awaits them. Merchants acquired financial power. The revolt rumbles. The revolutionary movement wishes to return power to the Emperor. We are in 1853. Commodore Perry is at the gates of Japan with his fleet. The prospects of a conflict awaken the sword industry. blacksmiths try again to forge blades comparable to those of their glorious ancestors. Others imagine new blades by combining various characteristics. This revival leads to the Shin-Shin-To. (new new sword) swords. The production is very diverse, however the fact that all the blacksmiths can obtain raw steel (Tamahagane) ready to be used, we will no longer see the differences in the grain of the steel which characterized the old workshops. Only the differences in techniques, cooking and quenching remain. Blades from this era look very clear, pure and shiny, but the intricacies of the old blades are gone.

Mid 19th century to the present day - Meiji era

In 1867, with the fall of the Tokugawa, the Samurai class was abolished. The demand for swords is plummeting. The coup de grace was given in 1876 with the prohibition of the wearing of sabers in the street. From there, the saber will no longer evolve for practical reasons. Then came the Second World War. The blades produced for the army are machined from industrial steel bar, and do not belong to the prestigious Nippon-To group. After the defeat of Japan, the US army first wanted to confiscate all the swords in order to destroy them... The Japanese did their utmost to make the occupier admit the historical, social, and sometimes religious value embodied by the saber. In 1947 the Japanese government was in charge of listing the art sabers and destroying the machined military blades. The creation of the NTBHK (association for the safeguard of the art saber) saved many old blades from destruction, and especially the complex forging techniques. Today, it organizes blacksmithing competitions and awards prizes to talented artists. A few smiths hold the title of Living National Treasure, and forge blades that nearly equal the prestigious blades of their ancestors.

tachi (3).jpg
evolution des lames katana.png
classification sabres japonais.jpg
bottom of page