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What Type of Sword is a Wakizashi?

By Uday - June 14, 2024 11:53 AM

A Wakizashi is a short sidearm sword traditionally paired with the katana. This historic sword is a companion piece of the katana, which is about 12 to 24 inches in length. The Wakizashi was mainly quite often carried by Samurai as a backup to the Katana, a primary sword. The Wakizashi sword was useful for engagements that happened at close range or during street fighting in structures or when the longer Katana sword was not adequate. The katana is one half of the daisho that was used by the samurai in Japan during the period of feudalism and the daisho is a set where the katana is the longer of the two swords.


History of Wakizashi

Wakizashi has been in existence ever since the ancient Feudal period of Japan. At the same time, Japan had a confederate system of government and was a feudal society, with a rigid atmosphere of caste system where samurai were on top of the system. Samuraru were those who worked for the feudal lords referred to as daimyo and had rigid code of conduct, referred to as bushido.

The Wakizashi is also of historical significance since it emerged as a secondary sword to the Katana, which was the primary weapon wielded by the samurai class. While the former was appropriate for outdoor battles and is characterized by wider curves, the latter was more useful for enclosed spaces, indoor combat, and as a secondary weapon in case the katana was used up or taken from the owner. However, it was common to carry both the Katana and Wakizashi together which set them as the daisho which in Japanese means ‘big –little’.

The carrying of the daisho which consists of the Katana and the Wakizashi was highly controlled by certain rules commonly referred to as the sumptuary laws. These laws revealed who could wear which type of sword based on their social standing, position, or rank. For example, samurai were allowed to wear both the Katana and Wakizashi while for ordinary people such as farmers or traders, they were only allowed to carry better but shorter swords such as the tanto.


Wakizashi evolved into more than just a tool of offense and defense; it grew into the manifestation of the samurai. Many times it became inherited property in samurai clans and was an emblem of the samurai’s values like honor, loyalty, and combat skills.

The Wakizashi, though longer than the typical kitchen knife, was quite useful in multiple aspects of samurai life, including rituals and ceremonies. It was applied to formal wear for occasions like the tea ceremony, where the samurai would showcase the weapon’s presence as a mark of their refined society class. Moreover, there were other uses of the Wakizashi for instance during seppuku, which is a practice of suicide embraced by the samurai in order to maintain the prestige when placed in disgraceful situations or when they were defeated.

kitchen knife

However, with the apprehension of the samurai class and later the Japan New Regime in the late 19th century marked by the Meiji Restoration, the use of the Wakizashi lessened in significance. The samurai class of Japanese warriors was gradually dissolved, and Samurai grew to refrain from having a sword on them, and wearing it as a marking of status was prohibited during the movement toward the modernization of Japan. Nevertheless, due to crafting skills, devoid of the mythical and folkloric aspects that form an important part of contemporary Japanese culture, the Wakizashi is still appreciated.

Characteristics of the Wakizashi Sword


The Wakizashi, as mentioned, is also a short sword and possess a curved and single-edged blade like the Katana. Typically, it is made according to the forging technology similar to the Japanese School of sword-making, which utilizes differential tempering for obtaining a sharp-edged tool that still functions as a flexible weapon.


It is a smaller and shorter sword compared to the katana, the blade of this sword ranges from 30cm to 60cm (12 inches to 24 inches) in length. In some cases, it could be less than a foot and in some other cases it could be as much as two feet or even more, depending on the historical period, regional peculiarities, and the individual master’s distinctive features.


Wakizashi blades are produced from high-carbon steel infused several times so that impurities could be eliminated, therefore increasing density. The blade is heat treated by quenching, and then tempering in order that the blade has the proper level of hardness and strength for the intended purpose.


The part at the center of the Wakizashi that is gripped is called the tsuka, to which a material typically in silk or cotton cord – known as the ito – is wound into a particular design. The two pegs of bamboo or metal called mekugi are fitted through hole which exist on the tang of the blade and then placed in the handle.


Similar to the Katana, the Wakizashi has a part called the tsuba – an extension that lies between the blade and the handle. In the most basic sense, the tsuba shields the hand and aids in counterbalancing the weapon.


As for the handle of the Wakizashi, which is called the saya the protective cover of the blade, it is made from wood and coated with lacquered coating. The outside cover, commonly called saya, can also have other decorative details like metal plaques or more complex patterns.


As a tradition, the Wakizashi is linked to honor, loyalty, and samurai code of conduct known as bushido among the Japanese populace. In addition to serving as a weapon, it is also viewed as a manifestation of the samurai’s spirit and ethical convictions.


Wakizashi can be considered a quintessential model of the Japanese blades, both practical and symbolic role, and its place in the history of the Japanese culture cannot be reduced to words. Its blade length was shorter in comparison with the Katana; it was not its primary weapon, though it completely agreed with the samurai code of honor, loyalty and skill. The Wakizashi, from its cutting edge, hand forged steel to the carefully wrapped handle and the ornate scabbard of the sword, is a testament to 400 years of tradition and mastery of metallurgy in Japan Samurai Sword. The Wakizashi stands not only as a fearsome implement of warfare but also as part of the proud heritage of bushido: the samurai and his code, remains a fascinating enigma to the people of the world today.

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