A Katana is known as a Japanese sword that comprises sharp, curved blades with a circular and square guard on it. It usually has a long grip to accommodate the use of both hands since the sword isn’t as light as it looks. Katanas are renowned because they were used by the samurai in Japan centuries ago.
In the family of swords, the Katana belongs to the nihonto descent. It is often distinguished by long blade length that extends about 60cm (24 in). Also referred to as ‘dai’ which transliterates to ‘big sword’ in Japanese, katana takes its current name from loanwords in the Portuguese and Chinese language.
Historians have suggested that katanas were among the finest cut swords in militia history. They categorize semi-curved, single-edged long blade lengths with a strong grip. While seemingly alike, katana and tachi (another powerful Japanese sword) can be distinguished with each other on the location of the carver’s signature, i.e., mei.
Types of Katanas
Throughout history, many different types of katanas have also emerged. They are essentially distinguished by their uses, quality of blades and curvature. Below are the types of katanas:
- Shinogi-Zakuri: This is the most common blade type of katanas. It provides efficient speed and cutting power. The Shinogi-Zukuri type features a long line that separates the blade’s end and the tip. Originally produced after the Heian period, this blade was the most sought after katana sword in Japanese history.
- Shobu-Zakuri: This is similar to the Shinogi-Zakuri, but without the long line. Instead, the edges of the blade on this sword curve smoothly and remain uninterrupted towards the end.
- Kissaki-Moroha-Zakuri: This is the most distinct of all three types of katanas. It comprises a curved, double-edged blade. One edge of the blade is like any other katana, while the tip is symmetrical.
How Are Katanas Made?
Authentic Japanese swords, or katanas, are made using high-carbon Japanese steel and low-carbon Japanese steel. The former type of steel is extremely strenuous, allowing for carvers to create a sharper edge. On the other hand, low-carbon steels are relatively less hard. Although not the same as their counterpart, they still allow shock absorption during use. One sword is made using both types of steel, or else they would be ineffective. As both steels work together, all properties of a Japanese sword are showcased for an authentic Japanese-katana.
The process by which both carbon concentrations are merged to create a layered steel for the sword is called tamahagane. This process helps remove any sort of purities and balance the carbon content needed. Once the carbon steel is ready, the swordsmith begins by folding and welding different pieces of steel. As he does this, the resultant steel is blocked out in the form of a billet.
At this point, the ‘billet’ is slightly curved or not curved at all. The smith now coats the blade with layers and layers of wet clay slurry, which is a common combination of clay and water, usually quantified by the smith, themselves. The same slurry hardens the blade’s edges and curves it due to the varying densities within the micro-structures of steel.
Once the blade is curved, it is sent in for polishing. This process can take anywhere between 1 to 3 weeks, and fine grains of polishing stones are used for the blade to have a mirror finish. In most cases, the blunt edge of the katana is given a matte finish, compared to the other parts of the sword.
How Are Katanas Stored and Maintained?
If a katana is mishandled, the damage can be irreparable. The blade should be kept in its sheath, with the curve down and edge facing upwards to maintain the same quality. The blade should also be oiled, powdered and polished frequently. This is because the moisture from a user’s hand will cause the blade to rust if it is not cleaned on time. Many Japanese traditionalists use choji oil, which includes 99% mineral oil and 1% clove oil for fragrance purposes.
If a katana is stored away for an extended period of time, it should be inspected frequently as well. It is important to be aired out to prevent molds from accumulating anywhere near the sword. Molds are necessary to be kept away because they may feed off salts in the oil used to polish the sword blade.
Katana swords became an integral part of Japanese history. From their carving process to the different types of katanas, they are unique in every way. This is primarily why they are so highly regarded and safeguarded in modern times.