Katana Samurai Sword – A Practical Guide

Anyone interested in Katana, the traditional Japanese sword?

Even though Katana is no longer used as its original practical purpose, there are many enthusiastic fans all over the world, who are attracted by the beauty of Katana.

Origin of Katana

The Katana is perhaps one of the most iconic swords ever made and its prominence is tied closely with the Samurai of ancient and feudal Japan. The Samurai is a warrior class who get their name originally from the Japanese verb “saburau” which literally means to serve. Their main role in Japanese society was to serve and protect the imperial family or other feudal lords. They follow a strict moral code known as the Bushido or “the way of the warrior” which they are expected to observe.

Bushido considered the Samurai sword its symbol of power and spirit. The very possession of the sword imparts to the warrior a feeling and air of self-respect and responsibility. The Katana embodied his mind and heart, his loyalty and honor. Until death, the Samurai was never parted with his sword.

The origin of the Katana dates back to the Kamakura Period in the year 1185 but it was only during the Muromachi Period of the 1400s that the sword became a favorite weapon of choice for the Samurai. It was prized for its razor-sharp blade and it was light enough to carry and wield during combat. It had been used extensively by Samurai warriors from the 15th to the 19th century until the Meiji Period when they were forced to relinquish their swords.

The Katana is a weapon steeped in so much history, making it a highly sought after item. The Japanese have perfected the meticulous art of sword craftsmanship and any sword enthusiast would surely want to own a Katana as a distinctive symbol of Japan.

Parts of a Katana

A Katana has a long curved blade used for open combat. The handle or Tsuka is usually 1/3 the length of the blade. The Katana’s blade is sharp on one side with a chiseled tip. The Katana comes with a scabbard that matches a highly embellished blade handle.

Photo credit: http://www.trueswords.com

Watch how a Katana sword is made.

Types of Katana Sword


The term “Tamahagane” means precious steel and is created from an iron sand composition. This blade has a high carbon composition that is strengthened through a forging method. The traditional technique involves repeatedly pounding and heating the metal until impurities are eliminated. They are then placed into large clay molds called tatara. This process ensures that the resulting steel is devoid of impurities and will have high tensile strength before it is handed over to the swordsmiths.

The age of the steel affects the strength of the blade. The older the steel, the higher concentration of oxygen. During the forging process, the oxidized portions of the blade will be easier to stretch making the hammering process more effective. The longer the smelting process, the higher quality and more durable the sword will be.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel Katanas are used as show pieces rather than in real sword fighting. The blade’s molecular composition is not as strong as that of the Tamahagane. The high chromium component that makes the blade visually appealing also makes it too feeble to be functional. While stainless steel is great for knives, it becomes very brittle on anything longer than 12 inches. It tends to be flimsy and might break upon impact. The tang can also be unstable making swinging the sword potentially dangerous. One advantage of stainless steel though, is that it doesn’t need much maintenance and is resistant to rusting and corrosion. They are relatively cheap and are great decorations for your home or office.

Carbon Steel

Carbon Steel is a good option in terms to quality and price. It lacks chromium compared to stainless steel, making it more durable but care must also be taken to avoid rusting. One technique used for this type of sword is lamination. This is where more than one type of steel is used in the construction of the billet which will be hammered out into a blade. The reason for this is because high carbon steel will harden much more readily than low carbon steel. Softer types of steel are added in the center to add ductility. The harder steel components are added on the outer blade to make the cutting edge tough and resilient.

Buying Authentic Swords

Please do remember that you are buying a weapon that can be dangerous to yourself and others. For serious collectors, it is advised to seek the guidance of a martial arts expert or trainer before attempting to use the sword. Be mindful to keep the weapon out of reach of children.

Authentic Japanese swords called Nihonto are indeed quite expensive starting from US$3,000-5,000. There are several ways to buy a Katana in Japan. Stores such as Japan Sword Co. Ltd have been selling not just Katanas but Samurai outfits and armor. It has been around since the Meiji period in 1900 and is considered the premier shop for purchasing authentic and replica Katana swords in Tokyo.

If you want to make sure you are buying an authentic sword, check the certification. Look for the NBTHK Certification Paper Ranking or the NTHK-NPO Certification Paper Ranking. These certificates often determine the long-term value of the sword.

Photo credit: Unique Japan


Taking Care of Your Sword

It takes special training and skill to properly sharpen a Katana. Do not attempt to do it yourself using sharpening stones or a grinding wheel. Don’t try to remove rust with sandpaper or steel wool. This will scratch the blade and cause irreversible damage. Avoid adulterating the tang as it is one of the most important parts of the sword in terms of identification. Thus, any cleaning or polishing of this area must be avoided. Alteration of any sort can reduce the sword’s value in half.

Polishing with silver polish or any metal cleaner is also a no-no. Always wear protection when handling the blade. Acids from your palm can cause staining or rusting. To protect the beauty of your Katana, wipe a thin coat of a light, non-acidic lubricating oil such as CHOJI OIL. It must be re-oiled periodically to prevent the old oil from becoming gummy. Don’t “soak” the blade with oil, very light coating will suffice. Take care that the cloth you use will not bleed color into the blade and permanently stain it.

Bonus: Watch a Japanese martial arts master attempt to break the katana world record

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