1. Not all “katanas” are katanas
2. Making a katana required, erm… sacrifices
As per ancient accounts, making a sword in Japan centered on some religious ceremonies. Before starting the process, the bladesmith would purify himself, which included sexual abstinence and fasting. There were times when he would go on a pilgrimage before starting work. During the forging process, the bladesmith would mark his “sacred” work area with a rope.
3. The katana was not the first weapon of attack
The samurai typically charged the enemy first with a spear. Katanas weren’t long enough to be effective on horseback. This was followed by bows and arrows. After the arrows ran out, the Samurai would use a longer version of the spear. The katana was drawn much later in battle.
4. The katana was tested on human flesh
In tameshigiri, a master swordsman would test the effectiveness of Samurai swords by slicing through bodies of dead and possibly – hold your breath – live criminals piled atop each other. Test results, such as “cut three bodies through the ankle,” were inscribed on the weapon.
5. The katana’s durability may be overrated
They may have been the hardest swords but katanas were brittle too. Over time, the force from striking hard objects could result in cracks and chips. European swords, on the other hand, were not as hard but they could endure more punishment.
6. The iconic shape of the blade came much later
The first Samurai used straight blades. The curved blade that we associate with the katana today was developed much later, when the samurai saw the value of fighting on horseback. A curved blade was ideal for stabling and slashing when attacking from a mounted position. However, the straight-bladed katana remained the weapon of choice for the famous Japanese Ninja.
7. It’s not just the blade that’s important
The blade was without doubt the most important part of the katana. However, other parts of the Samurai sword played a significant role in its value. The decorative tsuba (the hand guard) was at times just as valuable as the blade. Scabbards and mounts were made by different craftsmen and their combined quality gave the sword its eventual worth.
8. Older katanas were better
While the official katana testing department came into existence in the early 1600s, it is widely agreed that blades made before 1530 were of distinctly better quality than those that came later. A 16th-century blade was said to have sliced right through seven bodies with one stroke!
9. Katanas were used in World War II
The Meiji Reformation in the 19th century altered the social and military structure of the country. The Emperor saw the advantages of western technology (firearms most notably with regard to the military) and Samurai swords were gradually phased out. Still, katanas were used during World War II.
10. Lay citizens can have a right to the katana
Local citizens can own katanas that are registered with the Japanese Sword Association. However, the weapon has to have cultural or historical significance. A certificate of authenticity and ownership and proper permits are required to own Samurai swords legally.