Japanese Sword Types-Katana, Tachi, Wakizashi, Nochachi

Types of Japanese swords. Historical types of swords in feudal Japan. Samurai swords: tachi, katana, wakizashi, nodachi and shin gunto swords. Pictures of Japanese samurai swords.

Tachi Sword

Tachi is a Japanese sword, often said to be more curved and slightly longer than the katana. The tachi was used primarily on horseback, where it was able to be drawn efficiently for cutting down enemy footsoldiers.

It was the predecessor to the katana as the battle-blade of feudal Japan’s bushi (warrior class), and as it evolved into the later design, the two were often differentiated from each other only by how they were worn and by the fittings for the blades.

Katana Sword

Katana is a type of Japanese sword (nihontō), also commonly referred to as a “samurai sword”. The katana is characterized by its distinctive appearance: a curved, slender, single edged blade, circular or squared guard, and long grip to accommodate two hands. It has historically been associated with the samurai of feudal  Japan, and has become renowned for its sharpness and cutting ability.

The katana originated in the Muromachi period (1392–1573) as a result of changing battle conditions requiring faster response times. The katana facilitated this by being worn with the blade facing up, which allowed the samurai to draw and cut their enemy in a single motion. Previously, the curved sword of the samurai had been worn with the blade facing down.

The length of the katana’s blade varied considerably during the course of its history. In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, katana blades tended to be between 70 and 73 cm (27.6 and 28.7 inches) in length. During the early 16th century, average length was much closer to 60 cm (23.6 inches), but late in the 16th century, it was again approximately 73 cm (28.7 in).

Wakizashi Sword

The wakizashi (name meaning is “side insertion”) is a traditional Japanese sword with a shōtō blade between 30 and 60 centimetres (12 and 24 in), with an average of 50 cm (20 in). It is similar to but shorter than a katana, and usually shorter than the kodachi  (“small sword”). The wakizashi was usually worn together with the katana by the samurai or swordsmen of feudal Japan. When worn together the pair of swords were called daishō, which translates literally as “large and small”. The katana was often called the sword or the long sword and the wakizashi the companion sword.

The wakizashi was used as backup weapon and as tools to decapitate defeated enemies, and sometimes to commit ritual suicide. This led to it being referred to as the “Honor Blade”.

When entering a building, a samurai would leave his katana with a servant or page who would then let it rest on a rack called a katana-kake, with the hilt pointing left so that it had to be removed with the left hand, passed to the right, then placed at the samurai’s right, making it difficult to draw quickly, and reducing suspicion. However, the wakizashi would be worn at all times, and therefore, it constituted a side arm  for the samurai (similar to a modern soldier’s use of a pistol). A samurai would have worn it from the time he awoke to the time he went to sleep, and slept with it under his pillow.

Pair of katana and wakizashi allowing to fight with two weapons simultaneously for maximum combat advantage.

Nodachi Sword

Nodachi is a large two-handed Japanese sword. Nodachi approximately translates to “field sword”.

Nodachi have the same general appearance and design of a tachi though they are significantly longer. The nodachi was carried by foot soldiers and was designed as a weapon for war versus cavalry and open field engagements. Nodachi were generally used on open battlefields as their length made their use indoors or close quarters difficult. They were an effective weapon against cavalry, though they were not commonly used. Foot soldiers would carry the sword with the flat edge against the shoulder and the fuchi, or butt of the tsuka, in the palms of the hands and the blade facing out toward the enemy. The sword would often be thrown down or at the enemy.

Shin Gunto Sword

Shin gunto is a style of Japanese sword designated as part of the uniform for officers of the Imperial Japanese Army from 1934 until the end of World War II.

Japanese Sword Types

Japanese Sword Types - Samurai swords and daggers
Japanese Sword Types - Samurai swords and daggers

Samurai Swords


  1. I’m sure there was a two-edged sword class that existed in japan in addition to the single edged nihonto….I’m looking for a sword of this type called a ‘Tsurugi’….where could I find or create one at?

  2. That is a very informative review of the different types of samurai swords. I myself am in the sword business and I find the whole process fascinating. In terms of modern sword makers who do you think is the best company. I think that Cas Hanwei by Paul Chen makes some of the best modern katana out there.

  3. What is the straight single-edge sword called? I always thought this was the katana (being the ninja sword) and the curved blade (samurai sword) was tachi.
    Also, doesn’t the daisho include the tanto?

    • Chinese had katana with straight blades, they weren’the actually called a
      Katanas, but I can’tell remember the actual name now.

  4. No, ninja-to (ninja sword) is straight sword. Katana and tachi are curved swords. Tachi is older type of sword than katana is and it was primarily used as a cavalry sword. I agree with the article above.

  5. This is an outstanding post. Thanks for including the pic. Im a very visual person and seeing those depictions as well as the text explanation was suberb. Great job! I love the history behind the various Japanese swords.

  6. once i went to this weapon store in houston ,texas and this one custommade katana had so much detail done to it the sword was amazing. but costed $2050.65

  7. I have studied and performed Japanese martial arts for a decade now and one question i have had for the longest time, every one speaks about the “length” of the katana but one thing i really have not seen brought up is “what the average acceptable width of the blade from collar to tip is” I totally understand being hand forged there is wiggle room for width but there has to be a “norm” that every sword is forged and hammered to try and meet. I have not been able to find anything on that specific criteria. My own katana that i have had for some time now measures from the base of the blade meeting the tsuba, an eighth over an inch and a half. and only thins down around two eighths over an inch, twenty one inches up the blade. pretty wide too my eyes, but continues to thin to an exact 5/8s wide at the yokote. any help on information as to what the “norm” would be is greatly appreciated.

  8. I’m been searching the net for a true name for dual-blade/disarming katanas/wakizashis. Even if it is a fictional weapon, I would like to know what is the correct Japanese term for such.

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