The Samurai of old used a variety of weapons to fight in battlefields. They improvised some of these weapons as they were fit for such a task. As years passed by, these men continued producing and evolving weapons. They did this as these weapons were ideal to defeat the enemy. If there are types of medieval swords, here we have multiple types of Japanese weapons.
Bows and Arrows
In the early ages, the Samurai started with these simple weapons. Bows and arrows were the first and main recorded weapons in Japanese history. Despite how simple handling these weapons may look, it is actually difficult. It takes years for one to master archery, especially when they are riding on their horse.
Both bows and arrows also come in different shapes and forms. One example of such bow is the Hoko Yumi or Spear Bow. From its name itself, the bow has a sharp blade tip. This serves as a spear when the warrior gets closer in contact with their enemy.
The arrowheads or as they call it, Yajiri are from a special type of steel. This steel is Tamahagane, as natives call it. They also used the same type of steel in making the Katana.
Some of the most iconic weapons are swords. Samurai used swords as a traditional way to fight. Usually, they carry two types of blades: the Katana and the Wakizashi. The Katana is a long and curved sword. It symbolizes the “Soul of the Samurai”.
As mentioned before, they used Tamahagane to form its blade so it would become firm and flexible. The process of forming the sword involves folding and hammering the steel many times. The finished result then gives the Katana distinct shapes and patterns on its blade. Many would call the sword a blacksmith’s greatest art piece.
The Katana serves as both blade and shield. The weapon absorbs shock when an enemy strikes it, thanks to the Tamahagane’s carbon. With this steel, the edge is high-carbonated while the rest of the blade is softer. This makes a perfect shield for a user.
The Samurai would train to master the 16 cuts of the Katana. These cuts include but not limited to: the Basic Draw, Overhead Cut. The Samurai would draw their Katana from their belt slash called Obi. The sword would then be from their left hip facing down.
Unlike the Katana, the Wakizashi is a shorter blade. With this length, it is easier and faster to draw from the Samurai’s belt. Wakizashi is more ideal for fighting close-quarters. The warriors would also use the blade for beheading their enemy. Because of such advantages, it is often paired up with the Katana blade.
Now the name of this weapon is more likely unfamiliar, but the design of it is, right? This short chained weapon with weights translates its name to “Ten-thousand Power Chain”. People also call the weapon as Fundo-Kusari (Weighted Chain) and Kusari-Jutte (Chain-Truncheon).
The Manriki-Kusari emerged during the early 18th century. A Samurai named Dannoshin Toshimitsu Masaki developed the said weapon. He was a Samurai serving as the Head Sentry of Edo Castle as a guardian for the Otemon Gate.
Legend says that Masaki created the weapon to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. When guards needed to defend the castle from intruders, they could use the chains. The metal chain has a length of 2 to 3 feet long, each end having a weighted ball.
The chain is useful for parrying with sticks, swords and other weapons. Meanwhile, guards swung the weights against the enemy as an attack. One can use this weapon to capture their opponent and throw them.
Tessen and Gumbei-Uchiwa
No one would suspect that an elegant fan would turn out to be a weapon of death. This is the exact purpose of the Tessen weapon: to give the enemy a quick surprise. When translated to English, the word Tessen means “iron fan”. Tessen’s material can also come from hardwood.
The Samurai, Yakuza, Machi-Yakko, and Otokodate uses the Tessen as their weapon. But Tessen isn’t ideal for the battlefield. Instead, it served as a self-defense option. This is when the warriors could not bring their swords with them.
The Gumbei-Uchiwa is the fan for battles. This weapon serves as the Tessen’s ancestor and inspiration. These fans were larger and more open, taking in a large area for protection. High ranked officers carried the Gumbei-Uchiwa. They use these fans to shield off attacking arrows, to shade themselves from the sun, and to signal troops.
The Yari is a type of blade and it emerged from the Nara Period. It is a straight blade and comes in the form of a spear. It usually reaches 3 feet in length or more. Like the Katana, this weapon’s main material is Tamahagane. This resulted in having a very durable spear meant for battle.
It became an ideal weapon for dual combat via horseback archery. They were preferable weapons as they have a longer reach than swords.
When translated to English, the word Yari-Bo means “wooden staff”. People also called this weapon as Rokushakubo and Bo. It is a long wooden staff with a length of almost 6 feet. Despite having no bladed areas, the Yari-Bo is a handy one when it comes to fighting.
Farmers from the fields often wield the Bo. They use this when intruders attack them in their fields. This is during the same time military troops fight off invaders. Lower class Bushi and Ashigaru also used this weapon during the Sengoku Period.
Striking techniques are the most common ways on how to handle Bo. If one of the ends somehow turned into a sharp edge, then stabbing is a preferable way to attack. Bo also serves as a defense weapon, especially against bladed weapons.
The weapon Jo is a shorter version of the Yari-Bo, like how the Wakizashi is to the Katana. Legend says that Musō Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi developed this wooden staff. Like the Bo, warriors preferred Jo over swords because of its longer length.
Tetsubo also goes with the names Kanabo and Konsaibo. This weapon from heavy wood or iron. What makes this weapon scary is that on one end of the weapon lies hundreds of spikes. Sometimes studs are covering one area instead of spikes.
Tetsubo comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The largest can be up to the size of an average Japanese man. The smallest ones are usually like the size of a forearm.
The Tetsubo’s purpose is to smash the enemy. The Samurai would aim for their enemies’ armor, as well as the legs or bones of their horses. Using the Tetsubo requires both balance and strength.
These are some of the ancient weapons used by Japan’s feudal warriors. Each one of them had a purposeful use for historical fights, especially in battles. Some were weapons unknown to us. Despite how big or small their sizes may be, they could still give a hit. Despite how different each weapon may be from one another, each one wielded for a purpose. That purpose is to fight for and protect the user’s honor, family and country.