The katana is one of, if not THE most awesome swords on the planet. Although we’re past the prime of swashbuckling Samurais, the katana’s legend lives on through its sleek curve, unique glimmer, unparalleled beauty, and surprisingly sharp edge.
As a cherished work of art, the katana deserves more than the usual respect bequeathed to ancient swords. But do you know how to display a katana? If not, you’re in for an incredible surprise.
So, read on to learn how best to display katana and let the rest of the world know how much you value this Japanese national treasure.
The Katanakake Traditional Japanese Sword Stand
Learning how to display a katana correctly and respecting Japanese culture requires choosing the right display platform for these legendary swords.
One cannot thread a cord through metal fittings and leave the katana to hang on a wall like a portrait. Of course, you can place the Japanese sword in a display case or vitrine.
However, the only platform that can match the katana’s rich culture and unmatched beauty is the Katanakake – a lacquered wooden stand as elegantly crafted or simple yet divine as the swords it showcases.
The Katanakake features two hands with hooks for cradling the katana without scratching or undermining the sword’s aesthetic or functional value.
Modern versions might vary from the traditional Katanakake of feudal Japan, but the purpose remains the same.
If you look at the Katanakake’s design, you’d think it resembles a Samurai’s two hands holding the katana as an offering to the Heavens. And this paves the way for how a katana should be displayed.
How Traditional Japanese Display their Katanas
Displaying katana swords requires valuing the traditions inherent in these Japanese national treasures. One cannot showcase katanas in any way they like (although some might).
Doing so only shows the sword owner’s insufficient knowledge of katanas and their display requirements. After all, we don’t randomly hang a portrait on a wall. “Rules” exist, and so does displaying katanas.
The Ha Faces the Heavens
Two schools of thought explain why the katana’s razor-sharp edge (Ha) must face upwards.
First, traditional Japanese believe pointing the Ha up venerates the Gods and Heavens. Despite their seemingly bloodthirsty nature, the Samurai are, after all, spiritual warriors.
They adhere to revered Shinto principles for inspiration and spiritual guidance, believing in powerful forces to protect the Samurai from harm and help them defeat enemies.
Hence, presenting the Ha to the heavens is the Samurai’s way of honoring their Gods and showing dedication to the values of Shintoism.
While the first belief underscores the Samurai’s spiritual nature, with the katana as a “spiritual tool,” the second reason the Ha faces up has a more practical (or functional) underpinning.
The Samurai warrior of feudal Japan carried the katana with the Ha facing up under their belts. This position allowed Samurai to unsheathe the katana effortlessly and slash it to strike an enemy with lightning-quick motion.
Likewise, displaying katana swords with the Ha facing up allows Samurai to access the katanas from the Katanakake.
The Nagasa Flows Right
The next question in learning how to display a katana sword relates to the blade’s (Nagasa) direction.
One must always display katanas with the Nagasa pointing to the right. However, we must point out that the Samurai almost always showcased their katanas with the Nagasa facing the opposite direction, especially during wartime.
The “rule” states that the Nagasa must point to the right in peacetime. It’s the opposite during troubled times, signifying the katana’s battle readiness.
Displaying the katana with the Nagasa pointing to the right allows viewers to appreciate the katana’s impressive visual flow on the Omote. It also hides the ray skin’s seam on the Tsuka (hilt) while showcasing the ornately crafted Sageo on the Saya.
The Tsuka Stays Left
If the Nagasa points right with the katana on display, the Tsuka (hilt or handle) stays on the opposite side. At peacetime, you can showcase the Tsuka on the left. Place it on the right if you expect trouble.
Two things favor a left-sided Tsuka presentation.
First, it showcases the katana’s Mei – a Katana-kaji’s unique signature indicating his name and the katana’s manufacturing date.
Second, placing the Tsuka on the left and the Nagasa on the right shows respect for anyone who visits the home. It offers more welcoming sights, allowing guests to feel more at ease, knowing you are at peace with the katana.
A Pyramid of Japanese Swords
Many Japanese sword types exist besides the katana. For instance, the Samurai of feudal Japan always carry a katana and a short sword, the Wakizashi.
Most also wield a third shorter bladed weapon, the Tanto. These three swords make up a Samurai’s Daisho.
The Samurai always displayed their Daisho set with the Tanto at the highest sword platform, the Wazikashi in the middle, and the katana at the bottom.
This display configuration offered functionality when arming the Samurai. They get and secure the smallest blade first before the larger ones.
However, some katana enthusiasts display their Daisho set in an inverted pyramid (the katana on top and the Tanto at the bottom). We can only assume it signifies “peacetime.”
A daisho set on a katanakake display stand. Photo by Weapons Galore.
Displaying the Katana on a Vertical Stand
Friends and acquaintances always ask, “Can you display a katana vertically?”
You will need an appropriate katana vertical stand for this purpose. Moreover, the Tsuka must always be at the stand platform’s base.
Meanwhile, the Ha (sharp edge) must face the stand away from viewers for safety reasons. This position presents the katana’s Mune (spine) to the outside.
However, we don’t recommend displaying katanas vertically because Choji oil might flow toward the Habaki (blade collar), Nakago (tang), and the Tsuka’s interior.
We use mineral oil to clean and maintain the katana blade’s pristine condition. Sadly, some folks might not know how to clean the katana properly.
The Bottom Line
How to display a katana requires valuing and respecting the Japanese tradition of showcasing their swords. After all, the katana is as much a venerable weapon of destruction as it is an enduring work of art. Visitors will appreciate your Japanese sword collection and recognize your in-depth understanding of Nihon culture.