When you hear the word "sword", what shape comes to mind? Swords such as the dagger, whose blade is less than one shaku (about 12'), and the wakizashi, which is longer than the dagger but less than two shaku (about 24'), are distinguished at first glance by their length.
However, among the different types of swords, the "Tachi" and the "Uchigatana", which were both commonly used in warfare, have a length of two shaku or more, and many people are not able to tell the difference between them at first glance.
In this article, we will provide detailed information on how to distinguish them.
The difference between the Tachi and the Uchigatana in their appearance.
The common characteristic of Tachi and Uchigatana is that the length of the blade is 2 shaku or more.
However, the most important point to distinguish the two is the "shape" or "taihai", which is the part of the sword body other than the "nakago" (blade).
The appearance of a sword has several parts, and one of the most important points is the "wari", which determines the dignity and beauty of the sword itself. The wari refers to the longest part of the blade between the straight line connecting the mune-machi and the tip of the spearhead/kirisaki and the mune.
Among the "koshizori" forms, there are many Tachi swords that have been handed down to this day with the center located near the "hahagemoto" (the base of the sword), and with a very deep curvature, but with almost no curvature at the spearhead/kirisaki (the tip of the sword).
Swords of this period had a "stepped" appearance, with the point of the sword narrower than the original width of the blade (motohaba: the straight distance between the blade and the edge of the blade). This gave the sword an elegant and graceful appearance.
The curvature of these swords shifted to the upper center as we moved from the Kamakura period (1185-1333) to the Nanbokucho period (1392-1333). The curvature itself became shallower, and the difference between the width of the body and the original width gradually became smaller.
As the curvature became progressively shallower, the Uchigatana replaced the Tachi as the main sword. It was during the Sengoku period (1467-1568) that the Uchigatana became prosperous. During this period, as warlords from all over Japan engaged in battles to take over the country, a large number of battle swords were made.
Originally, the Uchigatana had the shape of a "flat sword" (hirazukuri) which resembled a long dagger, but like the sword, the "hozukuri" became a common shape.
During the Muromachi period (1333-1573) and later, swords that were originally long were often reworked into uchi-tachi by trimming the shaft and shortening the blade to make them shorter and easier to use.
This process was called "polishing", and Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who both became the leading masters of their time, were particularly active in this practice. The process of shortening the stem to the point where the original inscription is no longer visible, and then reworking the stem to where the blade used to be. This technique is also known as "oo-suri-age".
For example, Heshikiri Hasebe, a favorite sword of Oda Nobunaga and said to have been passed down to the Kuroda family after being given to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was an "oodachi" sword with a blade longer than a tachi, but it was later polished to a ram.
Thus, there are two types of swords that have survived to the present day:
- swords that were originally made as battalion swords (Uchigatana)
- swords that were originally polished from Tachi swords
History of the difference between Tachi and Uchigatana
One of the factors that distinguish a Tachi from an Uchigatana is the way the sword is carried.
The basic method of carrying a Tachi is to hang it on the left side of the body with the blade facing down.
The swordsman who made the sword usually engraves his name on the shaft of the sword.
The Uchigatana is worn with the blade side up, "obi ni shimasu". As with the Tachi, the side of the sword that is on the outside of the body when inserted at the waist with the blade up is called "sashimote" (差表), and most uchi swords had the maker's name on the shank.
Therefore, one of the clues to distinguish a Tachi from an Uchigatana sword is to check whether the inscription is on the omote or the sashimote.
The reason for the difference between the Tachi and the Uchigatana is that the style of sword fighting has changed over the ages.
As mentioned above, the tachi form of Japanese swords was established in the late Heian period (794-1185). The most popular fighting style during this period was "horse fighting", in which the fighters fought on horseback.
The sword was used as an additional weapon when dismounting or when arrows ran out.
However, in 1180, at the time of the Jishou-Juei rebellion, the culmination of a series of battles in the Genpei war, the use of horse swords began to increase.
Since a longer blade is more advantageous for swords used in mounted battles, it is believed that the Tachi sword, which was developed for use in mounted battles, had a longer blade and was more heavily deformed compared to the Uchigatana. The sword was also hung from a belt, blade facing down, with a metal fitting attached to the end of the scabbard, to avoid hitting the horse's buttocks like a whip.
The Tachi was used in warfare until the Nanbokucho period (1336-1568), but at the end of the Muromachi period (1333-1573) it was replaced by the Uchigatana .
The main reason for this was the change of fighting style from horse fighting to "kachi ikusa" (foot fighting). In horseback combat, there was a certain distance between the opponents, but in kachi ikusa, the battle was hand-to-hand.
Therefore, the key to victory was how quickly the sword could be drawn from its sheath when the enemy was right in front of it.
Therefore, the Uchigatana, with its shallow chain and short blade length, was even easier to handle. Daggers became the weapon of choice on the battlefield, and the sword was replaced by the Uchigatana.
The roles of the Tachi and the Uchigatana have changed over time
Although it may seem that the tachi has fallen into disuse, it was in fact used in celebrations and ceremonies as a glittering "decorative tachi" (kazatachi) influenced by aristocratic culture, even before the warrior class came to power.
This custom continued even after the tachi finished its role in warfare, and there are records of tachi being given as gifts on occasions such as the emperor's first ceremonial outfit and the birth of the heir to the throne.
Unlike the decorative swords of the nobility, the samurai class had a sword designated by the Edo shogunate for ceremonial use, called "itomaki Tachi".
The itomaki Tachi, with its decorative maki-e scabbard, was a symbol of the power of the samurai family and was considered an elegant and prestigious piece of armor.
The Uchinata, on the other hand, began to be worn together with the Wakizashi during the Edo period (1603-1867).
The maximum size of the fighting sword was fixed by order of the shogunate. During this period, swords that were too long were increasingly polished into battachi.
During the peaceful Edo period (1603-1867), fighting swords were no longer used as weapons, but the Tachi and Uchigatana became a mark of samurai status, and they were also worn in daily life.