What Is a Katana Sheath? Katana Sword

A Katana sheath is one of the most essential, albeit often overlooked, components of the mighty Japanese sword. Unlike other bladed weapons one can display without sheaths, the beauty of the Samurai sword extends from the shiny and masterfully crafted Nagasa (blade) to the expertly built Saya (sheath or scabbard). 

Like Japanese legends, a Katana sheath lends charm and mysticism to the already fabled sword.

There’s more to the Saya than a run-of-the-mill carriage for the Katana when not in use. It has unique characteristics and parts defining this Katana component. Moreover, Katana owners must know how to remove the sword and return it to its sheath properly. 

Join us in exploring these Saya attributes and learn how to buy the perfect sheath for your Katana.

Katana Sheath Characteristics

Like gun holsters, Katana and other Japanese swords have protective carrying components known as Saya or sheath (scabbard). Sheaths are necessary to retain the Katana’s razor-sharp edge and protect the wearer against accidental cuts. 

It is worth noting that, unlike other sheaths, the Japanese Saya requires as much devotion and skillful artistry from a Katana-kaji as the Katana does. Hence, traditional Japanese swordsmiths take the following Katana sheath characteristics to heart.


A master Katana-kaji always uses the finest quality wood for a Katana sheath. It is lightweight and, when prepared properly, doesn’t cause discomfort to the user even though they slip the sheath on their waistbands all day. Lacquer coating can improve the Saya’s resilience against moisture, safeguarding the Nagasa against corrosion. 

Some Katana producers use leather, giving the sheath skin-like qualities. Unfortunately, leather doesn’t have as robust waterproofing qualities as wood. It stiffens and cracks when dry after becoming wet.

Others use plastic because it’s an inexpensive material, allowing Katana retailers to sell these weapons for less than $100.


The Samurai’s Katana weighs between 2 and 2.6 pounds or about 900 and 1,200 grams. Using a heavyweight material for the Katana sheath can upset this delicate balance, undermining the fundamental Katana requirement of drawing and striking the sword in one swift motion.

Unsurprisingly, the ideal Katana sheath must not exceed 300 grams (10.6 ounces), although some can be as light as 200 grams (7 ounces). Putting the Katana into its sheath will give an overall weight of 1.1 to 1.5 kilograms or 2.4 to 3.3 pounds. 


The average Katana has a Nagasa (blade) spanning 60 to 80 centimeters or 23.6 to 31.5 inches from the Habaki (the collar before the Tsuba or sword guard) and the Kissaki (blade tip). 

The Saya approximates the Nagasa length and requires the swordsmith to finish the blade before creating the sheath. Ideally, the Saya must be slightly wider than the Nagasa to facilitate effortless unsheathing and sheathing.


Drawing an imaginary line between the Kissaki and the Habaki allows us to measure the Nagasa’s curvature (Sori), which is the distance between the imaginary line and the Nagasa’s deepest curve. Most Katanas have a 0.6-inch or 1.5-centimeter Sori. 

The Saya must approximate the Nagasa’s curvature, ensuring effortless unsheathing and optimum comfort for the wearer. The Katana sheath curvature also guarantees better handling.

Parts of the Saya

Unlike other sword scabbards or sheaths with a one-piece design, the Japanese Saya consists of different elements to produce a stunningly protective carrying platform for the mighty Japanese sword. The following parts comprise the Katana sheath.

  • Sageo
  • Hollywood films and Anime characters often portray Samurai and other Katana-wielding individuals as holding or carrying their swords at the shoulder or back. 

    Most connect it to a belt using a thick cord linked to the Saya. The cord is the Sageo and it promotes better movement with the Katana while facilitating a more secure hold. You can find the Sageo wrapped around the Saya’s upper fifth section, near the opening (Koiguchi).

  • Kurigata
  • This Saya component works with the Sageo, wrapping through the latter. The Kurigata or Kurikata is a small knob like an eyelet for securing the Sageo, allowing Katana wielders to insert a rope for carrying the Samurai sword at the back or around the waist.

  • Koiguchi
  • All sword sheaths have an opening for inserting the weapon when not in use. The Japanese call this Saya component Koiguchi. Most Japanese swordsmiths use buffalo horn in constructing the Koiguchi, making it tough to withstand accidental strikes from the Nagasa. 

    It also produces a unique sound during Katana drawing and sheathing, perfect for many ceremonies and formal gatherings. 

  • Shitodome
  • Modern Katanas have an elegantly crafted Shitodome that fits inside the Kurigata. Most consider it an aesthetic accent, although the Samurai of feudal Japan viewed the Shitodome as essential in preventing Sageo from fraying. Its principal function is to reduce friction between the Kurigata’s inside surface and the Sageo.

  • Kojiri
  • The Saya’s end cap, the Kojiri of an authentic Katana sheath, features buffalo horn (like the Koiguchi). However, modern sheaths mostly have metal end caps, allowing users to strike the sheath on solid ground without damaging the wooden Saya. The Kojiri can be a formidable weapon, too. 

    A Samurai can inflict blunt-force trauma to an opponent by striking only with the Kojiri and without ever drawing the Katana.

    katana sheath

    Parts of a Katana sheath. Photo by Nihonto.

    How to Use a Katana Sheath

    Unsheathing (drawing) the Katana from its sheath is a skill all Samurai possess, ensuring a fluid motion to strike an opponent with one continuous movement. Returning (sheathing) the Katana into the Saya can be tricky to the uninitiated and could be dangerous because of the Nagasa’s Ha (sharp edge) and pointed Kissaki (tip). So, how do you unsheathe and sheath a Katana?


    Drawing the Katana from its sheath might seem easy, but Iaido masters often require years of constant practice to perfect the technique. Most Katana enthusiasts recommend practicing with a wooden Katana sheath until you get a feel for the technique.

    Unsheathing a Katana involves only three fundamental steps. However, the correct technique is crucial. Here’s how.

    • Grab the Tsuka (hilt) with the dominant hand (i.e., right hand if you are right-handed) and hold the Katana sheath with the non-dominant hand (i.e., left hand if you’re right-handed). 
    • Position the left thumb on the Katana’s Tsuba or sword guard.
    • Pull out the Katana with the dominant hand while gently pushing the Tsuba with the non-dominant thumb.


    Returning the Katana to its sheath is trickier than unsheathing, not to mention riskier. You are at the mercy of Katana’s razor-sharp Ha. One wrong move and you risk cutting yourself. We recommend practicing with a plastic Katana to learn and master the following moves.

    • Grab the Katana at the Tsuka with both hands upfront.
    • Use the dominant hand to push and spin the Katana in the non-dominant hand. As the Katana spins, move the dominant hand, make a fist, and position it at the shoulder.
    • Strike the dominant hand’s fist against the Tsuka and hold it just under the Tsuba. Meanwhile, the non-dominant hand holds the Katana sheath.
    • Let the Nagasa fall naturally while supporting it with the dominant hand just under the Tsuba.
    • Use the non-dominant hand’s thumb to “feel” for the Katana’s Kissaki and guide it through the Koiguchi.
    • Position the Nagasa vertically and gently push it through the Saya until it creates a clicking sound.

    Buying a Katana Sheath

    Cosplayers of famous Samurai warriors always look for the best Katana sheath to complete their getup. After all, nobody expects cosplayers to draw the Katana from its Saya during an event. 

    Hence, the Saya should stand out because it’s the only piece of the Katana visible to other people (besides the Tsuka or hilt elegantly wrapped in Samegawa). Here are some parameters you must consider when buying Katana sheath.


    Hand-crafted Katana sheaths are the best. These scabbards have ornate designs,  including hand-painted elements and ray skin overlays. 

    Most feature lacquer coating to improve the Saya’s waterproofing while enhancing the scabbard’s elegance over time. A well-constructed, expertly hand-crafted Katana sheath can fetch between $500 and $1,000 (excluding the Katana).


    The best Katana sheath material is wood, especially Magnolia, famous for its exceptional waterproofing and lightweight characteristics. Katana sheath makers can also engrave inscriptions into the wood, giving the Saya a unique look and the user a personalized item.


    Picking the correct sheath for a Katana requires eagle eyes, enabling you to see even the tiniest imperfections in the Saya’s finish. Check the sheath’s length for scratches, cracks, holes, and other deformities that can undermine the lacquered wood’s gloss. Be patient in examining every square centimeter of the sheath.


    Katana swordsmiths not only forge Japanese swords but also create sheaths specific to these bladed weapons. It’s the only way to ensure a perfect fit. Hence, you always get a set (Katana and scabbard) when you buy one. 

    However, there are chances the Katana doesn’t fit into the sheath. You must assess Katana’s movement in the Saya. There shouldn’t be any, yet the fit should still allow for an effortless unsheathing.

    katana  sheath

    A Katana in its sheath. Photo by Krzystof Kierasinski.

    The Bottom Line

    The Katana Sheath deserves as much respect and care as the Katana. After all, it’s the component that protects the legendary sword, preserving its razor-sharp edge and maintaining its timeless elegance. Hence, only the best Saya should fit a judiciously forged authentic Katana.

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