Japanese Swords Glossary

This page summarizes key terms to help you better understand Japanese swords.

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ara-nie large nie crystals.
ashi thin line that runs across the temper line (hamon) to the cutting edge (ha).
ayasugi-hada regular wavy surface grain pattern (jihada). Also known as gassan-hada after the name of a school which usually produced swords of this type.
bakumatsu-to a sword made during an era in the late Edo period 1853-1867.
bizen archeaic province of Japan, modern day Okayama prefecture.
bokuto see bokken.
boshi temper line (hamon) of the blade point (kissaki).
bu Japanese imperial form of measurement (10 bu = 1 sun).
chikei black gleaming lines of nie that appear in the ji.
chirimen-hada distinctly visible mokume-hada with a clearer steel than in similar but coarser patterns.
choji abura clove oil, used for preserving blades.
choji midare an irregular hamon pattern resembling cloves, with a round upper part and a narrow constricted lower part.
chokuto a straight sword primarily produced during the ancient period. Their definition as tachi is specifically chronological, as it refers solely to ancient pre- Heian swords, unlike tachi which refers to later swords. These ancient Japanese swords are also known as jo-koto.
choken Commonly used as a calque for the broadest definition of (European) long swords.
choto either a nagakatana (due to long blade) or a naginata (due to long handle).
chu-kissaki medium sized kissaki, in relation to the overall size of the blade.
daisho in context any pair of Japanese swords of differing lengths (daito and shoto) worn together.
dogane tubular fittings on the tsuka or saya.
daito any type of Japanese long sword, the larger in a pair of daisho. Commonly a katana.
fuchigane decorative reinforcing collar attached to the base of the tsuka.
fukura the cutting edge (ha) of the blade point (kissaki).
funbari tapering of the blade from the base (machi) to the point (kissaki)
gassan-hada see ayasugi-hada.
gendaito swords produced after 1876. Also the name for the period in sword history from 1876 to the present day, i.e., the period that succeeded the shinshinto period.
goban kaji swordsmiths summoned by the retired Emperor Go-Toba to work at his palace in monthly rotations.
gokaden the five basic styles of swords which during the koto period were associated with the provinces: Yamashiro, Yamato, Bizen, Soshu and Mino.
gomabashi pair of parallel grooves running partway up the blade resembling chopsticks.
gunome a wave-like outline of the temper line (hamon) made up of similarly sized semicircles.
ha the tempered cutting edge of a blade. The side opposite the mune. Also called hasaki or yaiba.
habaki small metal collar (often decorated) that buffers the tsuba and secures the blade into the saya.
habaki-moto part of the blade that sits under the habaki.
hacho see nagasa.
hada pattern in the steel skin of the blade, also called jihada.
hagire hairline crack in the blade rising up from the cutting edge.
hajimi misty spots in the temper line (hamon) resulting from repeated grinding or faulty tempering.
hamachi notch in the cutting edge (ha), dividing the blade proper from the tang (nakago).
hamon border between the tempered part of the ha (cutting edge) and the untempered part of the rest of the sword; the temper-line.
hasaki see ha.
hataraki patterns and shapes such as lines, streaks, dots and hazy reflections that appear in addition to the grain pattern (jihada) and the temper line (hamon) on the surface of the steel and are a result of sword polishing.
hawatari see nagasa.
hijiki-hada see matsukawa-hada.
hi groove carved into the blade for weight decreasing or decorative purposes.
hira see hiraji.
hiraji curved surface between ridge (shinogi) and temper line (hamon). Also called hira. If polished, the hiraji appears blue-black.
hira-zukuri a nearly flat blade without ridge (shinogi) or yokote.
hitatsura temper line (hamon) with tempering marks visible around the ridge and near the edge of the blade.
hon-zukuri see shinogi-zukuri
ichimai boshi a fully tempered point area (kissaki) because the hamon turns back before reaching the point.
ichimonji kaeri a boshi which turns back in a straight horizontal line with a short kaeri.
ikubi-kissaki a short, stubby blade point (kissaki).
iori top ridge of the back edge (mune), the back ridge.
itame-hada surface grain pattern (jihada) of scattered irregular ovals resembling wood grain. The small/large grain pattern of this type is called ko-itame-hada/o-itame-hada.
ji area between the ridge (shinogi) and the hamon.
jigane generally used to refer to the material of the blade.
jihada visible surface pattern of the steel resulting from hammering and folding during the construction. (also see masame-hada, mokume-hada, itame-hada and ayasugi-hada).
ji-nie nie that appears in the hiraji.
jo-koto a sword produced before the mid-Heian period. Unlike later blades, these are straight swords. The term is also used to refer to the respective period of swordsmanship which was followed by the koto period.
juka choji multiple overlapping clove shaped chōji midare patterns.
juken a bayonet.
kaeri part of the temper line (hamon) that extends from the tip of the bōshi to the back edge (mune).
kaiken a dagger concealed in the clothing.
kasane blade thickness measured across the back edge (mune). (see also motokasane and sakikasane)
katana curved sword with a blade length longer than 60 cm. Worn thrust through the belt with the blade edge (ha) facing upward. It superseded the older tachi starting in the Muromachi period, after 1392. 
kataochi gunome a gunome with a straight top and an overall slant.
kawazuko choji midare a variation of the chōji midare pattern with the peaks resembling tadpoles.
ken a double-edged blade (sword/dagger) of any size or shape.
kinsuji short straight thin radiant black line of nie that appears in the temper-line (hamon)
kissaki fan-shaped point of the blade; separated from the body of the sword by the yokote.
kogai a skewer for the owner's hair-do, carried in a pocket of the scabbards of katana and wakizashi on the side opposite of the kozuka.
kogatana any knife, particularly a small utility knife carried in a pocket of the scabbards of katana and wakizashi.
ko-itame-hada see itame-hada.
koiguchi mouth of the saya.
kojiri decorative fitting on the bottom of the saya.
ko-maru a boshi that runs parallel to the cutting edge of the point area (kissaki) and then forms a small circle as it turns back towards the back edge (mune).
ko-mokume-hada see mokume-hada.
ko-shinogi diagonal line that separates the point of a blade (kissaki) from the shinogiji and extends the ridge (shinogi) to the back edge (mune) in the kissaki area.
koshirae full set of sword mountings.
koshi-zori curvature (sori) of the blade with the center of the curve lying near or inside of the tang (nakago).
koto a pre-Edo period sword as opposed to a shinto. The year of transition is generally taken to be 1596. The term is also used to refer to the respective period of swordsmanship where the lower limit is given by the appearance of curved swords in the mid-Heian period. The koto period succeeded the jo-koto period.
kozuka handle of a small utility knife (kogatana) carried in a pocket of the scabbards of katana and wakizashi on the side opposite of the kogai. 
kurigata nodule with a hole affixed on the outside of the saya to attach the sageo. Also called kurikata.
Kyoho Meibutsucho Register of masterpiece swords (meibutsu) compiled by the Hon'ami family in the Kyoho era.
machi notches that divide the blade proper from the tang (also see munemachi and hamachi).
masame-hada straight surface grain pattern (jihada).
Masamune juttetsu ten excellent students of Masamune: Go Yoshihiro, Norishige, Kaneuji, Kinju, Rai Kunitsugu, Hasebe Kunishige, Osafune Kanemitsu, Chogi, Samonji, Sekishi Naotsuna.
matsukawa-hada surface grain pattern (jihada) resembling the bark of a pine tree. A type of o-mokume-hada or o-itame-hada with thick chikei. Also known as hijiki-hada.
mei signature, usually engraved on the tang (nakago).
meibutsu swords designated as masterpieces. Sometimes used to refer specifically to swords listed in the Kyoho Meibutsucho.
mekugi a peg of bamboo or horn which passes through the mekugiana to secure the tang in the hilt.
mekugi-ana hole in the tang (nakago) for the retaining peg (mekugi) that secures the tang in the hilt.
menuki decorative hand grips affixed to both sides of the tsuka.
midareba an irregular temper line (hamon).
midare komi irregular temper line (midareba) that continues into the point (kissaki).
mihaba distance from the blade edge (ha) to the back edge (mune) (also see sakihaba and motohaba).
mijikagatana see tanto.
mitsukado point at which the yokote, shinogi and ko-shinogi meet.
mokume-hada surface grain pattern (jihada) of small ovals and circles resembling the burl-grain in wood. The small/large grain pattern of this type is called ko-mokume-hada/o-mokume-hada.
motohaba blade width (mihaba) at the bottom of the blade (machi).
motokasane blade thickness (kasane) at the bottom of the blade (machi).
mune back edge of a blade, i.e., the side opposite the cutting edge (ha). 
munemachi notch in the back edge (mune), dividing the blade proper from the tang (nakago).
nagakatana any sword with a blade longer than a tanto, particularly exceptionally large ones (e.g. nodachi). Also called choto.
nagamaki large sword with a usually katana-sized blade and a very long handle of about equal length. Successor design to the odachi/nodachi.
naginata pole weapon wielded in large sweeping strokes. Typically with a wide blade, long tang and without yokote. It often has a distinctive carved groove. Also called choto. 
nakago unpolished part of a blade that is concealed by the hilt. 
nakagojiri end of the tang (nakago), i.e., the butt of a blade. 
nagasa blade length measured from the point to the back edge notch (munemachi). Also called hacho.
nashiji-hada  surface grain pattern (jihada) resembling the flesh of a sliced pear (jap. nashi); i.e. essentially fine dense ko-mokume-hada with surface nie throughout.
nie small distinct crystalline particles due to martensite, austenite, pearlite or troostite that appear like twinkling stars.
nihonto a curved blade with ridge (shinogi).
nioi indistinguishable crystalline particles due to martensite, austenite, pearlite or troostite that appear together like a wash of stars.
nioi kuzure see yo.
nodachi  very large and heavy sword with lengths up to 120–150 cm for the use in field battles. Worn across the back.
notare gently waving temper line (hamon).
odachi very large sword invented in the 14th century. with lengths  of 1.2–1.5 m. Worn slung from the shoulder.
o-hada a large grain pattern (jihada).
o-itame-hada see itame-hada.
o-mokume-hada see mokume-hada.
otachi alternative reading of odachi
sageo cord attached to the kurikata to help secure the sword in the belt.
sakihaba blade width (mihaba) at the yokote.
sakikasane blade thickness (kasane) at the yokote.
saki-zori curvature (sori) of the blade with the center of the curve lying near the point.
sansaku boshi boshi seen in the works of the three swordsmiths: Osafune Nagamitsu, Kagemitsu and Sanenaga: hamon continues as straight line inside the point (kissaki) area running towards the tip of the blade. Just before reaching the tip, the boshi turns in a small circle (ko-maru) a short distance to the back edge (mune) remaining inside the kissaki.
saya scabbard
shaku Japanese imperial form of measurement (1 shaku = 30.3cm)
seppa spacers that fit between the tsuka and the tsuba, and between the tsuba and the habaki to ensure the tsuka fits perfectly.
shin gunto sword of the Imperial Japanese Army with a metal scabbard  produced from the 1930s to the end of World War II in 1945.
shinken a real sword as opposed to unsharpened or wooden practice weapons (bokuto).
shinogi ridge running along the side of the sword, generally closer to the back (mune) than the cutting edge (ha).
shinogiji flat surface between ridge (shinogi) and back edge (mune). 
shinogi-zukuri a curved blade with yokote and a ridge (shinogi) quite close to the back edge (mune). Also known as hon-zukuri. 
shinshinto period in sword history characterized by the revival of old sword styles, especially those from the Kamakura period. It follows the shinto period and is generally dated from the late 18th century to about 1876 when the wearing of swords was prohibited. The term is also used to denote swords produced in this period.
shinto post-Edo period swords produced after the end of the koto period (after 1596) and before the period of revival of old styles at the end of the 18th century which is known as shinshinto.
shirasaya plain wooden sleeping scabbard and handle to protect the blade.
shobu-zukuri a curved blade without yokote and a ridge (shinogi) quite close to the back edge (mune); basically shinogi-zukuri without yokote. 
shoto any type of Japanese short sword, the smaller in a pair of daisho. Commonly a wakizashi.
sori curvature of the sword measured as the greatest perpendicular distance between the back edge (mune) and the chord connecting the back edge notch (munemachi) with the point of the blade.
sugata the overall shape of the blade.
suguha straight temper line.
sumigane plain dark spots on the ji that differ considerably from the surface pattern in both color and grain.
sun Japanese imperial form of measurement (1 sun = 3.03cm, 10 sun = 1 shaku)
sunagashi marks in the temper line (hamon) that resemble the pattern left behind by a broom sweeping over sand.
suriage blade that has been shortened from its original length.
tachi curved sword with a blade length longer than 60 cm and typically 70–80 cm. Worn slung across the hip with the blade edge (ha) facing down. Primarily produced in the koto period.
tamahagane Japanese steel, used for the manufacture of Japanese swords, indigenous to Japan. 
tanken knife or dagger (strictly speaking only the latter) with a length (nagasa) shorter than 30 cm and typically about 26 cm. Usually constructed in flat style (hira-zukuri). 
tanto knife or dagger (strictly speaking only the former) with a length (nagasa) shorter than 30 cm and typically about 26 cm. Usually constructed in flat style (hira-zukuri).
to single-edged blades (saber/knife) of any size or shape.
tobiyaki a tempered spot within the ji not connected to the main temper line.
token umbrella term for all single- and double-edged blades of any size and shape.
torii-zori curvature (sori) of the blade in which the center of the curve lies roughly in the center of the blade resembling the horizontal bar of torii.
tosu an ancient (jo-koto) very short knife with blade length of 10 cm or less.
tsukagashira decorative pommel attached to reinforce the end of the tsuka.
tsuba sword guard; generally a round metal plate with a central wedge shaped hole for the blade and if needed up to two smaller holes for the kozuka or kogai.
tsuka hilt.
tsurugi symmetrical double-edged thrusting weapon popular in the Nara and early Heian period.
ubu original, usually used when referring to the nakago.
uchigatana blades produced for one-handed use during the Muromachi period worn thrust through the belt with the cutting edge uppermost.
uchigatana koshirae general term for practical sword mountings of the Sengoku era.
uchi-zori curvature (sori) of the blade with a slight curve toward the cutting edge (ha).
utsuri misty reflection on the ji or shinogiji usually made of softer steel.
wakizashi blades with a length between 30 and 60 cm. Shorter of the two swords worn by warriors in the Edo period.
yaiba see ha.
yakitsume without turn-back (kaeri); a boshi that continues directly to the back edge (mune).
yakiba hardened area of the blade.
yaki-ire hardening process of the blade when it is heated, then quenched in water.
yari Japanese spear usually mounted on a long shaft.
yasurime file marks on the tang (nakago) applied as a kind of additional signature and before engraving the real signature (mei).
yo activity (hataraki) in the temper line (hamon) that resembles fallen leaves or tiny footprints. After the late Sengoku period (late 16th century) referred to as nioi kuzure
yokote line perpendicular to the ridge (shinogi) which marks off the kissaki from the rest of the blade. 
yoroi toshi dagger used for cutting through armour. Their length (nagasa) was originally fixed at 9.5 sun (29 cm), a value that was later reduced to 7.5 sun (23 cm). Originally worn thrust vertically through the back of the belt; later carried at the ride side with the hilt to the front and the edge facing up.
yubashiri  spot or spots where nie is concentrated on the ji.