The nihonto is a Japanese sword very appreciated by collectors for its aesthetics and its history. This weapon has been forged for over ten centuries and has survived the ages.
This mythical sword is now considered a work of art in its own right.
Literally, nihonto means “Japanese sword”. There are several types. The katana as we know it today has indeed been greatly modified over the years.
Key points to remember about nihonto
- Nihonto means Japanese sword
- It is often associated with ancient Japanese swords by habit
- The traditional Nihonto is made only in Japan
- There are different types of Nihonto depending on the period of history
- Nihonto is considered a work of art for its technical characteristics and aesthetic appeal.
- The price of a nihonto is several thousand euros
If you are interested in katana, here is a history of nihonto. We trace its history through the different eras and periods of Japan.
The Jôkoto : the very first nihonto
Jôkoto are the very first weapons that appeared in Japan, 300 years before J-C. The first blades were somewhat sketchy, but a certain technique was quickly established.
The blacksmiths then improved the blades of the katana by trying to combine sharpness and solidity.
The Yayoi period (300 BC to 300 AD)
It was during this period that the first katana designs appeared. The making of katana quickly became a work of art. The blacksmiths work to create powerful and resistant weapons, which would withstand the shocks during the fights well.
This sword quickly became part of the Japanese culture and a symbol of power. The nihonto being part of the 3 imperial equipments, it was an object of adoration for the population.
The Nara period (8th century)
The Nara period takes place during the 8th century. It will develop the creation of Kissaki. These swords have the particularity of having double-edged points. During this period, blacksmiths greatly improved their forging techniques.
It was during this period that swords of similar quality to the best of today were born!
The Heian era (8th to 12th century)
It was during this period that the katana known today were developed. They are distinguished by their distinctive curved blades. They will be called Jôkoto.
We will also create different size blades with it:
- the tachi
- the tsurugi
- warabite no tachi
These tachis are the closest form to the modern katana! It is the form that will remain the most in the course of history.
Kotô: more efficient and sharper nihonto
The Kotos are true precursors to the art of Japanese sword making. It is with them that we discover all the techniques that will be used by blacksmiths for centuries to come. A very important period for the history of Japan.
End of the Heian era (12th century)
Koto swords are tachis with a very pronounced curvature of the blade. The blacksmiths have indeed noticed that the cut becomes better. Koto swords are known for not breaking and being resistant in battle.
This curvature is the result of a natural bending during the forging process. The masters created at that time, blades with an edge very close to the back of the blade. The latter would bend by themselves during the forging process.
This type of sword is called Shinogi-zukuri. Koto swords are much more advanced than their predecessors. Hamon’s are of exceptional quality, the blade’s tang is powerful and its grip ideal.
The Kamakura period (12th to 14th century)
The Nakamura period is a little less glorious for the nihonto. This one extends from the 12th to the 14th century. Many blacksmiths appear during this period. This multitude of craftsmen will have as an effect to see appearing many techniques of creation of the swords. Each blacksmith wanted to bring a different technique from his neighbor at the expense of quality.
The recent wars against the Mongols have profoundly modified the manufacturing patterns of katana of this period. Longer and more imposing swords were forged, symbols of the aggressiveness of the power during this period.
The nodachi : imposing nihonto but nevertheless technical
The nodachi are the heirs of the swords from the Kamakura period. They are indeed very imposing, while benefiting from a much more elaborate technique.
Nanboku-chô era (end of XIVth)
This era takes place at the end of the 14th century. The nodachis make their appearance and stand out by their immense size. We take the swords from the Kamakura period and make them even bigger!
But this time, the sword is honored as a true work of art. The Gokaden tradition appears with the Mino tradition. Numerous prestigious schools flourish throughout the country and give the sword forge its letters of nobility once again.
The Muromachi era (14th to 16th century)
It takes place between the end of the 14th and the 16th century. The Koto tachis disappear to make room for the katana. The latter stand out for their ability to be drawn quickly and strike at the same time.
The katana is the result of multiple inspirations. The length of the blade of the Kamakura era is used and it is also strongly inspired by the tachis.
The uchigatana : a reference of Japanese swords
It appears briefly in the 15th century. It is a sword that can be used with one hand and is about 60 cm long. The term uchigatana will soon disappear and be replaced by the term katana.
The uchigatana is generally of low quality and was used by low-ranking soldiers. This low quality is the result of a civil war that resulted in a high production of katana for the needs of the fighters.
However, the forging technique will be further developed by incorporating the principle of composite forging. It is during this period that kobuse and makuri will appear.
The Shinto: the great industrialization of the nihonto
The Shinto are the witnesses of a real revival of the forge. The blacksmiths develop new techniques while using the best of what was done before. In spite of a more intensive production, we see the appearance of swords of very good quality.
Azuchi Momoyama era (2nd part of the 16th century)
During this era, many changes were made to strengthen the art of Japanese sword forging. Kenjutsu and the wearing of daisho are developing a lot. So we see a real craze for the manufacture of quality katana.
Finally, it is during this period that the blades begin to be classified. The Hon ami family created a first classification of weapons with certificates giving credit to carefully made blades.
The Edo era (17th to 19th century)
It is also called Tokugawa era. The production of Shintô is constantly improving to get further away from the shape of the tachis. Here, we produce katana made above all for performance.
The aesthetics of the swords is a little put aside to privilege the technical qualities. This difference is explained by the fact that the Bushido code was very present at that time. It was during this period that tameshigiri, the art of cutting, was developed.
The Shinshinto: the rebirth of nihonto
Shinshinto do not have a style as such. They combine inspirations from the Kamakura period, and Nanboku-chô.
The Meiji era (18th to 19th century)
It extends from the end of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century. The katana fell into oblivion for a while before being reborn with the support of Suishinshi Masahide. The latter is a samurai who trains a hundred students in the art of Japanese swordsmanship.
It is thanks to him that the forging of swords resumed its course. During theMeiji era, styles were mixed and blacksmiths did not create new forging techniques.
The wearing of the katana was banned in 1868, making the object a work of art in its own right.
The showato: a nihonto tailor-made for the World War
It is the last katana for military use in Japanese history. It was intended for the military during the Second World War. It was a poor quality sword.
The Showa period
The katana of this period will not be remembered as great works of art. Showatô from this period was mass produced by industries. The katana was mainly used to motivate the troops by giving them a traditional samurai look that would be imposing to the enemy.
To acquire katana made according to the Japanese tradition, visit our katana store.