Japan has a long and rich history of creating high-quality Samurai swords. Because of that, the world now has a collection of top Samurai swords that enthusiasts and collectors wish to have.
Samurai swords or Nihonto are different types of classically-made swords from Japan. Although produced as early as the Kofun era, most people recognize the curved blades as Nihonto after the Heian period.
Generally, there are a lot of types of Nihonto that differ in shape and size. They also differ in the method of production and field of application.
Classifications of Top Samurai Swords
A Samurai sword is classified by the blade’s length, shape, and its mountings. Once these are identified, the type of sword can be determined.
Unsigned and shortened blades once used as a Tachi, can be set in a Tachi and Katana Koshirae. It will then be identified adequately based on the kind of mount it’s utilizing.
The long Tanto can be categorized as a Wakizashi. It’s due to the length going over 30cm.
However, the sword may have originally been set, mounted, then utilized as a Tanto, making the length’s characteristics slightly inconsistent. Despite this, it’s necessary when referring to or talking about unmounted shorter blades.
Without the sword mountings, the blade length of a Tanto and Wakizashi could be under 30 centimeters. However, there were no specific dimensions for this type of Nihonto.
In some cases, a sword that may be formally called a Wakizashi could also be referred to as a Tanto. It’s because the size of the blade matched an average Tanto during the period when the Wakizashi didn’t exist.
The most common types of Nihonto include the Katana, Nodachi, Tachi, and Wakizashi. But aside from these, there are other top Samurai swords as well.
The Top Samurai Swords
Here is a list of the top Samurai swords that collectors and enthusiasts aim to include in their collection.
The earliest Nihonto is one of the top Samurai swords, but it didn’t physically look like the popular Katana. These had straight, double-edged blades, and were technically based on the Jian from China.
These were the Chokuto that appeared before the 10th century and featured aspects similar to the classic Chinese swords. The Chokuto had blades that were short to moderate, as well as decorative Tsuba and Kashira.
Due to the similarities, it’s believed that swordsmiths from Japan used the Chinese sword’s design to create the Chokuto.
The Chokuto was used before the Heian Period (794-1185 AD). It had a straight, single-edged blade and was produced by Japanese swordsmiths before the 10th century.
Since the Japanese thought that the Chokuto was not efficient enough for combat, swordsmiths eventually designed the Tachi. This was the first true Nihonto and was created by Amakuni, a legendary swordsmith.
The Tachi resembled the Katana, but it was longer and more curved. Its curvature started from the middle of the blade and included the tang. For its average blade length, it measured between 70 and 80 centimeters.
When worn, it was suspended on the waist through the Obi or sash, and its edge faced downward. With that, the Mei or signature of the swordsmith faced outward when the Samurai wore it on their left side.
The Nodachi, also known as the Odachi, is one of the top Samurai swords of all time. When it comes to its length and weight, its Chinese counterpart is the Miao Dao. The claymore or longsword is its Western equivalent.
A Nihonto is qualified as a Nodachi when its blade length was around 90.9 centimeters or 3 Shaku. However, there are no exact sizes stated to define a Nodachi, just like with most Nihonto.
Because its blade was too long to carry on the waist, the Samurai wore the Nodachi in two different ways.
One was on the back, which was impractical since the quick drawing of the sword was impossible. The other way was carrying the sheathed sword by hand.
Basically, the Nodachi had a few functions. On the battlefield, it was an efficient infantry sword where the wielder focused on downward cuts.
This Samurai sword was also effective against cavalry and was excellent for striking down horses and enemies.
Its other function was for ceremonial purposes. The Samurai utilized the Nodachi as an offering to shrines for worshipping patron gods before a war. Some swords were displayed in temples and believed to be legendary mythological weapons.
During the Edo Period, the Nodachi was often utilized for various ceremonies.
Since the establishment of the Shogunate, the Nodachi and other Nihonto that were longer than a certain length were banned.
This was one of the reasons why the Nodachi became rare throughout the years. The difficulty of forging its blade was another reason for its decline.
Another weapon that is part of the top Samurai swords is the Uchigatana. This Nihonto was the evolution of the Tachi and was one of the main weapons of the Samurai.
During the 16th century, the Uchigatana had a blade length measuring between 60 and 70 centimeters. It featured a steep Saki-Zori and a stout Sugata.
Due to its thinness and short Tang, the Uchigatana was lightweight, hence, it was wielded single-handedly.
Unlike with the Tachi, the Samurai wore the Uchigatana with its edge facing up since it was smaller.
The sizes of the Uchigatana and the Tachi was the main difference between these two swords. Plus, with the edge facing down, it was easier to unsheathe the Tachi.
With its shorter blade, the Uchigatana was more efficient in confined spaces and closed quarters.
During the period when this Nihonto became popular, cavalrymen were at a disadvantage. It’s because warriors cut off horses’ legs with the Uchigatana to dismount their enemies.
The Tanto is also one of the top Samurai swords on our list. It’s a traditional Nihonto but functions more like a knife, which is why it’s considered as a dagger.
A Tanto blade’s creation dates all the way back to the Heian period. During that time, its main function was a weapon, but as time passed, it became a more decorative piece.
The blade of the Tanto was at least 15 centimeters long but did not exceed 30 centimeters. This blade length was equivalent to 1 Shaku. This Nihonto was a stabbing weapon and was also effective for slashing due to its sharp edge.
It was mostly the Samurai warriors who carried the Tanto. Additionally, a smaller version of the Tanto called Kaiken was carried by women in feudal Japan.
Before the Wakizashi became the auxiliary sword or short sword in the Daisho, the Samurai carried the Tanto. These warriors wore the sword together with the Tachi before the Katana and Wakizashi pair became popular.
Another top Samurai sword is the Nagamaki. It’s a traditional Nihonto that rose in popularity during the Kamakura, Nanbokucho, and early Muromachi periods.
When it comes to the characteristics of this sword, its average blade length measured between 60 and 120 centimeters.
Its Tsuka was 45 to 90 centimeters long and resembled that of a Katana. The difference between them was its length since the Nagamaki blade’s Tsuka was longer.
The most distinct feature of the Nagamaki was its long Tsuka that allowed for extended reach. Mainly, it was useful for long-distance combat.
The single edged blade of the Nagamaki resembled a Naginata, a Japanese pole weapon of the Samurai. The difference was the way the blade was mounted. Unlike the Naginata, the blade of the Nagamaki was not fixed to a simple shaft made from wood.
The Tsuka of the Nagamaki was wrapped with silk cords or leather appearing criss-crossed like the grip of the Katana. This traditional handle wrapping gave name to the Nagamaki, which means “long wrapping”.
Considered an evolution from the earlier Nodachi, the Nagamaki was described in 14th-century literature.
The Ninjato was a short sword featuring a straight blade. It was carried by the Ninja or Shinobi in ancient Japan and was known as the Ninjaken or Shinobigatana.
Its size allowed wielders to utilize it easily in narrow spaces like rooms and corridors. Usually, the blade length was shorter than 60 centimeters. The rest of the sword is straight, thick, and heavy.
The Ninjato was one of the numerous weapons and accessories of the Shinobi. Its main purpose was for stabbing and killing opponents.
It often featured a square Tsuba, unlike the other top Samurai swords that commonly had a circular one. Aside from that, it was also larger than the regular Tsuba.
One theory states that the Shinobi rested the sword against the wall to step on the Tsuba. This allowed them to reach high surfaces or climb through ceiling openings. If it was utilized for climbing, the Ninja would retrieve the sword by pulling the Sageo or Saya cord.
When it comes to the Saya of a Ninjato, these had multiple purposes as well. Some used it as a respiration pipe for underwater activities like snorkeling. The Saya was also said to be longer than the blade to keep various objects like chemicals for blinding enemies.
The unique shape of a Ninjato was created by the Shinobi. They made these using slabs of iron and steel.
The Katana is a standard-sized Nihonto. It has a moderate curve, unlike the previous Tachi, and was longer than 60 centimeters. The Katana is among our list of top Samurai swords. It’s because it became the main weapon of the Samurai upon rising in popularity.
A Katana has various distinct characteristics, such as having a blade that was longer than 60.6 centimeters. What makes it unique is its curved slender blade with a single edge.
For its Tsuka, it is long enough for accommodating two hands and features a square or circular Tsuba.
The main purpose of the Katana was for cutting. Some Samurai used this single-handedly with the Wakizashi. Others wore the Katana with a Tanto or dagger.
Those who weren’t warriors didn’t have any right to wear a Katana.
The Katana became popular among Samurai warriors when the nature of close-combat warfare changed. It was necessary to draw swords faster since their victory highly depended on their speed and quick response time.
The Samurai wore the Katana using an Obi or a sash resembling a belt. The sharpened edge faced up, allowing them to unsheathe the sword in a single motion. The way the Katana was worn was the opposite of the Tachi.
The Wakizashi was a shorter auxiliary sword utilized with the Katana. It’s a top Samurai sword since it’s among the widely used blades by the military class. By shape, it was similar to the Katana and can be wielded with one or two hands.
The Samurai used the Wakizashi during close-quarter combat. In battles, they also utilized the Wakizashi when they lost or broke their Katana.
Other warriors mastered the art of wielding the Katana and Wakizashi simultaneously. One of these Samurai warriors was Miyamoto Musashi.
The blade length of a Wakizashi can vary between 30 and 60 centimeters. A Wakizashi that’s almost as long as a Katana is the O-Wakizashi, which translates to “big Wakizashi”.
If it’s closer to the length of the Tanto, it’s called the Ko-Wakizashi, which means “small Wakizashi”.
When the Wakizashi was worn together with the Katana, the pair of swords was called the Daisho. This word translates to “big-little”, with the Katana being the Daito or big sword. The Wakizashi, on the other hand, was the Shoto or small sword.
Wearing these swords together in feudal Japan showed that a warrior belonged to the military class. Unlike the Katana, the Wakizashi was a sword that the Chonin could carry for protection against bandits. This caste included merchants, craftsmen, and artisans.
The Wakizashi is not only a shorter version of the Katana. Its forging process and the cross section could be some of the differences between the two swords.
The Samurai wore the Wakizashi on their left side. They secured this on their waist with a sash called Himo or Uwa-Obi.
If you are wondering where can you get all those swords , then take a look at the top samurai sword sellers.