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The Myth of the Katana

by Ewa Nowogorski

If you think of Japan, and are asked to name a weapon associated with it, very likely you will think of the katana, a Japanese long sword with a curved blade. This sword was used by samurai in feudal Japan, being worn at their waist with the blade facing upwards.

Katanas often appear in movies and anime about feudal Japan, with characters wielding them powerfully, slashing at and taking down enemies with grace and ease. because they are swords with a sharp edge, they obviously can be very dangerous and deadly, but were they great weapons when compared to the other swords of the world?

Japanese swordsmen were undoubtedly very skilled but the katana itself was not a great weapon compared to its European counterparts(rapier, long sword).

First off, although the katana was legitimately used in battle, it was more of a sign of honor and status in Japan. Katanas were passed down many generations throughout families and only typically used as a last resort in battle. Samurai almost exclusively relied on longbows and spear-like weapons called naginata, due to having much higher range and effectiveness. It was also a great badge of honour to be skilled with a katana, meaning duels with them were common.

It is often said that in the forging of a katana blade, the steel was “folded thousands of times” which made it stronger. While that’s true, the reason the steel was folded so many times was because Japanese steel was vastly inferior to European steel. Weapons made in Europe had a massive advantage of being made from much higher quality steel. Katanas in comparison to European weapons also had much less range than European weapons at 60 cm, compared to the rapier and longsword which were both over 100 cm. Design wise, the katana was primarily a slashing weapon whereas the longsword and rapier could be used for both stabbing and slashing.

Finally, Japanese samurai also had one battle against the Spanish and lost embarrassingly.

The Spanish rodeleros faced armored Japanese ronin who were wielding katanas. The Spanish troops defeated the ronin because of the superior quality of Spanish armor and weaponry.

Katana are undoubtedly cool, but probably overrated in today’s media. They are not that great a weapon.

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