The Samurai Sword: The Ritual and Etiquette of a Legend

The Samurai Sword: The Ritual and Etiquette of a Legend

The sword was the main weapon of the samurai. The samurai would never be without it, but it was bad practise to take it out for others to see. The samurai would never show an ordinary person the sword. If a senior official asked to see the sword, the samurai would only draw the sword a few inches from its scabbard.

What does the samurai sword represent?

The samurai sword, called a katana, was an engineering marvel. A master craftsman can take more than a month to make a samurai katana. The craftsman would start melting metal, even pots and pans. The heat from a specially made fireplace created molten metal, burning away the impurities. Then the craftsman would cast the metal in the shape of a sword. While the metal was still warm, he struck the sword with a hammer and flattened it. He folded the metal on itself and then cooled it in water. Then he heated the sword again, flattened it again, and folded it over. This cycle of hammering and folding, heating, and cooling was repeated dozens of times. It’s what gave the samurai katana its legendary hardness and razor-sharp edge.

When the craftsman was satisfied with the samurai sword, he started the polishing process. He first polishes the samurai katana with a pumice-like material, which smoothes out the sword. Then he polishes it with another material, which would remove the scratches from the pumice stone. Twelve different materials were used to polish the sword, each finer than the last. Each removed the scratches left by the previous material. The twelfth material had the consistency of flour, which kept the sword bright and shiny.

Finally, the craftsman would sign his name on the samurai katana, below the handle. He then added the wooden handle and a decorative handguard.

What is the samurai code of honor?

Ritual surrounded the making of the samurai sword. It is said that there were certain foods that the artisan would not eat while making the sword and even certain activities that the artisan would not do while making the sword as part of the ritual. Making the sword was a religious experience for the craftsman. The sword also had religious significance for the samurai. The samurai called the sword “his soul” and it never left his side.

Typically, a samurai would carry two swords. The samurai katana was usually just over three feet (0.9 m) long. The second sword they carried was called a wakizashi and was about 0.6 m long. They would use the wakizashi when the katana broke, for closer combat or for the grim ritual of seppuku (suicide to protect honor). Together, the two swords represented the high social status of the samurai.