Part of a Pair: What is a Wakizashi Sword?

Most people could draw a katana if asked, and you may even have a katana in your home. When asked to describe a wakizashi blade, however, you may fall short. Keep reading to learn more about this specialty sword utilized by the samurai of feudal Japan.

 

Size and Use

The term wakizashi describes the blade’s use as a side arm or side-inserted sword. It was most often worn as a companion blade to a warrior’s katana. This pairing of blades is called the daisho, which translates to big and little. A typical early alternative to the wakizashi is the even shorter tanto, or dagger. The tanto was commonly used in early civil wars, but the wakizashi remained the most common companion sword for a katana.

 

The wakizashi’s blade can range between one and two feet in length. Shorter blades, closer to the length of a tanto, are called ko-wakizashi, while longer blades are called o-wakizashi. The shape of a wakizashi, whether long or short, features a square handle with a slightly curved blade. Thanks to its shorter length and lighter weight, the wakizashi was often useful to the samurai where a katana blade was not. Although a katana sword dealt heavy damage, the wakizashi could be more easily used to finish off an opponent by impaling or beheading. The website Swords of The East features all of these blades and more, from the dagger-like tanto and iconic katana to machetes and movie replica swords.

 

Do You Have Permission to Carry That?

In early Japan, wearing a katana blade was a privilege strictly limited to the samurai class. These well-educated noblemen were highly revered and respected, and they had the power to strike down anyone who offended their honor. Many merchants and artisans carried a wakizashi blade as an alternative to the specialized katana. This helped protect them from bandits as they traveled.

 

Similarly, no one but the samurai could wear the daisho, or set of swords. The daisho was truly a status symbol for the samurai from the mid-1500s all the way through the late 1800s. At this time, most of the samurai were not warriors but aristocrats, highly prominent in Japanese society. Japan then banned most citizens from wearing swords in public, but the daisho remains an icon of the samurai of the past.

 

The Samurai’s Side Arm

The wakizashi blade went everywhere with its samurai master, such as a small pistol on the hip of a modern police officer. Unlike police officers, however, the samurai were never truly “off the clock.” Katana blades could not be worn inside, so a servant would place it on a katana-kake, or storage rack. The blades were turned in such a way that they could not be readily drawn, limiting the chance that a samurai preparing to leave would be suspected of drawing his sword in attack. The wakizashi blade, however, was worn continually and placed by the bed or even under a pillow at night.