Japanese swords are most often associated with the samurai of feudal Japan. To possess a sword or pair of swords was an honor reserved for only the upper class. Thus, the blades serve as symbols of rank and status. Most Japanese swords feature a curved, narrow blade with a single sharpened edge, but the majority of today's Japanese-styled swords are replicas meant for decoration. They come in several major variations.
The katana is a traditional full-sized Japanese sword. It features the same style of slender blade seen on most Japanese swords, an elongated grip that allows for two-handed use, and a handguard that usually has a rounded shape. The blade of a katana is generally 23.5" or longer. Older-style katanas from the 14th, 15th, and late 16th centuries had blade lengths of 27.5" to 28.5". The hilt and hamon, or blade pattern of a katana, varies aesthetically from one sample to the next.
Samurai Sword Set
Samurai sword sets usually contain a katana and one or more smaller blades. The most common combination is a three sword set including a katana, wakizashi, and tanto. The other common pairing is known as a daisho, which means "big-little." A daisho usually matches a katana with a wakizashi, but anything paired with a tanto is technically classified as daisho.
Meaning "white scabbard," the shirasaya is a featureless wooden mount used to display the blade of a Japanese sword when in long term storage. The shirasaya is comprised of two separate pieces: the scabbard and hilt. Since the protective covering was not meant to be used in actual combat, it does not come with a handguard or grip wrappings.
Also known as a "cane blade" or "stick sword," the zatoichi is a concealable katana hiding in a sleek outer shell. When sheathed, the sword looks like a uniform bar of wood meant to be used for training. People who are unaware of this Japanese sword style would probably never guess that there is a blade inside. The zatoichi is a very cool, stealthy blade that can be hidden in plain sight.