Many people know that Japanese samurai carried swords. Fewer realize that it was the nature and existence of these swords that set the samurai apart and enabled members of the lesser social strata (farmers, artisans, merchants, and the untouchables, in descending order of social status) to recognize them immediately on sight.
Many men (and a few women) in Medieval Japan carried swords. Some carried only a tanto, or dagger, and more carried a single, one-edged sword of the type most modern readers might identify as “a Japanese sword.” (Mostly single-edged, long-bladed, forged from folded steel and deadly sharp.)
After the rise of the samurai culture (c.1100 A.D.), however, only members of the samurai class were permitted to carry a pair of swords – the long-bladed katana, which was worn stuck through the bearer’s girdle with the scabbard pointing upward, and the shorter wakizashi, which had a medium-length blade and was worn with the scabbard pointing toward the ground. Samurai often fought using both swords at once, but when a single sword was used most warriors preferred the longer katana for its increased reach.
By contrast, a samurai committing seppuku, or ritual suicide, would use either a dagger or – later in the historical period, his wakizashi with a strip of cloth wrapped around the upper part of the blade to ensure that he did not cut his hand while gripping the weapon during his grisly final task.
So. What new and exciting thing did you learn today?