Renowned for their code of honor (Bushido) but also for their courage and agility on the battlefield, for seven centuries the samurai dominated feudal Japan with valor and honor. Among their warrior equipment, many weapons were invented and used over the centuries, each more deadly than the last. Between projectile, spear, bow, fan, ax and many others, the least we can say is that they did not lack imagination. Without wasting any more time, let's now analyze the 10 of their weapons that were the deadliest.
Certainly the most popular weapon of the samurai, the katana is a sword measuring more than 60 centimeters which was worn at the waist by the samurai. It weighed between 800 g and 1.3 kg and was wielded with two hands, which made it possible to deliver very powerful blows.
However, a samurai warrior was an exception to the rule and developed a one-handed technique, which allowed him, among other things, to fight with a sword in each hand. And this warrior is no less than Miyamoto Musashi, the most famous samurai in feudal Japan. For over 40 years stories of his exploits on the battlefield were the subject of many stories in many villages. Although sometimes embellished, this samurai remains undoubtedly the noblest and most powerful of his time. If his story interests you, Eiji Yoshikawa tells you his biography in the best seller The Stone and the Sword . Subsequently, Miyamoto gave birth to the Hyōhō niten ichi ryū , a sword school which teaches this combat technique with a katana in each hand.
The yumi (bow)
Widely used on horseback, the yumi is the bow used by samurai in combat. It has the particularity of being extremely long (2 meters on average) in comparison with the arches that we know, and of having an asymmetrical shape.
Its handle is located approximately 2/ 5th of the arc and this is not insignificant. This allowed samurai to shoot more easily while on horseback, to be more stable when shooting, and to crouch with the bow in the event they found themselves knocked down. The yumis were made of bamboo with a silk rope, and their manufacturing technique has remained unchanged today with that of the 16th century . th century , this know-how is so effective. The quality of the yumis was generally recognized by the sound they emitted when the samurai shot an arrow, an arrow which was also long and which could take quite varied shapes. One of the original arrows that samurai used to scare their enemies was an arrow equipped with a whistle, which allowed them to frighten opponents when it was released from the bow.
However, other shorter bows have existed such as the hankyū , which literally means "half bow" in Japanese. But the yumi remains the most used bow. Being very difficult to use due to its large size, samurai who managed to master this bow were considered high-ranking warriors. Today the yumi is still the bow used in kyūdō , a Japanese martial art directly inspired by the shooting techniques of the samurai, and in yabusame , a discipline of archery on horseback (also inspired by the samurai).
The wakisashi (short sword)
The wakisashi is quite similar to the katana and it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart. It appeared during the Muromachi period (1333-1573) and the main difference lies in the size of the sword (more than 60 centimeters for the katana, between 30 to 60 centimeters for the wakisashi) and the one-handed handling of the wakisashi. , unlike the katana.
It is a weapon that allowed samurai to be more flexible in their combat technique. It was used in addition to the katana in case it was lost in battle or if the warrior had to engage in combat in a narrow place. This duo of swords is called the daishō and was used by almost all the samurai of feudal Japan. The wakisashi was also the sword used for seppuku (or hara-kiri ) , the ritual suicide of samurai which was carried out when the latter refused to obey an order from his master or when he had to repent of an unforgivable sin . It was also used by wealthy merchants who were prohibited from wielding a katana.
However, wakisashi were banned in 1876 by the Meiji government, which caused numerous rebellions and many samurai committed suicide.
The naginata (samurai halberd)
Much less known than the katana, the naginata is a large spear (around 2 meters) equipped with a saber blade at its end. It is inspired by Chinese guandaos and strongly reminds us of the halberds we know with which soldiers fought in medieval times.
It was widely used when fighting on the battlefields began to increase. Its length made it possible to keep enemies at bay and its wooden handle made it light enough to be easily wielded in combat. Here is an excerpt from Game of Thrones in which Oberyn confronts The Mountain with one of these same spears. Except that his has a sword blade versus a saber blade for the naginatas (be careful with the violent image at the end of the video).
And even if this weapon was not able to bring him luck, the samurai have more than once proven the effectiveness of this weapon. They mainly used it to cut the hocks of horses to bring down a rider. But also to deal a fatal blow to an opponent on foot when they themselves were on horseback. Some models also existed with a spike at the end of the handle to be able to pierce a samurai's armor, which made the weapon dangerous on both sides.
However, the samurai were not the only ones to use naginatas. It is a weapon that was also widely used by women to defend their homes. The length of the spear makes it possible to keep an attacker at bay quite easily. There are still four schools today that teach the use of this weapon in Japan.
The yari (samurai spear)
The yari, like the naginata, is a weapon derived from Chinese spears. It was used very early in Japan, even before the beginning of feudal Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). However, its name was only attributed to it around the 1330s and it became increasingly used at the end of the 14th century. th century.
Unlike naginatas, yaris are symmetrical spears (like the one in the video above) which could reach up to 6 meters long, with a tip of 10 to 60 centimeters. Their tip could come in several shapes like those we can see in the image on the left. On a battlefield this weapon was even more used than the katana because its large size made it possible to keep a horseman or an infantryman away. When several samurai used this weapon at the same time for an offensive or to defend a stronghold, it became almost impossible to defeat them because nothing could get past a 5 meter wall of spears attacking us at full speed.
The masakari (axe)
The masakari is a heavy battle ax that could weigh up to 4 kg for 1.2 m in length. Although it was mainly warrior monks who used this weapon for self-defense, samurai also fought with this type of ax during medieval Japan.
Just like naginatas, certain forms of masakaris could have a pike at the top of the handle to be able to deal direct blows to an enemy and pierce their armor. Which allowed you to be more versatile in combat. Certain forms of axes were even larger, being heavy and very difficult to handle, the few samurai who managed to master these weapons were considered respected warriors. However, to our knowledge there were still few samurai who adopted this weapon in comparison with the yari or the katana which were much more popular weapons. Being more used by monks, it was also considered a ritual and sacred object.
The nodachi (two-handed sword)
Much larger than the katana, the nodachi is a sword which began to be used during the Nanboku-chō period (1345-1350) and which measures between 1.5 and 2 meters long. Consequently it is a weapon which was only used outdoors and which had difficulty being used in a fight in the forest because of the trees which restricted the movements of the samurai.
Just like the great masakaris, mastering a nodachi required impressive physical strength. And therefore whoever managed to fight effectively with it was often considered a high-ranking warrior. Furthermore, few blacksmiths designed long nodachi swords and only rich samurai could afford one. However, such a powerful weapon also has disadvantages because very often the samurai had to be accompanied by an assistant to be able to draw the sword from its sheath.
The nodachi was also used (like the naginata) to cut the hocks of horses on the battlefield to bring down their rider. Legend even says that a great samurai warrior should be able to cut the horse and its rider in one go with this sword. Naturally no concrete account of this kind has been reported to date. But it is very likely that one of Miyamoto's opponents, the greatest Japanese samurai, carried and used one called Mono Hochi Zao.
The tessen (fan)
The fan is a traditional Japanese object which was widely used during hot weather. And the least we can say is that the samurai did not lack imagination. Using a seemingly harmless, banal object, they turned it into a formidable weapon.
Available in two main versions, the tessen is an iron fan weighing around 1 kg which could either house a small knife inside, or be sharpened on its (iron) canvas to become a cutting weapon. This allowed samurai to always have a weapon on them when asked to leave their weapons at the entrance of a house. But the tessen is not only a fan for offensive purposes, it was actually a very versatile object. It was for example used on battlefields to communicate certain orders, it could also act as a fin to swim faster if necessary and could even be used to protect oneself from a dart or a small spear with its structure hell.
The tachi (horse saber)
The tachi is an extremely old sword dating back to at least before the Heian period (794-1185). It was attached to the samurai's belt by two clips and was mainly used on horseback.
Unlike the katana it is slightly more curved but also a little longer. This allowed the samurai to have more reach in their movement to be able to strike an enemy on foot. It was used with one hand, but with time and the increase in combat on the battlefield, a two-handed guard was developed to be able to gain power on each blow made with the saber. However, the arrival of the katana gradually dethroned the tachi which was left aside by the samurai in favor of the katana and wakisashi (daishō) combo which was much more effective.
Shurikens appeared during the Kamakura era (1185-1333). These deadly little projectiles that we all know will quickly be adopted by the samurai. And the blacksmiths will soon install them directly in the equipment of these warriors by hanging them on the sheath of their katana.
Several forms of shurikens existed and we can easily divide them into 4 categories:
- Bo-shuriken: These are composed of a generally braided handle and a 4-sided pike, thus being able to be thrown or used as a knife. For those who know, they strongly resemble the kunais we have in Naruto.
- Hira-shuriken: The hira-shuriken is the best-known form of shuriken. Made up of a 4-pointed star with a diameter of approximately 10 centimeters, it could be thrown more than 10 meters with a sharp flick of the wrist.
- Senban-shuriken: Quite similar to hira-shurikens, these diamond-shaped shurikens were also very dangerous. Especially when used at night, once launched they were almost impossible to detect. Many of them also had a hole in the middle which allowed them to be easily attached to a rope on the belt.
- Senbon-shuriken: Although not widely used, senbon-shurikens are very small picks that samurai hid in their mouths. Thus undetectable they spat them in someone's face when they were forced to leave their sabers at the entrance.
Each samurai clan learned to use a different type of shuriken. Each more deadly than the other, these weapons were widely used during feudal Japan. They will subsequently be improved by the ninjas who largely contributed to popularizing this weapon.