Let’s look at the diagram below. At the beginning of each chapter, a timeline like the one below will be shown. It will be a good reference to see which time period the subject matter is being discussed.
From the Jomon period to the Nara period, the short top line is the time we call the Joko-to period in terms of the history of Japanese swords. The term “Japanese sword” we use today refers to the swords made after the Heian period (平安 794-1185). Usually, Joko-to is in the category of archaeological study. In the next chapter, we will discuss Joko-to. The bottom timeline and short descriptions below are the timelines we see in Japan’s general history books. The middle timeline is more specific for the sword study. My discussion will follow the middle timeline. The timeline diagram will appear at the beginning of each chapter for easy reference. The swords I discuss in this book are grouped together based on the shape, style, and trend of the time.
The difference between Tachi (太刀), Katana (刀), Wakizashi (脇差), Tanto (短刀)
Swords made before the Muromachi period (before 1392) are called Tachi (太刀). Swords made after the Muromachi (室町) period are called Katana (刀) and Wakizashi (脇差). Katana and Wakizashi were worn together. Tanto is a short dagger. Tantos were made throughout time. The difference between Tachi and Katana is how they were worn. Tachi was suspended from one’s waist belt, the blade side facing down. Katana and Wakizashi (called Daisho 大小 means large and small) were thrust between the belt and body two together, the blade side up. Usually, Tachi is longer than Katana. Wakizashi is shorter than Katana. Tanto is the shortest. When you face the swordsmith’s inscribed name, if the blade comes on the right, that is Tachi. When you face the swordsmith’s inscribed name, if the blade comes on the left, that is Katana and Wakizashi.
Tachi > Katana > Wakizashi > Tanto
Ko-to (古刀) Shin-to (新刀) Shinshin-to (新々刀) Gendai-to (現代刀)
Ko-to is the swords made between the Heian period (794-1192) and the beginning of the Keicho Era (1597-1614). Shin-to is the swords made between the Keicho Era (1596-1614) and the Tenmei Era (1781-1789). Shin Shin-to is the swords made during Bakumatu time (幕末期 1781-1868). Gendai-to is from the Meiji Restoration (明治1868) through today. Even though the names of the eras or time changed overnight due to the political or dynastical changes through history, the changes in the sword style were always gradual.
In general history, the Bakumatsu time is simply the last part of the Edo period. However, for the sword classification, the Bakumatsu time is from around the Tenmei era (天明 1781) through the beginning of the Meiji 1868.