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Edo-era Higo style Koshirae

The koshirae (拵え ?) is the mounting 'worn' by a Japanese sword (e.g. katana) when the sword is being worn by its owner, whereas shirasaya is the wooden sheath and grip the sword wears when in storage.

The word koshirae is derived from the verb koshiraeru (拵える ?), which is no longer used in current speech. More commonly "tsukuru" is used in its place with both words meaning to "make, create, manufacture." A more accurate word is tōsō (刀装 ?), meaning sword-furniture, where tōsōgu (刀装具 ?) are the parts of the mounting in general, and "kanagu" stands for those made of metal. Gaisō (外装 ?) are the "outer" mountings, as opposed to tōshin (刀身 ?), the "body" of the sword.

A koshirae should be presented with the tsuka (hilt) to the left, particularly in times of peace with the reason being that you cannot unsheathe the sword easily this way. During the Edo period, many formalized rules were put into place: in times of war the tsuka should be presented to the right allowing the sword to be readily unsheathed.

Koshirae were meant not only for functional but also for aesthetic purposes, often using a family mon (crest) for identification.



A diagram of a katana and saya with components identified.
  • Bōshi (帽子 ?) - the hamon on the kissaki
  • Fuchi ( ?) - hilt collar between the tsuka and the tsuba
  • Ha ( ?) - the edge of the blade; typically much stronger than the rest of the blade
  • Habaki ( ?) - wedge shaped metal collar used to keep the sword from falling out of the scabbard and to support the fittings below; fitted at the ha-machi and mune-machi which precede the nakago
  • Hada ( ?) - the grain of the blade, created by the folding process to remove impurities from the blade
  • Hamon (刃文 ?) - the pattern on the blade indicating the border between the harder ha and the softer mune
  • Hi ( ?) - the fuller or blood groove; also called a bo-hi (wide fuller)
  • Kaeshizuno (返し角 ?) - a hook shaped fitting used to lock the scabbard to the obi while drawing
  • Kashira ( ?) - butt cap (or pommel) on the end of the hilt
  • Kissaki (切先 ?) - the geometrical change at the tip of the blade intended to use for stabbing
  • Kōgai ( ?) - spike for hair arranging carried sometimes as part of Katana-Koshirae in another 'pocket'
  • Koiguchi (鯉口 ?) - mouth of the scabbard or its fitting; traditionally made of buffalo horn
  • Kojiri ( ?) - end of the scabbard or its fitting to protect the saya; also traditionally made of buffalo horn
  • Kozuka (小柄 ?) - decorative handle fitting for the kogatana; a small utility knife fit into a 'pocket' on the scabbard
  • Kuri-kata (栗形 ?) - knob on the side of the scabbard for attaching Sageo
  • Mekugi (目釘 ?) - small peg for securing the tsuka to the nakago; nihonto traditionally had only one bamboo mekugi which was flexible but strong
  • Menuki (目貫 ?) - ornaments on the hilt (generally under the tsuka-ito); to fit into the palm for grip and originally meant to hide the mekugi
  • Mune ( ?) - the spine of the blade
  • Nakago ( ?) - the tang of the blade
  • Nakago-ana (茎穴 ?) - the hole(s) for the mekugi
  • Sageo (下げ緒 ?) - cord used to tie scabbard to the belt/obi when worn
  • Same-hada (鮫肌 ?) - literally the pattern of the ray skin
  • Same-kawa (samegawa) (鮫皮 ?) - ray or shark skin wrapping of the tsuka (handle/hilt)
  • Saya ( ?) - a wooden scabbard for the blade; traditionally done in lacquered wood
  • Seppa (切羽 ?) - washers above and below the tsuba to tighten the fittings
  • Shinogi ( ?) - the ridgeline which runs down the center of the blade
  • Shitodome (鵐目 ?) - an accent on the kurikata for aesthetic purposes; often done in gold-ish metal in modern reproductions
  • Sori (反り ?) - the curve of the blade, measured on the mune side, from the mune-machi to the tip; a product of the hardening process
  • Tsuba (鍔 or 鐔 ?) - sword guard
  • Tsuka ( ?) - hilt; made of wood and wrapped in samegawa
  • Tsuka-maki (柄巻 ?) - the art of wrapping the tsuka, including the most common hineri maki and katate maki (battle wrap)
  • Tsuka-ito (柄糸 ?) - the wrap of the handle, traditionally silk but today most often in cotton and sometimes leather
  • Wari-bashi (割箸 ?) - metal chop-sticks fit in a 'pocket' on the scabbard
  • Yokote (横手 ?) - the line between the kissaki and the rest of the blade, indicating the geometry change


A katana with its habaki just below the tsuba (guard)

The habaki (啖呵 ?) is a piece of metal encircling the base of the blade of a Japanese bladed weapon. It has the double purpose of locking the tsuba (guard) in place, and to maintain the weapon in its saya (scabbard).

A katana, a type of Japanese longsword, is drawn by grasping the saya near the top and pressing the tsuba with the thumb to emerge the blade just enough to unwedge the habaki from inside the saya in a process called "koiguchi-no-kirikata". The blade is then free in the saya, and can be drawn out very quickly. This is known as "Koiguchi-o kiru", nukitsuke, or "tanka o kiru" (啖呵を切る, "clearing the tanka"). This is obviously an extremely aggressive gesture, since a fatal cut can be given in a fraction of a second thereafter (see iaido).

The expression "tanka o kiru" is now widely used in Japan, in the sense of "getting ready to begin something", or "getting ready to speak", especially with an aggressive connotation.[1]

The habaki will cause normal wear and tear on the koiguchi and either a shim or new saya may be needed to remedy the issue as it will become too loose over time. Oiling under the habaki after cutting or once every few months is recommended by removing the habaki from the sword, though.


Katana with sageo

A sageo (下緒 or 下げ緒 ?) is a hanging cord made of silk, cotton or leather that is passed through the hole in the kurigata (栗形) of a Japanese sword's saya.

There are a number of different methods for wrapping and tying the sageo on the saya for display purposes.

In some schools of Iaidō, the sageo is tied to the hakama when practising[2].


Japanese sword mountings
Katana moderne.JPG
A katana and saya.
Japanese name
Hiragana: さや

Saya ( ?) is the Japanese term for a scabbard, and specifically refers to the scabbard for a sword or knife.

Saya are normally manufactured from very lightweight wood, with a coat of lacquer on the exterior. The wood is light enough that great care must be taken when drawing the sword; incorrect form may result in the blade of the sword slicing through the saya and severing one or more fingers. Correct drawing and sheathing of the blade involves contacting the mune rather than ha to the inside of the saya. The saya also has a wooden knob (栗形 kurigata ?) on one side for attaching a braided cord (sageo), and may have a shitodome to accent the kurigata as well as a butt cap (小尻 kojiri ?) made from metal. Traditionally the koiguchi and kojiri were made from buffalo horn.


Decorated sword guard, or Tsuba

The tsuba ( ?, or ) is usually a round or occasionally squarish guard at the end of the grip of bladed Japanese weapons, like the katana and its various declinations (tachi, wakizashi etc.), tanto, or naginata. They contribute to the control of the weapon (the right index finger of the fighter typically touches the tsuba), and to the protection of the hand. The tsuba was mostly meant to be used to prevent the hand from sliding onto the blade during thrusts as opposed to protecting from an opponent's blade. The chudan no kamae guard [3] is determined by the tsuba and the curvature of the blade. The diameter of the average katana tsuba is 7.5 cm - 8 cm (2.953 inches - 3.15 inches), wakizashi tsuba is 6.2 cm - 6.6 cm (2.441 inches - 2.598 inches), and tanto tsuba is 4.5 cm - 6 cm (1.772 inches - 2.362 inches)

During the Muromachi period (1333-1573) and the Momoyama period (1573-1603) Tsuba were more for functionality than for decoration, being made of stronger metals and designs. During the Edo period (1603-1868) there was peace in Japan so tsuba became more ornamental and made of less practical metals such as gold.

Tsuba are usually finely decorated, and nowadays are collectors' items. Tsuba were made by whole dynasties of craftsmen whose only craft was making tsuba. They were usually lavishly decorated. In addition to being collectors items, they were often used as heirlooms, passed from one generation to the next. Japanese families with samurai roots sometimes have their family crest (mon) crafted onto a tsuba. Tsuba can be found in a variety of metals and alloys, including iron, steel, brass, copper and shakudo.

In a duel, two participants may lock their katana together at the point of the tsuba and push, trying to gain a better position from which to strike the other down. This is known as tsubazeriai (鍔迫り合い), lit. pushing tsuba against each other. Tsubazeriai is a common sight in modern kendo.

In modern Japanese, tsubazeriai (鍔迫り合い) has also come to mean "to be in fierce competition."



Tantō mounted in aikuchi

The aikuchi (合い口 or 匕首 ?) (literally "fitting mouth") is a form of mounting for Japanese blades in which the handle and the scabbard meet without a guard in between. Originally used on the koshigatana (a precursor to the wakizashi) to facilitate close wearing with armor, it became a fashionable upper-class mounting style for tantō (daggers) in the Edo period. Small aikuchi tanto known as kaiken became popular with the Yakuza, as they were easy to conceal; however, the most typical user of kaiken were women samurai from the Edo period onwards, who kept it as an emergency and/or suicide weapon.

According to S. Alexander Takeuchi from University of North Alabama, Department of Sociology, aikuchi, is a form of koshirae (mounting style) which commonly was used in tanto creation. The nomenclature of the word "aikuchi" is the following: the Japanese: ai is a gerund which means meeting and Japanese: kuchi is a noun that means mouth. The same formula is used in koi-guchi. So, aikuchi initially was a style of mounting in which the fuchi meets with the koi-guchi.

Later, in the Tokugawa period, this tradition of blade mounting gave the name to the very short samurai sword—tanto. Thus, the aikuchi tanto represented a no-tsuba (guard) short sword mainly used in Tokugawa period. The dagger was short and it had a cutting edge the length of which was about 9 inches. It could serve for self-defense as well as for attacking the enemy by throwing it. This weapon looks similar to tanto—the only difference is that aikuchi does not have a hand guard. It was very popular during fifteenth century.

Aikuchi was used mainly during infighting as well as close range grappling. It served for dispatching the enemy when thrown to the ground. This weapon can be easily recognized by the size of its blade as well as by the fact that it had no hilt guard. Aikuchi were also created in a thicker version called yoroi tōshi (Japanese for "armor piercer"). Yoroi tōshi was a strong dagger able to cut through armor when fighting at a close range.

There was also another type of aikuchi called moroha zukuri (Japanese for "double-edged style"). Its blade length was about 7 inches and its blade was sharpened on both sides. It is considered that the best aikuchi knives were created by the famous Japanese swordsmiths that represented the Osafune school, situated in Bizen province. Nowadays these daggers are considered to be very rare and thus very valuable.


Jintachi (no) koshirae (陣太刀 jintachi ?) is the primary style of mounting used for tachi, Japanese swords, where the sword is suspended edge-down from two hangers attached to the obi. The hilt (tsuka) often had a slightly stronger curvature than the blade, continuing the classic tachi increase in curvature as you go from the tip to the hilt. The hilt was usually secured with two pegs (mekugi), as compared to one peg for shorter blades including uchigatana and katana.


A typical shirasaya.
Japanese name
Kanji: 白鞘
Hiragana: しらさや

A shirasaya (白鞘 ?), literally "white scabbard"[4], is a plain wooden Japanese blade mount consisting of a saya (scabbard) and tsuka (hilt), used when a blade was not expected to see use for some time and needed to be stored. They were externally featureless save for the needed mekugi-ana[5] to secure the nakago (tang), though sometimes sayagaki (blade information) was also present. The need for specialized storage is because prolonged koshirae mounting harmed the blade, owing to factors such as the lacquered wood retaining moisture and encouraging corrosion.

Such mountings are not intended for actual combat, as the lack of a tsuba (guard) and proper handle wrappings were deleterious; as such they would likely never make their way onto a battlefield. However, there have been loosely-similar "hidden" mountings, such as the shikomizue. Also, many blades dating back to earlier Japanese history are today sold in such a format, along with modern-day reproductions; while most are purely-decorative replicas, a few have functional blades.[6]


The shikomizue (仕込み杖 ?, literally "prepared cane") is a Japanese concealed sword disguised as a cane or walking stick, similar to the swordstick. It was used mostly by the shinobi. It is most famous for its use by the fictional swordmaster Zatoichi.

The name shikomi-zue is actually the name of a type of mounting; the sword blade was placed in a cane-like mounting (tsue), to conceal the fact that it was a sword. These mountings are not to be confused with the Shirasaya mountings, which were just plain wooden mountings with no decorations.

Some shikomi-zue also concealed metsubushi, chains, hooks, and many other things. The shikomi-zue could be carried in public without arousing suspicion.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "Leeds University Union Iaido Terminology". Retrieved 2009-10-18.  
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ In this context, "white" could be inferred as plain or undecorated.
  5. ^ Holes in the hilt, meant for the mekugi (pegs) that secure the blade (See katana).
  6. ^ Most manufacturers will note that such mountings are only meant for storage, display and transport purposes, not actual usage.


Further reading

  • The Craft of the Japanese Sword, Leon and Hiroko Kapp, Yoshindo Yoshihara ; Kodansha International; ISBN 0-87011-798-X
  • The Samurai Sword: A Handbook, John M. Yumoto ; Charles E. Tuttle Company; ISBN 0-8048-0509-1
  • The Japanese Sword, Kanzan Sato ; Kodansha International; ISBN 0-87011-562-6
  • Japanese Swords, Nobuo Ogasawara ; Hoikusha Publishing Co, Ltd. ISBN 4-586-54022-2

External links


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