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Wakizashi-style sword mounting, Edo period, 19th century
Two blades from a daishō: a wakizashi (top) and a katana

The wakizashi (Kanji: 脇差 Hiragana: わきざし ?) (meaning "side insertion") is a traditional Japanese sword with a shōtō blade between 30 and 60 centimetres (12 and 24 in), with an average of 50 cm (20 in). It is similar to but shorter than a katana, and usually shorter than the kodachi ("small sword"). The wakizashi was usually worn together with the katana by the samurai or swordsmen of feudal Japan. When worn together the pair of swords were called daishō, which translates literally as "large and small". The katana was often called the sword or the long sword and the wakizashi the companion sword.[1][2]


Brief history

References to wakizashi use date at least back to the sixteenth century. Originally, the term wakizashi was used to mean any sword worn on the side of the main sword. Later, the term was used to denote the group of swords which were shorter than the main sword of the samurai, and as a result, wakizashi acquired the meaning of the side sword, because a side sword was shorter than the main sword by its nature.

The samurai used to wear different types of side swords or daggers; for example, chiisa-gatana or yoroi-doshi, and the term "wakizashi" didn't mean any official blade length. The first usage of a wakizashi dates back to the period between 1332 and 1369. For example, Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長, 1534–1582) wore a daishō pair of uchigatana: a Katana with a Wakizashi. This reflects the common practice of wearing a wakizashi as the side sword of a katana.

After the Muromachi period the rulers of Japan tried to regulate the types of swords and the social groups which were allowed to wear them. This was to enhance the reputation, power and the class of the samurai class, who were the only social class permitted to carry the daishō. In the late Momoyama period the government passed laws which categorized the swords in accordance to their blade length. Nevertheless, there were people who openly disobeyed the laws and carried long wakizashi (ōwakizashi), which had approximately the same length as the katana. This was caused by the confusing definition of katana, wakizashi, and tantō of those times, and some townsmen and members of yakuza gangs carried such swords.


The wakizashi were used as backup weapons and as tools to decapitate defeated enemies, and sometimes to commit ritual suicide. This led to it being referred to as the "Honor Blade" among foreigners. The master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵, 1584–1645) was known to have wielded a katana and a wakizashi in respective hands in order to fight with two weapons simultaneously for maximum combat advantage.

When taking enemy samurai heads on the battlefield, victorious duellists may have preferred to decapitate beaten fighters with the wakizashi instead of the katana. The executioner (alone or with the help of comrades) would seize the struggling or immobilized victim, remove the victim's helmet, hold the victim's head in place with one hand and cut off the trophy with the wakizashi in the other hand. Slicing off heads single-handedly would have been easier with the shorter wakizashi than with the longer katana. Using a katana to hack off the head of a victim who was wearing armor or lying on the ground would mean to risk damaging the katana blade; striking a katana at a victim held tight by one's own comrades would mean to risk injuring these assistants.

When entering a building, a samurai would leave his katana with a servant or page who would then let it rest on a rack called a katana-kake, with the hilt pointing left so that it had to be removed with the left hand, passed to the right, then placed at the samurai's right, making it difficult to draw quickly, and reducing suspicion. However, the wakizashi would be worn at all times, and therefore, it constituted a side arm for the samurai (similar to a modern soldier's use of a pistol). A samurai would have worn it from the time he awoke to the time he went to sleep, and slept with it under his pillow.

In earlier periods, and especially during times of civil war, a tantō (dagger) was worn in place of a wakizashi. Contrary to popular belief, the wakizashi was not the sole tool used in the ritual suicide known as seppuku; this usage was also commonly assigned to the tantō.

See also



Simple English

The wakizashi is a traditional Japanese sword. It is shorter than the katana, which was well known in the beginning of the 17th century as a kodachi sword. The two swords were always carried together: the wakizashi finished off the work of the katana sword. Such a sword could be from 30cm to 60cm (12 to 24 inches) long. A small version was called a "ko-wakizashi", a longer one was called an "o-wakizashi".



A wakizashi had a slightly curved blade with a square-shaped hilt (handle). The hilt and the scabbard (the case in which the sword is kept) of a wakizashi was richly decorated with traditional motifs. A wakizashi was more decorated than a katana because it was not used as much as a katana, but still carried everywhere. Another distinctive feature is the scabbard (called a "saya"). The sayas were made to be like the katana but they could have extra pockets for smaller knives, a hair arranger, etc.

The katana and the wakizashi together are called a daishō, which is translated as "large and small". The first part of the word (dai) means "big" and stands for the katana sword; the second (sho) stands for wakizashi. Wakizashi was more decorated than a katana and it was thinner, this is why it was designed to cut through softer targets. So it was a sword to make dangerous cuts in weak points of the human body. The use of a daishō on the battlefield gave its user a big advantage. With the two swords the samurai could keep the enemies within a radius of action ranging from 2 to 7 feet (1 to 3 1/2 meters). Miyamoto Musashi, a famous Japanese samurai, was especially skilful at using the daishō.

Customs and traditions

A wakizashi sword was an irreplaceable weapon for a samurai. The tradition says that when entering a house or any other building, the samurai has to leave his katana with a servant, but the wakizashi could be worn at all times and places. This is why the wakizashi is often called the samurai's side arm. The wakizashi followed his master even when he went to sleep, because it was always near the bed.

The wakizashi was carried along the thigh and was usually used with one hand; the other hand was used for the katana. The wakizashi proved to be very effective when the katana's length and weight made it hard to use. The wakizashi needs less force to use and it is more maneuverable.

The wakizashi was also the sword used by merchants and artisans (types of traders) who were forbidden from wearing a katana. This fact explains a greater number wakizashi swords were found than katanas. There are even more wakizashi swords than katana swords, although the katana swords had greater meaning for Japanese society.


The wakizashi sword was much used in the ritual of seppuku (suicide because of lost honor). In this ritual it was used along with the shortest Japanese sword - Tanto. The wakizashi was thrust into the torso (body), cutting open vertically. This kind of death was considered honorable for a samurai. When a female samurai committed seppuku she would only cut her own throat.


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