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The Significance of a Nodachi Sword in Japanese History

The Significance of a Nodachi Sword in Japanese History

There was an era in Japan when the emperors were replaced by military dictators as the main acting government. This era was known as the feudal era in Japan, and although it was present in some areas much earlier, it mainly took root in Japan in the Kamakura Period in the late 12th century. During this time the samurai warriors ruled Japan and the history of Japan came to include a heavy influence of the ways of life of the samurai warriors. It was also during this time that swords became an essential weapon to be carried by the samurai warriors. 

Meaning Behind the Name and the Purpose of the Sword

One of these swords was known as the Nodachi, and it was considered a field weapon for the samurai warriors. The sword was also known as ōdachi where ō meant “big” and dachi meant “great sword” and as the meaning of its name suggests these swords usually had a blade that was 90 centimetres long. 

In most cases, the main purpose of these swords was ceremonial rather than being functional on the battlefield. These swords were considered ceremonial objects and were used in prayers offered to the gods before a war. They were at times also displayed in temples reputed for being legendary swords in Japanese mythology. During the Edo period in Japan, it was not uncommon to see the Nodachi swords being used in various ceremonies because of their ceremonial importance. 

 The Significance of a Nodachi Sword in Japanese History

Methods of Use

Although the swords were mainly considered as ceremonial artifacts, there are still a few instances when these swords were used on the battlefield. This becomes apparent when a look has been taken at the Edo period woodblock prints that show the samurai wearing a sword on their backs as their weapon of choice. Few examples of those instances are as follows: 

  • A samurai yielding a Nodachi while riding a horse
  • However, as battlefield weapons, it was impossible for the samurai warriors to carry the Nodachi on their waist due to the immense size of the blade. A solution to this was carrying the sword on the back, but during combat, this proved to hinder the warrior as it was almost impossible to draw the sword quickly and with ease. The other solution was to carry the sheathed sword in hand. A trend quickly came into play where the carrier of the sword would have a follower who would assist him in drawing it.
  • The style of the swordplay is also different when the Nodachi sword is considered, unlike the traditional swords, the nodachi swordplay focuses on downward cuts and the sheer size of the blade might make it difficult to make upward cuts with ease and swiftness. 
  • One of the main uses of the nodachi, however, were as large anti-cavalry weapons. This meant they were used to strike down the opponents horses as they approached as the long blade gave the warrior an advantage over distance. 

Whether it is their ceremonial significance or the uses on the battlefield, the Nodachi swords have proven to be a pivotal element in shaping Japanese history and culture. Any enthusiast of history and the culture is sure to want to learn more about them, and the collectors would want to own one of these swords.