All About Japan

Samurai Guide: How to Wear a Sword

| Samurai , Fashion

If you’ve watched a lot of period dramas, you might have noticed that sometimes samurai wear their curved swords with the cutting edge facing the ground, and other times facing the sky. As it turns out, there’s a reason why—as explained in this illustration shared by Japanese Twitter user Suuko.

Suuko seems to be a pretty big fan of Touken Ranbu, the hit computer game that stars a cast of anime-style pretty boys representing actual historical samurai swords.

From the start of Japan’s Heian Period through most of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), swords were a commonly and frequently used instrument of warfare. The samurai who carried them were often dressed in a full suit of armor, with the sword hanging from a cord attached to the waist.

As you may have guessed, that armor wasn’t made from papier-mâché. Anything that was going to protect a samurai on the battlefield needed to be crafted from sturdy, heavy metal. The plating along the upper arm and shoulder made it difficult for the wearer to raise his arm very high, but by keeping the cutting edge pointing down, the sword could be drawn simply by extending the arm forward.

Once Japan’s government was stabilized, open warfare became less common. With the end of centuries of civil war, most samurai in the 16th century and later were going about their business dressed in kimono, with their sword tucked into the sash holding the robe closed.

Having the sword’s edge facing the ground would put the sword’s hilt especially high, level with the rib cage. Unless the samurai had disproportionately long limbs, extending an arm upward to draw the sword would have been at best difficult, and at worst impossible, so instead swordsmen started wearing their weapons blade-up, making them easier to unsheathe.

Now all you need is a sword and samurai armor (yoroi) or a kimono to practice unsheathing your sword!

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