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Edo period length and ownership restrictions


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So, I'm on my second read-through of The Connoisseur's Book of Japanese Swords.

 

I've read about the length restrictions from other sources before - as Nagayama tells us (it's a shame the book doesn't give the prescribed lengths in shaku etc., as it's less intuitive in metric)

 

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The length of the swords carried by members of the warrior class was restricted by the government in 1638, with katana being limited to 84.8 cm and wakizashi to 51.5 cm. These restrictions were relaxed slightly in 1712, in the case of katana to 87.6 cm, and wakizashi to 54.5 cm.

 

So, I have a blade from c. 1660 that has a nagasa of 59cm, so it fits the modern definition of a wakizashi (and this is echoed on the NBTHK certificate), but I'm left wondering:

 

1. Would this have been worn as a companion sword at the time - or perhaps it just had a shorter owner?

 

2. Were the length restrictions actually enforced? Could a commoner buy an "over-sized" blade from a reputable smith? Would samurai-class have their blades measured?

 

3. Any recommendations for documentation sources / further reading about the restrictions, their enforcement and effectiveness (English or Japanese is fine)?

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There is a lot of good information here (maybe you've aready seen);

https://markussesko.com/2015/08/11/the-wakizashi/#:~:text=The honzashi of the samurai,measurements were slightly adjusted later.

 

With so many changes in the laws regarding sword length, one can assume that they weren't being followed or enforced very strictly. Also, the definition of "shaku" wasn't standardized throughout Japan until later in the Edo period. Basically there were different versions of "shaku" in use depending on the location (and profession...fabric makers have their own shaku).

 

There are a couple of threads on this topic here on NMB, which I think you may have also seen.

 

https://www.militaria.co.za/nmb/topic/6650-swords-and-length/page/2/

 

Here is another one 

 

https://www.militaria.co.za/nmb/topic/44442-evolution-of-the-shaku-unit-of-measurement/

 

59 cms makes a pretty long and impractical companion sword. Yours could be a sword meant for someone not of the samurai class. Has it been shortened (at the machi) at all? As is usually the case, without the provenance, you will never be able to say with certainty who owned the sword or what their status was. 

 

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5 hours ago, SteveM said:

59 cms makes a pretty long and impractical companion sword. Yours could be a sword meant for someone not of the samurai class. Has it been shortened (at the machi) at all? As is usually the case, without the provenance, you will never be able to say with certainty who owned the sword or what their status was. 

 

 

Thanks for the links. Yes, I'd read the Sesko link, between that and the books, that's why I'm puzzled.

 

If we're in the post 1637, 1 shaku 8 sun period - or the latter 1 shaku 5 sun (ko wakizashi) limits, it's too long as a companion sword (for commoners or samurai) - but it's also very short as a katana...

 

From (albeit modern literature), even for someone 5' tall / 150cm, the recommended length for that height starts around 2 shaku, 2 sun (from c. 66cm).

 

I can't see any evidence of suriage or modification around the machi - I'll post some photos when I get it out to be cleaned.

 

Maybe off topic, but in this case the reverse of the nakago states the blade was made in Kuwana (away from the smith's usual residence in Mino). Do "travel works" usually indicate merchant commissions?

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I also think this part of Markus's post is very important;

 

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there was no official “sword police” going through the rural fiefs making all samurai unsheath their swords and measure the nagasa of their mounted blade. So basically it was like no plaintiff, no judge and when there was no sword incident caused by a civilian that had to be officially investigated, it can be assumed that no one would take notice if you wore a chû-wakizashi instead of a ko-wakizashi on one particular day.

 

Regarding the inscription: I've never heard of there being any connection between certain inscriptions and customers for the sword (excluding the obvious "dedication" inscriptions). Anyway, looking forward to seeing the photos. 

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My .02$

All rules that I saw where practical of nature and were based on tried and true testing. 

For katana there is a way to determine the blade and tsuka length. This is basically the perfect balance between reach of the sword, being able to comfortably draw it and in the end it not being too heavy (too long and it would be become too heavy). The tsuka must be such that hte bottom bone of the left hand still touches the tsuka in order to stop it on a dawnward swing. 
That said, I could nowhere find any rule regarding the blade nor the tsuka length on a wakizashi. Practically you would need to be able to draw the sword with one hand without using sayabiki (swinging the saya backwards to facilitate the sword leaving the sheath). As such the length of a wakizashi, being a primarily one handed sword, would be limited on the basis of your arm length. I found out that in my case a wakizashi of 50cm would be the perfect length. Note that my katana perfect size is 75cm nagasa.
The handle of the tsuka is another story. Most will say around 6 sun. Some say you need to be able to fit one and a half hand. In practice when wearing both the katana and the wakizashi, the handle cannot be too long as it would hinder drawing the katana. In my case this is 18 cm or roughly 6 sun. For example the perfect length tsuka on my katana (distance between my wrist and bottom of my elbow) is 9.5 sun. 

If a Japanese samurai would be using a katana of ca. 67 cm his wakizashi would probably be around 45 cm.

Another thing to consider is that when sitting with both swords in the belt, the wakizashi is angled more downward. This means that the longer the blade is the more chance you have it will touch the floor which is to be avoided as it will make you sit uncomfortably and make noise + potentially damage the saya. I did testing with my regular iaito (2-4-5) and my boken (also 2-4-5) and practice was cumbersome with that length. The boken used as wakizashi would be pushed upward when sitting causing interference when drawing the katana as you need to put it horizontally to draw from a sitting position (mostly)

So I think that a 59 cm wakizashi would be too much unless it would be a tall guy with very long arms. I mean someone like over 185 cm long. That would be very long for the middle-ages. Certainly in Japan. 

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Hi,

here is also a description of a very short katana, or long wakizashi, but it is from the muromachi time: https://sword-auctio...sunbthk-hozon-token/ .

Aoi call it : This shape of sword is a so called Katateuchi(one-handed) sword that has shorter Nakago and deep Sori and slightly longer Kissaki. There were more goot battles than cavalry battles in Muromachi period, shorter sword was popular.

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Guest Simon R

Risuke Otake, who knew a thing or two about Japanese swords, mentions the following anecdote:

 

"Yagyu Renyasai, one of the greatest swordsmen of the Shinkage-ryu, is said to have used increasingly short swords from when he was a young man, with his tachi measuring 1-shaku 9-sun 8-bu (60.0cm) and his shoto 1-shaku 3-sun 3-bu (40.3cm). As discussed in the kodachi section, this length would have probably been sufficient for a master swordsman."

 

So, it is down to skill rather than just height or other body dimensions. The Yagyu Shinkage Ryu ran almost exactly parallel to the Edo period being discussed.

IMG_4773.jpeg

IMG_4774.jpeg

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Re: why the authorities might not need to go around checking. 

 

One thing about Japanese society that we need to consider is the nature of the justice system. If you get caught doing something wrong, the authorities will examine every other aspect of your life to find extra recriminations to throw at you. For this reason, people were usually proactive, covering their butts as insurance, from fear of what could happen if or when things went pear-shaped. 

 

So they might not check how long the blade in your saya was, but an illegal blade length would count against you as clear proof of a non-innocent lifestyle, if they pulled you for something else. Magistrates would have wanted to establish first and foremost whether you were generally an upstanding law-abiding citizen or not.

 

Even today I can think of several examples of this that puzzled me over the years, but this way of looking at things is assuredly still alive and well.

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Guest Simon R
1 hour ago, Bugyotsuji said:

Re: why the authorities might not need to go around checking. 

 

One thing about Japanese society that we need to consider is the nature of the justice system. If you get caught doing something wrong, the authorities will examine every other aspect of your life to find extra recriminations to throw at you. For this reason, people were usually proactive, covering their butts as insurance, from fear of what could happen if or when things went pear-shaped. 

 

So they might not check how long the blade in your saya was, but an illegal blade length would count against you as clear proof of a non-innocent lifestyle, if they pulled you for something else. Magistrates would have wanted to establish first and foremost whether you were generally an upstanding law-abiding citizen or not.

 

Even today I can think of several examples of this that puzzled me over the years, but this way of looking at things is assuredly still alive and well.

True.
Nowadays it's the Japanese Keystone Kops spot-checking whether you've stolen your own bicycle (but only if you're a young, pretty girl).

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5 hours ago, SRDRowson said:

Risuke Otake, who knew a thing or two about Japanese swords, mentions the following anecdote:

 

"Yagyu Renyasai, one of the greatest swordsmen of the Shinkage-ryu, is said to have used increasingly short swords from when he was a young man, with his tachi measuring 1-shaku 9-sun 8-bu (60.0cm) and his shoto 1-shaku 3-sun 3-bu (40.3cm). As discussed in the kodachi section, this length would have probably been sufficient for a master swordsman."

 

So, it is down to skill rather than just height or other body dimensions. The Yagyu Shinkage Ryu ran almost exactly parallel to the Edo period being discussed.

IMG_4773.jpeg

IMG_4774.jpeg

You do know that ordinary people trained in jodo to protect themselves against sword 'masters', do you? It is a known fact that it is very difficult for a swords man to win from a jodoka wielding a jo. The primary reason for this is length. And before we go into a discussion, yes, you can kill someone with a jo. 

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1 hour ago, Yves said:

You do know that ordinary people trained in jodo to protect themselves against sword 'masters', do you? It is a known fact that it is very difficult for a swords man to win from a jodoka wielding a jo. The primary reason for this is length. And before we go into a discussion, yes, you can kill someone with a jo. 

1. the Old System ist mostly know as Kuroda no Jo, Jodo is used from Shimizu Sensei in modern time

2. the lenght ist not the only reason, if you put all thinks together (use both sides of the jo, 360 degree hazushi...) you have the benefits, but at the end the best fighter wins

3. yes you can maybe kill somebody with the jo, but its not intend to kill

 

Nowadays the modern Iaido school like longer sword in training to improve their technic, but for "real" fighting its not so necessary i think. 

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Guest Simon R
1 hour ago, Yves said:

You do know that ordinary people trained in jodo to protect themselves against sword 'masters', do you? It is a known fact that it is very difficult for a swords man to win from a jodoka wielding a jo. The primary reason for this is length. And before we go into a discussion, yes, you can kill someone with a jo. 

Sorry, I thought we were talking about sword length, not penis length.

 

I honesty don't give a toss if "you can kill someone with a jo". 
 

 

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2 hours ago, SRDRowson said:

Sorry, I thought we were talking about sword length, not penis length.

 

I honesty don't give a toss if "you can kill someone with a jo". 
 

 

We were talking about the length of the sword and the effectiveness of reach in the reason why a samurai might want to use a longer vs a shorter sword. The jo discussion was to make a point about the extreme length if you hadn't noticed. And indeed it was not about your penis length. 

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3 hours ago, oli said:

1. the Old System ist mostly know as Kuroda no Jo, Jodo is used from Shimizu Sensei in modern time

2. the lenght ist not the only reason, if you put all thinks together (use both sides of the jo, 360 degree hazushi...) you have the benefits, but at the end the best fighter wins

3. yes you can maybe kill somebody with the jo, but its not intend to kill

 

Nowadays the modern Iaido school like longer sword in training to improve their technic, but for "real" fighting its not so necessary i think. 

 

Do you practice iai and jodo? I do, 17 years btw. And yes length does matter, not solely for practice reasons. 
Wonder how you will fare if I stick a jo up your nose. With 120 cm, you'll have a hell of time preventing that.

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9 minutes ago, Yves said:

 

Do you practice iai and jodo? I do, 17 years btw. And yes length does matter, not solely for practice reasons. 

Hi,

 

yes i did about 15 years Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido (seitokai), now i am training only Shinto Muso Ryu Jo (FEJ not Seite-jo) about 14 years. Also some training and friend from other Koryus. 

 

regards

Oli

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10 minutes ago, Yves said:

Then you should know this. And as a said above, length of a sword is a trade of with other aspects. If length didn't matter, all the samurai would be wearing would be wakizashi or tanto. 

Shure, but to swing a real sword is something different then a iaito. Not shure but i think you training Seitojo (?), where ist also katas in Shinto Muso Ryu with Wakizashi or Jitte against Katana. So you have to learn to survive with all different Maai and disadvantage of the weapon. 

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I train Muso Shinden Ryu and both seitei and koryu styles. Jodo is extra curriculum. I have reached 3rd dan and I now have permission to use a real blade (which is ordered btw). Training with a real sword as far as I understood from those in our dojo that do train with one is that there is less room for error especially in drawing and noto. 
We normally never train with wakizashi, but in principle the older styles (omori, hazagawa, ukuden) are basically derived from fighting with the presence of a wakizashi (fuchi kashira in the middle of the body whereas in seitei the tsuba/sword cross is in the middle of the body). 
BTW: a sword is also used both sides where for example someone is hit with the tsuka in the chest, face or on the hand (i.e. tsukate, ganmenate, shi-ho geri) but you'll have to be extremely close to do that. 

Another aspect to consider as far as longer vs shorter swords is the extra momentum you have when you swing a longer (and usually heavier) sword is that it will help you cut through an opponent more easily. 

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18 minutes ago, Yves said:

Another aspect to consider as far as longer vs shorter swords is the extra momentum you have when you swing a longer (and usually heavier) sword is that it will help you cut through an opponent more easily. 

There was no need of that. In Edo time, you don't usually fight against people in Yoroi, or why should you want to cut a trough a complete body? You should maybe try a real Kenjutsu Koryu.

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21 minutes ago, oli said:

There was no need of that. In Edo time, you don't usually fight against people in Yoroi, or why should you want to cut a trough a complete body? You should maybe try a real Kenjutsu Koryu.

As if they didn't train for real combat...why else would so many examples of Yoroi from the Edo era exist do you think. A bit shortsighted imo. Also consider the fact that if you would perform for example a kesa geri, you need to cut through the shoulder bone and chest bones to reach the heart.
And occassionally we do train kenjutsu... it's primarily used to pefect timing. 

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1 hour ago, Yves said:

Playing stupid? What was not clear about what a wrote?? 

Well, you brought sticks into a sword debate. How about Yari (the main Samurai foot soldiers weapon) or Naginata. I didn’t see the point of just bringing sticks into a sword debate when Samurai  didn’t normally fight with sticks (except Musashi of course). Bloke with a big stick would be useless against naginata….pointless comparisons. 

I fully respect you martial artists and the discipline and dedication it takes, but in the real old Edo world of the Samurai where peace largely reigned for almost 3 centuries the length of a sword was not determined by actual fighting and when guns arrived they decided the issue anyway.

Prior to the Edo period we see a steady decrease in sword length and in battle you would wield a sword that fitted your body. Huge sword is useless when you are 5ft tall.

Also depends on the circumstances of combat…..crowded indoors, crowded battlefield or noble 121 duel.

Correct me if I’m wrong please.

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10 minutes ago, Matsunoki said:

Well, you brought sticks into a sword debate. How about Yari (the main Samurai foot soldiers weapon) or Naginata. I didn’t see the point of just bringing sticks into a sword debate when Samurai  didn’t normally fight with sticks (except Musashi of course). Bloke with a big stick would be useless against naginata….pointless comparisons. 

I fully respect you martial artists and the discipline and dedication it takes, but in the real old Edo world of the Samurai where peace largely reigned for almost 3 centuries the length of a sword was not determined by actual fighting and when guns arrived they decided the issue anyway.

Prior to the Edo period we see a steady decrease in sword length and in battle you would wield a sword that fitted your body. Huge sword is useless when you are 5ft tall.

Also depends on the circumstances of combat…..crowded indoors, crowded battlefield or noble 121 duel.

Correct me if I’m wrong please.

See the above. 
There was a move going on after the sengoku away from close combat weapons to guns anyway. Naginata ended before that because of the extremely long yari used by foot solders.The Tokugawa ended that progression and halted it entirely. However, length is part of the equasion for the reasons I already gave. 

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33 minutes ago, oli said:

There was no need of that. In Edo time, you don't usually fight against people in Yoroi, or why should you want to cut a trough a complete body? You should maybe try a real Kenjutsu Koryu.

BTW: you should know that in iai the objective is not to fight longer than necessary and preferably kill after one single cut. If you don't hit a vital organ of your target, your opponent might still live and pose a threat. 

Kenjutsu is all good and fine for looks, but in reality a sword fight would be over in seconds. Usually the shortest sword movements would kill the fastest (like a stab when an oponent lifts his sword to cut and for that you need enough length. 

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8 minutes ago, Yves said:

BTW: you should know that in iai the objective is to fight longer than necessary and preferably kill after one single stroke. If you don't hit a vital target your opponent might still live and pose a threat. 

Sorry i dont want a discussion about Martial arts in this forum. Wish you the best. 

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Guest Simon R

Let's try again, shall we Admins?

(I'll try to make it more PC for your fragile, dainty constitutions.)

 

This is NOT a martial arts forum @Yves and so no-one cares less whether Miyamoto Musashi could be felled with one swipe of an Ecky Thump master's black pudding. 

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