A nihongo|tantō|短刀|extra="short sword" is a common Japanese single or, occasionally, double edged knife or dagger with a blade length between 15 and 30 cm (6-12 inches). The tantō was designed primarily as a stabbing instrument, but the edge can be used to slash as well. Tantō first began to appear in the Heian period, however these blades lacked any artistic quality and were purely weapons. In the early Kamakura period high-quality artful tantō began to appear, and the famous Yoshimitsu (the greatest tantō maker in Japanese history) began his forging. Tantō production increased greatly around the Muromachi period and then dropped off in the Shintō period ("new sword" period), consequently Shintō period tantō are quite rare. They regained popularity in the Shin-Shintō Period ("new-new sword" period) and production increased.

Tantō are generally forged in "hira-zukuri", meaning that their sides have no ridge line and are nearly flat, unlike the "shinogi-zukuri" structure of a katana. Some tantō have particularly thick cross-sections for armor-piercing duty, and are called "yoroidoshi".

Tantō were mostly carried by samurai; commoners did not generally carry them. Women sometimes carried a small tantō called a "kaiken" in their "obi" for self defense.

It was sometimes worn as the "shōtō" in place of a "wakizashi" in a "daisho", especially on the battlefield. Before the 16th century it was common for a samurai to carry a "tachi" and a tantō as opposed to a "katana" and a "wakizashi".

Tantō with a blunt wooden or blunt plastic blade exist and are used to practice safely. Also, versions with a blunt metal blade exist and are used in more advanced training or demonstrations. Martial arts practicing techniques with tantō include:

* Aikido
* Aikijutsu
* Jissen Kobudo Jinenkan (Jinen Ryu Tantojutsu)
* Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu
* Genbukan Ninpo Taijutsu
* Jujutsu
* Koryu Bujutsu
* Shorinji Kempo
* Modern Arnis (taking place of dagger)

History of Tantos in Japan

Heian to Muromachi

The tantō was invented partway through the Heian period, when it was mainly used as a weapon. With the beginning of the Kamakura period, tantō were forged to be more aesthetically pleasing, and "hira" and "uchi-sori" tantō were the most popular styles. Near the middle of the Kamakura period, more tantō artisans were seen, increasing the abundance of the weapon, and the "kanmuri-otoshi" style became prevalent in the cities of Kyoto and Yamato. Because of the style introduced by the "tachi" in the late Kamakura period, tantō began to be forged longer and wider. The introduction of the Hachiman faith became visible in the carvings in the tantō hilts around this time. The "hamon" (line of temper) is similar to that of the "tachi", except for the absence of "choji-midare", which is "nioi" and "utsuri". "Gunomi-midare" and "suguha" are found to have taken its place. In Nambokucho, the tantō were forged to be up to forty centimeters as opposed to the normal one "shaku" (about thirty centimeters) length. The tantō blades became thinner between the "uri" and the "omote", and widen between the "ha" and "mune". At this point in time, there were two styles of "hamon" that were prevalent: the older style, which was subtle and artistic, and the newer, more ostentatious style. With the beginning of the Muromachi period, constant fighting caused the mass production of blades, meaning that with higher demand, lower-quality blades were manufactured. Blades that were custom-forged still were of exceptional quality, but the average blade suffered greatly. As the end of the period neared, the average blade narrowed and the sori became shallow.

Momoyama to Early Edo Age

Approximately two hundred fifty years of peace accompanied the unification of Japan, in which there was little need for blades. With weapon smiths given this time, both the katana and "wakizashi" were invented, taking the place of the tantō and "tachi" as the most-used pair of weapons, and the number of tantō forged was severely decreased. The only tantō produced during this period of peace were copies of others from earlier eras.

Late Edo Age

There were still few tantō being forged during this period, and the ones that were forged reflected the work of the Kamakura, Nambokucho, or Muromachi eras. Suishinshi Masahide was a main contributor towards the forging of tantō during this age.

Meiji to present

Many tantō were forged before World War II, due to the restoration of the Emperor to power. Members of the Imperial Court began wearing the set of "tachi" and tantō once more, and the number of tantō in existence increased dramatically. However, later on, a restriction on sword forging caused the number of tantō being produced to plummet very low. Presently, in America, it is not difficult to obtain a tantō.

Types of Tantō

Tantō occupy two main categories, Suguta Tantō and Koshirae Tantō:

uguta Tantō

*"Shinogi": This is not a true tantō, for it is usually created when a longer sword has been broken or cut. Tanto are seldom made in this form.
*"Ken": This is also not truly a tantō, though it is often used and thought of as one. "Ken" were often used for Buddhist rituals, and could be made from "yari" (Japanese spearheads) that were broken or cut shorter. They were often given as offerings from sword smiths when they visited a temple. The hilt of the "ken" tantō may be found made with a "vajra" (double thunderbolt related to Buddhism).
*"Kanmuri-otoshi": These tantō had a single edge and a flat back. They had a "shingoni" that extended to the tip of the blade and a groove running halfway up the blade. It was very similar to the "unokubi" style tantō.
*"Kubikiri": "Kubikiri" were rare tantō with the sharpened blade on the inside curve rather than the outside. One interesting fact about "kubikiri" is that they have no point, making them difficult to use in battle and enshrouding the weapon in mystery. "Kubikiri" can be roughly translated to “head cutter”, for one myth relating to the blade centralizes around the idea that they were carried by assistants into battle in order to remove the heads of the fallen enemies as trophies to show off during the triumphant return from battle. There are other speculations existing about the "kubikiri"’s possible uses. Perhaps they were used by doctors or carried by high-ranking officials as a badge is worn today. They could also have been used for cutting charcoal or incense, or used as an artistic tool for pruning bonsai trees.
*"Shobu": The "shobu" is a commonly found blade type that is very similar to the "shinogi". It is sometimes found with a groove running halfway up the blade.
*"Kogarasamaru": The "kogarasamaru" is a very rare blade type that appears to be a branch of the "shinogi" blade type. The front third of the blade is double-edged.
*"Kissaki-moroha": The "kissaki-moroha" is an extremely long "o-kissaki". This means that it is much longer than the one "shaku" length of the average tantō.
*"Unokubi": The "unokubi" is a semi-rare tantō that contains a single sharpened edge and a flat back. There is normally a short, wide groove extending to the midway point on the blade.
*"Hira": The "hira" is a tantō form with no "shinogi" and a "mune". It is extremely common due to the simplicity of its design.
*"Hochogata": The "hochogata" is a tantō form that is commonly described as a short, wide, "hira". The "hochogata" was one of the tantō forms that Masamune (an ancient sword smith whose name has become legend) favored.
*"Katakiriha": The "katakiriha" is a tantō form that has one side that is completely flat, while the other side is flat for a time, but turns at an angle to create a chisel-shaped blade with the first side.
*"Moroha": The "moroha" is a rare, double bladed tantō type that has a diamond-shaped cross-section. The blade tapers to a point and contains a "shinogi" that runs to the point.

Koshirae Tantō

*"Aikuchi": The "aikuchi" is a tantō form where the "fuchi" is on level with the mouth of the "saya". There is no "tsuba" on this form of tantō. "Aikuchi" normally have unwrapped "tsuka", and many forms of "aikuchi" have "kashira" that are made from animal horns.
*"Hamidashi": The "hamidashi" is an average tantō style that contains a small "tsuba".
*"Kwaiken": The "kwaiken" is a generally short tantō that is commonly carried in "aikuchi" or "shirasaya" mounts. More women carry "kwaiken" than men do.
*"Kamikaze" tantō: The "kamikaze" tantō is no more than a "shirasaya" tantō that is normally carried in horn mountings.


*Fan Tantō: The fan tantō is a common tantō, normally with a low-quality blade that could be concealed within a fan-shaped mounting. Many people used them so that they could be armed with a weapon while appearing harmless. Many fan tantō were forged during the 19th and 20th centuries to rip off tourists.
*"Yari" Tantō: Japanese spearheads were often altered so that it became possible to mount them as tantō. "Yari" tantō were carried by women for self-defense, and by samurai to pierce armor. Unlike most blades, "yari" tantō had triangular cross-sections.
*"Hachiwara": Hachiwara are not truly tantō, because rather than being blades, they are iron bars, normally twelve to fifteen inches long, with a sharp hook protruding out of the end. They have been called “helmet breakers” and “sword breakers”. Their mounts were typically made of carved wood or carved cinnabar lacquer.

Another use of tanto blades is in modern tactical knives. Modern tanto's have been made by knife makers Bob Lum, Phill Hartsfield, Ernest Emerson, Allen Elishewitz, Bob Terzuola, Strider Knives, Benchmade, Spyderco, Severtech, and Cold Steel.

The handle shape may be altered slightly to provide better control.


#Bare URL: http://home.earthlink.net/~steinrl/unji.htm
#Bare URL: http://www.geocities.com/alchemyst/tanto.htm

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