Japanese Sword Mountings

It has been said that the Japanese sword was the soul of the Samurai. If this is indeed the case then, undeniably, the blade is also the soul of the Japanese sword. All other parts may be considered as secondary to the blade, but on a well mounted sword, the fittings compliment, enhance it and allow the blade to be actually used. A full set of mounts, not including the blade, is known as the Koshirae. The individual constituents of the Koshirae, which include Kodogu (metal mountings)Tsuka and Tsukamaki (hilt and hilt wrap) the Habaki and the lacquering and construction of the Saya (scabbard) are all collaborations between different artist and artisans with their individual specialities, whilst the Katana Kaji (swordsmith) and Togishi (polisher) work on the blade itself. These notes will briefly describe the various types of Koshirae some of which are dictated by the size of the blade.

Daito (long swords)

Uichigatana Koshirae:

the Daito may come in a number of different types of Koshirae, regardless of the what type of blade it may be (Tachi or Katana). Of these, probably the most familiar is the Uichigatana or Katana Koshirae. This, if you like, is the definitive "Samurai sword". Usually, the Saya will have no metal mounts but an infinite variety of lacquers may be used to decorate it. The lacquer has the added advantage of being resistant to water or damp and so, as in many Japanese art forms, it has a practical as well as decorative function. The Saya will also have a Kurigata (retaining "hook") on the Omote side (which is sometimes metal) and is worn tucked through the Obi with the cutting edge uppermost, familiar to all practitioners of Iaido. The Koshirae will be complete with a Tsuba and Tsuka which will have Fuchigashira and Menuki, variously decorated.

Tachi Koshiarae:

Unlike the Katana described above. The Tachi was worn with the cutting edge down and was originally an ancient style designed for combat whilst mounted on horseback. The Tachi's Saya will have metal mounts (various rings, a chape and hanging devices) the design or decoration of which, is usually repeated on the Tsuba and Tsuka. Frequently the top 1/ 3rd of the Saya will be wrapped in the same manner as the Tsuka and this Koshirae is known as Ito-maki Tachi Koshirae (thread wrapped). Most extant examples of this style would have been for formal dress during the Edo period but there are 20th century examples around, usually with brass mountings and of lower quality.

Han-dachi Koshirae:

A style of Koshirae which is a mixture of both the Uichigatana and Tachi Koshirae, is known as Han-dachi (half Tachi). Very popular during the Bakamatsu (end of the Edo period) this is worn in the style of Katana and not Tachi, but would retain a number of the metal Saya mounts and would also have a Kurigata.


As the name implies (small Katana) this Koshirae differs only from the regular Katana by virtue of its size. Although some are said to have been made for one handed combat (Katate-mono) many were also made for the affluent merchant class who were subject to restrictions on the size of weapons they were allowed to wear. Such swords are often very richly mounted and the Sayas are ornately lacquered reflecting the ostentatious and wealthy nature of their owners, which contrasted to the more subdued (ideally) and restrained taste of the Samurai class.

Shoto (short swords and daggers)


The Wakizashi was designed as the Shoto that accompanied the Daito in the matched pair of swords known as the Daisho (Daito + Shoto = Daisho). The two blades of a Daisho might occasionally be by the same maker, but the Koshirae would always be an obvious, though not necessarily exact, matched pair. Often Daisho have been split up and it is a collector's dream to reunite the two swords of a Daisho (I have done this). Slots to accommodate the small Ko-gatana (auxiliary knife) or Kogai (a kind of skewer) are often found near the top of the Wakizashi's Saya and, rarely, these may also be found on Katana-koshirae. The Wakizashikoshirae, therefore, is only different to the Katana or Han-dachi Koshirae, by virtue of size.


The Tanto or dagger might be worn as part of a Daisho instead of the Wakizashi, in which case the mounts would be in sympathy with those of the Daito. There are three basic types of Tanto Koshirae which might all contain similar types of blades.

a) Tanto: with a normally formed (but obviously smaller) Tsuba, all the normal Tsuka mounts and a lacquered Saya. They might also accommodate the Kogatana in the same manner as a Wakizashi.

b) Hamidashi Tanto: similar to the above but often slimmer overall and with a Tsuba that has most of one side cut away usually to make room for the top of the Kogatana.

c) Aikuchi Tanto: with no Tsuba at all, the Fuchi is flush with the Koi-guchi and the name means "close fitting mouth". Very often the Tsuka will have no Itomaki (thread wrapping) and the Menuki will be fixed directly onto the Same which covers the Tsuka. This style was originally designed for wearing with armour.


Finally, all lengths of swords might be found in Shira-saya. This is a storage rather than a practical mount and is plain, undecorated wood. In olden days a rich Daimyo or Samurai might have several different sets of Koshirae for one blade and would keep it in a Shira-saya when not being used (the Koshirae would be kept with a wooden blade, known as Tsunagi). The Shira-saya is undecorated except that sometimes an appraiser may brush an attribution onto the Saya.

Nowadays, when a sword is sent off for polishing, it will be returned in Shira-saya and if it has a Koshirae a Tsunagi would be made for it. Sadly, it is not possible in this situation, to return the blade to the Koshirae which may have traces of dirt that will damage the polish. A good Shira-saya also has the advantage of being almost airtight, limiting the blade's exposure to dampness and lowering the risk of it rusting.

The above are the most commonly encountered Koshirae. I have omitted the Tachi variations such as Efu-no-tachi and Hoho-no-tachi as well as the Shin-gunto or modern army sword, which is modelled on the Tachi anyway. These are unlikely to be encountered by the average Kendo or Iaido student.

Clive Sinclaire,
To-Ken Society of Great Britain
Reprinted with permission from the British Kendo Assoc.