Original Companion Sword - The Tanto

A Lack of Good Options

Himari and her brother Asahi approached the vendor selling Tantos.  Because of the fighting that had broken out, people were flocking to buy the knives.  The men used them to participate in the fighting themselves, while the women used them for self-defense.  As she and her brother perused the different options available, Himari turned to her brother and noted how there didn’t seem to be any that matched the quality of their grandfather’s blade.  Overhearing her comment, the shopkeeper said “You’re right, these blades aren’t the same quality they used to be…”

Featured Sword: Tanto

Tantos were originally developed between 794 to 1185 AD.  They are typically one Shaku in length (up to 30cm), with some styles being unusually long (up to 40cm). Unlike most knives, they are designed to also be stabbing weapons, thus they are often referred to as a type of dagger.

The Tanto was often combined with the Tachi to form a daishō (big-little pair of weapons).  As was common in Japan, weapons designed in peacetime were often made to be ornate works of art as well as weapons, and Tantos were no exception.  However, when Japan entered the time period of the Northern and Southern courts, fighting dramatically increased, and the resulting demand for Tantos meant that knives were made to be functional only and their blades were generally of less quality than the blades made in previous eras.  After the reunification of Japan, there was a period of peace during which the Katana and Wakizashi were invented, causing the demand for Tantos to drop dramatically and few were produced, and the ones that were were copies of those made in earlier eras. The Tanto experienced a resurgence before WWII when the empire was restored and members of the Imperial Court once again began wearing the Tachi-Tanto pair.  After WWII, demand again fell as the government restricted sword forging but has since seen a recent rise, as interest in Japanese culture from the West has created a new demand for Tantos.

There was a special type of Tanto worn by women, the Kaiken.  They were usually slightly smaller (25cm) than the normal Tantos and were used primarily for self-defense but would be used rarely for ritual suicide by slashing the veins in the left side of the neck.  When a woman married, she was expected to carry one with her when she moved into her husband’s house. It was typically worn in the Kimono in either a pocket or sleeve-pouch.

Featured Tanto Styles

The Fighting's Effects

“…Because of the fighting that’s broken out”, the shopkeeper continued, “the demand for Tantos has risen so much that swordsmiths are pressed to make as many as possible, so they are letting the quality suffer in an attempt to meet that demand.”  “That makes sense,” Asahi replied, “but it still doesn’t make me feel any better since it’s my life on the line”.  Himari and Asahi picked out the two Tanto they thought would best suit them, paid, and left. On the way home, Himari told her brother, “Asahi, you'd better not get yourself needlessly killed in one of these fights”.  “I love you too, ane" (older sister), he replied.

Fun Fact

The term “Tanto” has been re-used for modern knives (1980+) that are designed for stabbing as well as cutting.

Etymology

The Etymology of the word “Tanto” is a little unclear, but it seems the Japanese borrowed from Middle Chinese the word 短刀 (twán-taw), literally meaning “short knife” (dagger).  The modern Mandarin pronunciation of 短刀 has since changed to duǎn dāo”.

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