Japan EDO period
Steel, wood and fish skin
Size: Length 175 cm
Review by Gherardo Turchi
This ancient Japanese tachi was made in a workshop in the Japanese province of Mino, during the Edo period.
The tachi (太 刀) is a Japanese sword used mainly in cavalry. Unlike the katana, which is used in infantry, the tachi is longer and more curved. The tachi was mainly used on horseback to defeat the enemy. It was an effective weapon on the ground as well but this way, it was uncomfortable to be used. This is why its companion, the uchigatana (the predecessor of the katana), was then invented. In the same way, also the sword of the bushi (Japanese worrior class) was later used for other purposes. Tachi and katana have often been distinguished from one another only by the way they were worn and by the accessories for their blades. It was during the Mongol invasion that the tachi showed its weaknesses, which led to the development of the Katana. In more recent Japanese feudal history, during the Sengoku and Edo periods, some high-ranking warriors, who were part of what became the ruling class, started to wear their swords in the tachi-style (with the blade down) rather than in the saya-style (saya: sheath), with the blade facing upwards and tucked into the belt. Unlike the traditional manner of wearing the katana, which was kept in the sheath with the cutting-edge up, the tachi was worn hung from the obi (belt) with the cutting-edge down, as was most effective when used by cavalry.
The Japanese province of Mino was one of the most renowned for the production of blades throughout the Edo period, so much to be considered a real open-air forge. The greatest samurai used to go to this province to order swords such as katana, tachi and wakizashi. These worriors were aware of the fact that their orders would be made in a very long time, often in ten years, since making such weapons was extremely laborious and long, a characteristic that makes them very limited. Tamahaghe steel was usually used to make blades. This type of steel requires very high temperatures (still not reachable with modern blast furnaces), which were reached by mixing carbon and iron powder in a furnace (Tatar) to obtain a particular raw steel of sublime quality. Given the long process of melting this type of steel, only a small quantity was produced – very few tons – and this is the reason why it took so much time to make a sword.
The hamon of this specimen is still perfectly visible, a detail that confirms its excellent preservation and the almost total absence of signs of cleaning operations over the centuries; the handle is coated in shark leather and woven fabric to form geometric patterns. The hilt is directly attached to the blade’s tang with pass-through rivets, a typical technique used with Japanese swords. The weapon comes with a lacquered and decorated sheath with floral motifs of elegant workmanship that gives the weapon further importance and elegance.