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Chokuto vs. Katana: Japan’s First and Last Single-Edged Sword

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: March 12, 2024
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

NO AI USED This Article has been written and edited by our team with no help of the AI

The chokuto and katana are two of Japan’s most famous swords, representing early and later designs. The chokuto was used by ancient warriors and later in ceremonies, while the katana became a favorite of samurai, embodying their spirit and bushido code.

This article will explore the chokuto and katana, explaining their names, features, and designs. We’ll also touch on their history and compare their uses in battle.

Chokuto - Comparsion
Katana - Comparison
Yamato Period (3rd-8th century CE) – China/Japan
Muromachi Period (14/15th century) – Japan
Warfare, Slashing, Ceremonial
Warfare, Slashing, Self Defense, Ceremonial
Average Length
18 to 37 inches (45 to 95 cm)
33.4 – 43 inches (85 – 110 cm)
1.5 to 2.4 lbs (0.7 to 1.1 kg)
2 to 2.9 lbs (0.9 to 1.3 kg)
Blade Type
Straight, Single-Edge
Curved, Single-Edge
Iron, High-Carbon Steel
High-Carbon Steel, Tamahagane Steel

Terms, Characteristics, and Design Differences

Chokuto vs Katana Design Differences
The major differences between a Chokuto (left) and a Katana (right)

“Chokuto” translates to “straight sword” in Japanese and typically describes swords influenced by Chinese or Korean designs. Unlike the tsurugi, another Japanese straight sword, chokuto features a single cutting edge.

Sometimes, people call them jokoto swords, a modern term for ancient Japanese blades made before 900 CE.

“Katana” means “sword” in Japanese and refers to any single-edged blade. Internationally, “katana” specifically points to the sword from the Muromachi Period (14th-16th century), worn with the edge facing up in its sheath, a style known as uchigatana in Japan.

The chokuto design is often associated with the modern ninjato blade, which is likely a 20th-century invention from Hollywood, connected with the mystique of the ninja.


Blade Chokuto and Katana Differences
Zatoichi Stick/Sword Blind Samurai” – a chokuto sword design wielded by the legendary Zatoichi

Chokuto swords have a straight edge and are single-edged. These swords were flat in the past, but now they might have a groove. In Japan, people call this style morokiriha-zukuri or kiriha-zukuri.

Some chokuto swords are wide for fighting, while others are thin for ceremonies. They have a sharp ridge on the blade and a pointed tip.

Samurai katanas are also single-edged but curve slightly. They have different tip styles and are made from a special Japanese steel called tamahagane. This steel comes from iron sand.

Katana blades are strong, with a beveled edge and a thick back. Some have a groove to make them lighter, look better, and make a sound when swung.

Unlike chokuto, katanas have a unique line on the blade. This is from a special way of hardening the steel called clay tempering.


Hilt Chokuto and Katana Differences
High-Quality Stone Koshirae Katana” made with traditional Japanese methods featuring real and polished fittings

The chokuto has a handle designed for one hand, while the katana’s handle is longer, fitting two hands. Both swords come with fittings and accessories, collectively known as koshirae, which include a grip, a safety guard, a bottom cap or wrap, and an unsharpened part of the blade under the handle, known as the tang.

Initially, chokuto swords had unique handles, distinct from the tachi cavalry swords, blending Chinese and Japanese design elements. Notable designs are the kanto-tachi with a ring-shaped bottom and the kabutsuchi-tachi featuring a wide, hand or leaf-shaped bottom piece.

The katana’s handle, primarily used in combat, is made of wood, covered in rayskin, and wrapped in silk, leather, or cotton cord. The end of the wrap, known as kashira, secures it.

It has a round guard for hand protection, which is quite like the chokuto’s, but the katana’s is known for its distinctiveness. A pin called mekugi fastens the handle, allowing for easy maintenance. The tang of the katana bears the creator’s mark and the sword’s history of accomplishments in tests or battle.

Scabbard and Carriage

Scabbard Chokuto and Katana Differences 1
Red Folded Steel Shirasaya Buffalo Horns” – a chokuto sheathed in a shirasaya for enhanced protection

The chokuto was worn hanging from a belt on the left side, edge pointing down. Sometimes, it used a system like a P-shaped scabbard, similar to those used by Chinese cavalry.

The katana, on the other hand, was worn on the left side too, but with its sharp edge facing up. It was kept in a scabbard known as a saya and tucked into a belt called an obi. This setup made it easier and quicker to draw the sword, particularly in tight spaces.

The chokuto wasn’t a weapon in the samurai era because the katana and tachi were more common then. So, if someone had a chokuto, it was usually kept in a simple scabbard called shirasaya, which is just a plain wooden scabbard without any decorations or fittings.

Size and Weight

Size and Weight Chokuto and Katana Differences
Autumn Leaf Katana Ancient Tree” featuring cultural Japanese elements and a type of metal ideal for cutting practice

Chokuto swords usually range from 18 to 31 inches (45 to 80 cm) in length. The ones for ceremonies and not for fighting can be as long as 37 inches (95 cm). They typically weigh about 2 lbs (0.9 kg), but this can change if there are decorations.

Katana swords are bigger and designed for two-handed use in battle. They come in different sizes, including the larger o-katana and the smaller ko-katana. The standard length is about 39 inches (99 cm), and they weigh between 2 and 2.9 lbs (0.9 to 1.3 kg).

Historical Significance and Background

Historical Chokuto Swords
6th-century Japanese Chokuto swords that were imported from China – Credits: Met Museum

The chokuto is one of Japan’s earliest swords, introduced after the tsurugi. It came into existence when the single-edged dao from China, during the late Han Dynasty (2nd BCE to 2nd century CE), reached Japan during the Kofun Period (3rd to 6th century CE).

These swords entered Japan through diplomatic gifts or as war tools from China and Korea, with certain periods seeing more exchanges. Many chokuto today bear Chinese inscriptions, indicating their origins.

Beyond warfare, chokuto held significance in rituals and ceremonies until the 10th century. This was notable during China’s Tang Dynasty (7th – 10th century CE), famous for the tang dao sword.

After the Tang Dynasty’s end, Japan’s previously active diplomacy and trade missions, kick-started by the 7th-century Taika Reform, halted. Japan then began to produce swords with its own resources and methods.

Chokuto and Ninjato Comparation
Practical Ninjato Shinobi-Gatana” with an ancient chokuto type of blade mounted on modern ninja fittings

This development led to the first curved swords, such as the warabiteto—a shorter, curved version of the chokuto—and the kenukigata-tachi, which turned into the tachi during the Heian period (8th to 12th century CE). As the tachi evolved, it became less curved and smaller, leading to the creation of the katana in the Muromachi period (14th-16th century).

The katana quickly became the primary sword for samurai, often worn alongside a smaller blade in a set known as daisho. The chokuto, meanwhile, assumed a ceremonial role in imperial and religious ceremonies.

The katana was not only easy to carry but also served as a crucial weapon if a samurai was disarmed of their primary weapons. It became an important part of martial arts and a symbol of Japanese culture.

The chokuto, a single-edged sword from Japan’s Kofun Period, was inspired by designs from China and Korea. It led to the development of the warabiteto and the cavalry tachi. Eventually, it evolved into the slightly curved katana during the Muromachi period. This sword became the main weapon for samurai and a significant cultural symbol.

Combat Preference

Chokuto vs Katana Combat Preferences
The different styles of weaponry and armor between a Yamato and a Sengoku Jidai warrior – Credits: History of Japanese Armor

The chokuto was a one-handed, single-edged sword paired with a shield for defense. It was popular in Japan’s Yamato Period (1st to 8th century CE) and mirrored Chinese combat styles.

Designed like a utility knife, it was easy to use. It was great for slicing through lighter armor and could also be used for stabbing.

The katana, a curved sword for two-handed use, was made for fighting on the ground without shields. Its size made it versatile𑁋it worked as a secondary weapon, had a longer reach than shorter swords, and was effective for self-defense in small spaces.

Its design, combined with its curve made it achieve a blade-edge alignment, making it a slashing weapon and a thrusting weapon second. It was used in combat only after the primary weapon, such as a yari spear, a yumi bow, tanegashima rifle would not finish its job.

During the Edo Period (17th-19th century CE), when Japan’s sword martial arts were at their peak, the chokuto was mainly used as a ceremonial tool. However, some teachers still train with it in traditional martial arts like Koryu Bujutsu.

Today, the katana is the most popular sword for training in the art of swordsmanship. Over 6 million people practice with it in Kendo for sparring, as well as in various schools of Iaido to improve their strikes and unsheathing techniques, and in tameshigiri for cutting practice tests.

Chokuto vs Katana (Duel Winner)
In a duel without armor or shields, a person using a katana is likely to win. However, if a group of chokuto warriors, each with a shield, faces an equal number of katana users who are using their swords with both hands and without shields, the chokuto side is more likely to win.
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