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Explaining The Function of Munemachi in Japanese Swords

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: July 4, 2024

The munemachi is one of the two notches that mark the beginning of the tang of a sword. It is the back notch located on the mune (back) side of the blade, opposite the edge notch (hamachi). Both the munemachi and hamachi divide the blade proper from the tang and play a practical role in storing Japanese blades.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
The munemachi is the notch on the back marking the top of the tang, located opposite the hamachi.
The munemachi and the hamachi support the habaki, allowing it to hold the blade loosely within the scabbard and prevent it from scratching against the inside walls of the scabbard.

Practical Use of Munemachi in Japanese Blades

Nakago Parts
A Japanese sword tang featuring the munemachi, the back notch – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

The top of a Japanese sword tang (nakago) has two notches (machi): the munemachi (back notch) and the hamachi (edge notch). These notches are formed where the blade widens out from the tang to form the back surface and the cutting edge of the sword. Munemachi (棟区), also spelled mune-machi, separates the tang from the blade proper.

A wakizashi blade fitted with a habaki
A wakizashi blade fitted with a habaki, the blade collar – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

Generally, the munemachi, along with the hamachi, supports blade collar called habaki. The habaki, a wedge-shaped collar fitted around the base of the blade against these two notches, holds the blade snugly in the scabbard hole. Therefore, the blade floats in the scabbard, with its surface barely touching the wood.

Appreciating the Japanese sword requires its blade surface to be smooth and clear to reveal the details of the steel. This aspect has not been a priority in the West, where wooden scabbards were crafted to fit tightly and secure the blade as required. The Japanese scabbard holds the blade with a loose fit, allowing the sword to slide in and out along its back surface.

Some swords originally made as tachi were later converted into katana by shortening the tang . When shortening a Japanese sword, the munemachi and hamachi are often adjusted higher up the blade. Alternatively, in certain cases, the tang is shortened slightly without moving the notches.
Sources Cited

  1. Kapp, L., Kapp, H., & Yoshihara, Y. (2002). Modern Japanese Swords and Swordsmiths: From 1868 to the Present. Kodansha International.
  2. Kapp, L., Kapp, H., & Yoshihara, Y. (2012). The Craft of the Japanese Sword. Kodansha USA.
  3. Nagayama, K. (2017). The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords. Kodansha USA.
  4. Sesko, M. (2014). Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords. Lulu.com.
  5. Tsuchiko, T. (2002). 日本刀21世紀への挑戦: The New Generation of Japanese Swordsmiths 英文版 (K. Mishina, Trans.). Kodansha International.
  6. Yoshihara, Y. (2012). The Art of the Japanese Sword. The Craft of Swordmaking and its Appreciation. Tuttle Publishing.

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