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Katana Sheath: The Scabbard of the Samurai aka Saya

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: October 1, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The Japanese katana rests in its sheath when not in use, making the scabbard an essential component of this samurai sword. The sheath or scabbard for the Japanese katana is also known as the saya.

In this article, we will talk about what the Katana sheath looks like and why it is made in a particular way. Then we’ll talk about what makes the sheath a useful tool and how to use it correctly. You will also learn what to look for when buying a sheath for a Japanese Katana sword.

Characteristics of the Katana Sheath

When looking at a Katana, the first thing that most people notice is the sheath that accompanies the sword. It has unique features that set it apart from other sheathes.

Material

The Katana sheath is made mainly out of wood. The material is sturdy and doesn’t add extra weight to the Katana, allowing users to wear it on their waist almost daily without an issue. Sometimes the sheath can be made out of leather too.

Plastic scabbards are available at much lower prices but are not as high quality as wood. The wood material offers much better safe keeping of the blade and protects the blade from corrosion.

Weight

The weight of the Katana sheath is very important.  Wielders must have a very light sheath to be able to draw the sword quickly.

The usual weight of the Katana sheath is around 0.44 to 0.66 lbs (200 to 300 grams). It is made of light materials such as wood and is very slick and small in size. When combined with the Katana sword, it weighs 2.65 to 3.1 lbs (1.2 to 1.4 kg).

Length and Size

The most common Katana sheath is about 27.56 to 31.5 inches (170 cm to 80 cm) long and as big as the Katana blade.

The length of the Katana sheath can only be determined after the blade is created to ensure a good fit. The sheath is slightly wider than the blade, so the blade can easily get in and out.

Curvature

The Katana sheath is made in proportion to the Katana blade. The traditional and most used Katana blade has a curvature. Therefore, the curvature of the Katana sheath makes it smooth to wear not just on your waist but also in your hands. It also helps with the unsheathing of the sword.

Parts of the Katana Sheath – Saya

The Katana sheath is more than a convenient place to keep the Katana. It contains six important parts that make the sheath highly useful.

Sageo

Sageo is the thick cord that holds the Saya to the back, shoulder, or belt, making it easier to hold and move with the sword. This is how Hollywood or Anime likes to portray the Katana, but it is less common. The Kurikata wraps through the Sageo.

Kurikata

The Kurikata is a small piece that sticks out from the Saya and is used to put a rope through. It was often used to fasten the Saya around the waist or to wear it on the back.

Koiguchi

The Koiguchi is the part of the Saya where you slide the sword into the sheath. This part was often made from different metals that made a sound when the sword was pulled out. This was usually done for ceremonies and other occasions.
To prevent the Katana blade from breaking when sheathing or unsheathing in the Saya, the Koiguchi is made of strong material.

Koiguchi Ito

The Koiguchi Ito is the rope used to carry the Katana on the shoulder or the back. The Koiguchi rope goes through the Kurikata.

Shitodome

Shitodome is part of the Kurikata, which keeps everything together. It is usually made of high-quality metal to ensure that it remains sturdy.

Kojiri

The Kojiri is the end of the Katana sheath.

The Usage of the Katana Scabbard

The purpose of the Katana sheath is to be able to draw the Katana sword quickly. This is a technique called ‘Iai.’

The Katana sheath is worn and displayed with the edge upwards. This is because the Saya is often loose on the waist. It is light and effortless to maneuver. It has a curvature that will enable the user to unsheath the sword and strike in a heartbeat if necessary.

Consider obtaining a wooden Japanese samurai sword Katana sheath first to practice proper sheathing and unsheathing.

How to Properly Un-Sheath the Katana

Place your right hand on the Katana’s tsuka (handle) while holding the sheath with the left hand. Next, place your left thumb on the tsuba (guard) of the Katana.

Quickly pull out your Katana sword while gently pushing with your left thumb. A beginner will take much time and practice to get used to this technique. Real veterans of Japanese martial arts, like the Iaido, take years to perfect this technique.

How to Properly Sheath the Katana

First, hold the Katana with both hands in front of you. Then, spin the Katana in your left hand by pushing it with your right hand. While spinning it you will move the right hand away from the handle, and you will place it on your shoulder making a fist.

You strike the handle with your right hand’s fist(a technique done to get the blood off the Katana blade). After striking with the right hand you will grasp the Katana’s handle under the guard and hold it, while you take a hold of the Katana sheath(on your waist) with your left hand. Let the Katana fall naturally by its own weight while holding it with the right hand under the guard and then touch the edge of the blade(Kissaki) on the Sheath, or the Koiguchi.

Pull the Katana blade all the way up and then start sheathing it with your right hand all the way until it clicks.

What to Look for When Buying a Katana Sheath

Hamidashi with segmented black lacquer and mother of pearl saya
Hamidashi with segmented black lacquer and mother-of-pearl saya – Credits: The Walters Art Museum

The sheath is the most important when doing a cosplay of a Japanese samurai or ninja. You will most likely not unsheath the sword.

There are several choices when purchasing a Katana sheath. It’s important that the sheath should be made out of wood. This will give you a much better feel and the ability to use natural lacquer and make beautiful inscriptions.

Make sure that the Katana sheath doesn’t have any scratches or holes, as it will ruin the glossy effect.

Try out the Katana blade while inside the sheath. The blade should fit properly and not have space to move around in the sheath.

Construction of the Katana Sheath

The swordsmith will use wood as a material to make the Saya. The sheath is made in direct proportion to the blade of the Katana. A wooden sheath made in a factory may result in the sword moving around. That is why a hand-forged sheath is much better. But keep in mind that a hand-crafted Katana sheath can go from $500 to $1000!

Parts of these Katanas can have bright designs hand-painted on them or made from ray skin, among other things. They can also be plain wood that has been lacquered.

The sheath is usually made of very light wood with lacquer coating on the outside. Magnolia wood is the best for making Saya because it can hold water.

Conclusion

Having a quality Katana sheath is not only good for the maintenance and longevity of the Katana sword but also for making the Katana feel authentic and beautiful. So, if you want to participate in LARP or show off your  Katana sword, look for a sheath that is equally as good quality as all the other parts. 

Don’t forget the old Japanese saying, “The best sword is kept in its sheath.”

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