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Kodachi: A Look Into The Japanese Short Sword

Written By: Jolene Sim
Published On: July 28, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

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

Of all the famous Japanese swords, the kodachi (こだち) is a short sword that is one of the more popular and mysterious swords due to its pop-culture footprint from anime and video games. This article discusses the history, characteristics, and some interesting facts about the kodachi sword

Origins of The Kodachi Sword

The term “kodachi” can be translated into “small tachi“ or “short tachi” and is regarded as one of the traditional nihonto (Japanese) swords used by the samurais of feudal Japan in the early Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) when the Kamakura Shogunate ruled Japan. The Samurais were hereditary military nobility, where the status comes with high levels of responsibility and prestige. 

Answering to the local daimyo and working under a retainer, these warriors were critical during the Kamakura period in Japan as they were under constant attack by the Mongolian army with Japan being able to resist most of these attacks. However, in 1274, more than 600 ships carrying weapons, missiles, and 23,000 infantrymen were headed for Japan. 

The attack would have been a success if it were not for the typhoon that wiped out the invaders. For this reason, Japan credited this to the intervention of the Gods and started to develop a host of weapons to better defend against future attacks. This led to the invention of the Kodachi Sword which were produced only in a certain time period by specific schools of sword makers. 

Kodachi Blade and Mounting
( Source)

Characteristics of A Kodachi Sword

Classified as a short sword, it appeared to have been produced only during a specific time period by specific sword makers. Since it is regarded as the smaller version of the tachi sword, they share many similar elements such as having similar mounts. Here are some of the characteristics of the Kodachi swords:


A Kodachi is a hand-forged short sword made from high carbon steel in the Tachi style. The original Kodachi hail from early feudal Japan- the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Many reproductions using high manganese steel or spring steel are available today. These are popular with collectors, especially the high manganese steel reproductions which often come with an attractive hamon.

A MORIIE KODACHI (Oei era 1394~1428)
( Source)


The sword‘s blade length is interesting because it makes the Kodachi somewhat of an enigma. With a much shorter blade length (less than 60 cm), it is too short to be classed as a long sword proper but also too long to be a dagger. Some Kodachi swords have somewhat of a serrated blade, giving them a unique cutting ability. The blade is clay tempered, full tang, and polished to give it the finest finish. 


Due to the length of the Kodachi sword, the exact use of the sword is unknown. The theory is that it could have served as a companion sword to the normal sized tachi or as a sword for an adolescent. Some also believe that it is used by travelers and merchants as a self-defense tool instead of warriors. 


Since the Tachi sword was used as a source of inspiration for the design of the Kodachi sword, the Kodachi sword has a similar design and shape to the Tachi sword, but smaller and shorter, weighing about 0.45 to 0.90 kg. Its similarities to the tachi sword means that it has a curvature near the middle of the blade. 

Due to its design, the Kodachi sword could be drawn and swung extremely fast, and even sometimes could be used as a shield. The hilt of the Kodachi sword can be made of metal, wood, silk, cotton, or ray skin while the scabbard (saya) or sheath is generally made of lacquered wood. 

Kodachi Vs Wakizashi Swords

While it has been established that the Kodachi swords are basically a smaller and shorter version of the tachi swords, the similarity of the Kodachi and Wakizashi has led to much confusion. Both these swords are used by samurai warriors throughout Japan’s feudal period, often as a secondary weapon to the Japanese katana sword. They share many similarities such as being made of high carbon or tamahagane steel and feature a curved single-edged blade. However, both the Kodachi and Wakizashi swords have their own differences such as:


The wakizashi and Kodachi differ mainly in length. While the Kodachi generally measures about 24 inches or 60 centimeters long, the wakizashi is between 12 to 24 inches or 30 to 60 centimeters long. Although both these swords are shorter than other traditional Japanese samurai swords, the Kodachi was still the longer counterpart. While the Kodachi sword has a general length, the wakizashi sword was forged to complement the height of the user. 


Although strikingly similar, the Kodachi sword’s mounting is modeled after the Tachi sword while the wakizashi is mounted like the katana, the primary weapon of the samurai warrior. This means that the Kodachi was worn with the cutting edge facing down, like the Tachi sword


Neither the Kodachi or Wakizashi swords were considered as primary weapons. Samurai warriors in feudal Japan were legally required to carry two swords while on official duty. Among these two swords, one has to be a long primary sword and the other, a shorter secondary sword, often a wakizashi sword. Although the Kodachi is shorter than most primary swords, it was still too long as a secondary sword, therefore allowing samurais to use it as a primary weapon. 


During Japan’s feudal period, the Kodachi could be used by civilians even when the Japanese government restricted the ownership of long swords to officials and samurais. Since the Kodachi was under the legal limit, civilians could own and use them. Both the Kodachi and Wakizashi swords are popular civilian weapons as they follow the Tokigawa length regulations and requirements.

Japanese Sword Lengths

To further understand the Kodachi sword, it may be worthwhile to learn about the different Japanese sword lengths. Yes, Japanese swords have standardized lengths! In fact, there are three categories of how blades can be grouped using the “shaku”, a unit of measurement that measures the blade’s length. 

While the measurements of “shaku” varied throughout the years, the modern standardized version of this unit comes out to exactly 11.93 inches or 30.3 centimeters. It also has special sub measurements that we won’t delve into, but based on this unit, here is how the Kodachi sword is categorized:

  • No more than one shaku – Tanto sword (dagger)
  • Between one to two shaku – Shoto (little sword)
  • Exceeds two shaku – Daito (big / long sword)

If you are wondering about how curved blades are measured, the shaku count is based on measuring a straight line between the tip of the blade and the point where the blade meets the tang (munemachi). While most shoto are wakizashi swords, some daito were intentionally forged in a way so the blades fall below two shaku, leading to the invention of the Kodachi. Besides the katana, other bigger sword variations include the odachi and nodachi swords.

Kodachi In Mainstream Media

A MORIIE KODACHI (Oei era 1394~1428)
( Source)

This Moriie Kodachi was forged by swordsmith Moriie during the Oei Era, circa 1394-1428 in the early Muromachi Period. It has since been certified as Tokubetsu Kicho (especially precious) by the NBTHK (Society for the Preservation of the Japan Art Sword).

Being a traditional Japanese sword, the Kodachi sword is featured in much fiction. In the popular manga Rurouni Kenshin, a character known as Shinomori Aoshi fought using a Kodachi sword. Additionally, the online game GunZ contains a dual Kodachi weapon that is usable as a melee weapon. This is also seen in Soul Calibur where Taki uses two Kodachis in battle. There are also more examples in anime, manga, and games of the use of the Kodachi sword


The Japanese Kodachi sword has had a long and complex history that is still yet to be fully understood till today. However, the general theory is that it is used as a complementary weapon for samurais and is often carried by civilians and merchants for self-defense. If you are interested in a unique traditional Japanese sword, the Kodachi sword would be a great addition to your collection.

Sources Cited
  1. Danayu P. (2021) Sword: Tell About Sword in Human History
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