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Nodachi vs Katana: Characteristics, History, and Combat

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: January 11, 2024
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The nodachi and katana are edged weapons of war from Japan used by the legendary samurai. Both are melee weapons with unique attributes.

This article will discuss their characteristics, explain how each was forged, and examine their combat effectiveness. We will conclude with what we believe to be the victor in a duel.

Nodachi Comparison
Nodachi
Katana Comparison 2
Katana
Origin
Nodachi
Japan – 13th century
Katana
Japan – 14th century
Use
Nodachi
Power and Range
Katana
Versatility and Practicality
Average Length
Nodachi
59 inches (150 cm)
Katana
33.4 – 43 inches (85 – 109 cm)
Weight
Nodachi
4.4 to 5 lbs (2 to 2.3 kg)
Katana
1.98 – 2.42 lbs (0.9 – 1.1 kg)
Blade Type
Nodachi
Single-Edge / Curved
Katana
Single-Edge / Curved
Construction
Nodachi
High Carbon Steel
Katana
High Carbon Steel
Replica Prices
Nodachi
$250 – $550
Katana
$80 – $5000

Characteristic Differences

Nodachi and Katana characteristics 2
The massive size difference between the nodachi and katana

Both the katana and nodachi are daito, Japanese long swords with over two shaku (23.6 inches / 60 cm) in length. While the nodachi can be referred to as a katana (sword), it is a completely different type of weapon. The nodachi is also sometimes called odachi (field sword) but the term difference between them is not clearly defined.

Blade

Nodachi and Katana Blades
The “hamon” (blade temper) visible on nodachi and katana swords – Credits: Romance of Men

Both swords are made with high-carbon, traditional, high-quality Japanese tamahagane steel. 

They also share a curved blade with a single edge, ranging in different zukuri (blade profiles) with unique kissaki (blade tips). Both feature bohi (grooves) for lowering weight and modifying balance. 

The nodachi had a longer blade, around 45 inches (114 cm), while the shorter katana blade reached about 29 inches (74 cm).

Hilt

The handle of a Katana and Nodachi
The identical handle of a katana and nodachi sword – Credits: True Katana

Both of these Japanese blades have a tsuka (hilt) handle with a tsuba (guard) for protection and a wooden core wrapped with samegawa (ray skin) under a tight tsukamaki (cord wrap). 

For added security, the nodachi usually features two sets of mekugi (bamboo or wooden pegs), while the katana varies between one or two. The nodachi’s hilt is around 17.5 inches (45 cm), while the katana’s is 10 inches (25 cm).

Scabbard

Nodachi carried on the back of a samurai 1
Nodachi or Odachi being carried on the back of a samurai warrior – Credits: Yoshitoshi

Both swords’ saya (scabbard) are made from wood, the nodachi’s being larger. 

The wielder can carry the nodachi on his back, an action called seoidachi. It can also be unsheathed by a private retainer, while the katana is traditionally carried on the left side with the edge facing upward.

The katana was combined with a daisho set that comprised a wakizashi short sword or a tanto dagger.

Size and Weight

Largest Nodachi ever made 1
The Norimutsu Odachi was made in 1447 with an overall length of 148 inches (337 cm) – Credits: Wiki Media

The nodachi was the largest sword in feudal Japan, extending from 51 to 87 inches (130 to 220 cm) and weighing roughly 5 lbs (2 kg). 

The katana, the most versatile secondary weapon, was around 39 inches (99 cm) with a lighter weight of 2.42 lbs (1.1 kg). 

The nodachi usually had a forward center of balance, while the katana varied between the hilt and blade tip.

Historical Significance

Nodachi and Katana users side by side
Samurai with a nodachi and katana side by side – Credits: Jong Park

The two-handed nodachi, due to its size and heft, was valued for its impact behind each strike and nicknamed the “battlefield sword.” Beginning in the 13th century, it was used as a situational weapon, evolving from the previous tachi

The Japanese katana was founded during the Muromachi Period (14th – 16th century) after the uchigatana, which was carried point up.  It was mainly a sidearm, effectively used as a primary weapon. It was integral to Japan, its battlefields, Japanese kenjutsu (sword martial arts), and the highly respected seppuku ceremony. 

The katana’s reputation rocketed during the peaceful Edo Period (17th – 19th century), while the nodachi served as a status symbol of advanced swordsmanship and a challenging training tool, enhancing katana skills.

Summary
From the 13th through the 16th century, both the nodachi and katana emerged. The nodachi often gave way to more cost-effective and simpler-to-use weapons like spears, polearms, maces, or firearms. In contrast, the katana was a versatile secondary weapon, valued for its practicality and adaptability in combat, making it irreplaceable.

Nodachi and Katana in Battle (Combat Preference)

Japanese Long Sword Title
Use of nodachi in battle

The nodachi proved deadly in capable hands and was especially useful for breaking up tight, compact battle lines when attacking from flanks, while on horseback, and for taking down enemy cavalry. Its extra mass, size, and relatively slim blade made it the ideal slicing weapon. 

While the nodachi excelled in specific combat styles, the shorter katana achieved the same while performing admirably in various other combat situations. It was a weapon carried by foot soldiers or highly trained samurai.

The nodachi was a primary weapon and could be used with one hand, but it was meant for two-handed slashing and was extremely effective against unarmored opponents.

It wasn’t adequate for combatting armor and was eventually replaced by the equally large naginata, yari spear, kanabo mace, and teppo bullets in the last decades of the Sengoku Jidai Era (15th and 16th century). However, with its high level of versatility, the katana was irreplaceable.

Katana vs Nodachi (Duel Winner)
The nodachi’s main advantage over the katana is its reach. Its drawback lies in the longer recovery time after strikes and the lack of precision against armor. An experienced samurai with a nodachi might have the upper hand in unarmored combat. Still, in armored battles, the katana’s versatility and compact design could exploit vulnerable gaps, likely emerging victorious.
Sources Cited
  1. Suino, N. (2008, January 1). The Art of Japanese Swordsmanship. Weatherhill, Incorporated.
  2. Sesko, M. (2014, September 30). Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords.
  3. Friday, K. F. (2004, January 1). Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan. Ucl PressLtd.
  4. Ogawa, M., & Harada, K. (2009, October 1). Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868.
  5. Sinclaire, C. (2009, September 1). Samurai Swords: A Collector’s Guide to Japanese Swords. Chartwell.
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