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Sakabato: A Collector’s Guide on Reverse Blade Sword

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: June 16, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The Japanese katana sword is the symbol of the samurai, the noble warriors who served Japan’s feudal lords. Popularized by the anime TV series Rurouni Kenshin, the sakabato is a fictional katana with a reverse blade.

Let’s explore what sets the anime sword apart from the traditional Japanese swords and why it captures the interest of many sword collectors worldwide.

Characteristics of the Sakabato Sword

Many contemporary bladesmiths craft high-quality sakabato comparable to the Japanese katana sword. Apart from its aesthetic qualities, collectors also value a sword with a good blade quality and construction.

Type of Metal 

Traditional swordsmiths craft samurai swords from tamahagane, a type of high carbon steel created from the tatara furnace in Japan. No wonder some sakabato replicas also feature carbon steel blades such as 1095, which is one of the best quality blades on the market. 

Some contemporary bladesmiths also utilize damascus steel and tungsten-based t10 steel in crafting the blade. Since the sakabato is not a martial arts weapon, you can also find it in stainless steel, making the sword ideal for decoration.

Quality of Blade

Real-life Rurouni Kenshin reverse-blade katana, forged by master swordsmith
( Source)

Japanese samurai swords are known for their curved blades, making them efficient slashing weapons. Unlike the katana, the sakabato features a cutting edge on the inward curve facing the owner and its blunt side on the outward curve facing the opponent. Hence, it is called the reverse-blade sword.

Most collectors prefer sakabato with a razor-sharp blade, which gives a different realm of experience. Even if it is not a training sword, some sakabato replicas have clay tempered blades. Therefore, they also feature a natural hamon or temperline pattern, one of the aesthetic features of Japanese swords. Some also utilize the sword in tameshigiri, cutting bamboo, tatami mats, and other objects.

Size and Length

Since the sakabato based its construction on the samurai katana sword, it may have an overall length of about 100 centimeters and a blade length of over 60 centimeters. Replicas may vary in size and blade length, but they are generally longer than a wakizashi and a typical ninja sword.

Sword Mounting

Sakabato mounting
( Source)

Japanese swords often come in shirasaya, a simple wooden saya or scabbard; or koshirae with elaborate ornaments. Inspired by Rurouni Kenshin’s reverse blade sword, most sakabato swords have simple tsuba or sword guard and rayskin ito, and come in black scabbard.

For tameshigiri use, you may consider battle-ready swords with full-tang blades, so the hilt and blade won’t easily break apart. For cosplay use, a full-tang sakabato makes a durable sword.

The Sakabato in Pop Culture

Japanese graphic novels or manga and anime TV series popularized several fictional swords, which now capture the interest of both anime fans and sword collectors. The sakabato from Rurouni Kenshin is one of the most recognized, along with nichirin blades from Demon Slayer.

In Manga and Anime Series

RUROUNI KENSHIN
( Source)

The original Rurouni Kenshin manga rose in popularity in 1994. Later, it became one of the best anime TV series of the same name, sometimes known as Samurai X. In the story, master swordsmith Arai Shakku forged the sakabato to honor the peace the Meiji era would bring.

The main character Himura Kenshin was a former assassin but vowed not to kill again. So, he used the reverse-bladed sakabato to defeat his enemies without killing them. To atone for his bloody past, he wandered the countryside and offered protection to those who needed it.

In Film Series and Cosplay

Rurouni Kenshin movie
( Source)

Set in the historical period of Japan, Rurouni Kenshin and the legendary sakabato remain relevant up to our times. In fact, the recently released The Beginning film has been popular in Southeast Asia. No wonder, Kenshin and his reverse blade katana have shown remarkable longevity even in theater performances and cosplay today.

History of the Reverse Bladed Sword

There is no record of the sakabato in Japanese history, but similar real-life versions of a reversed blade sword have been found.

The Reverse-Edged Kogatana

Sakabato Rurouni Kenshin s reverse edged sword
( Source)

In 2013, a small utility knife called kogatana was found in an old cellar of Shiroi City in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture. Like the fictional sakabato, the said kogatana features a reverse blade, in which the outside curve is blunt while the inside is sharp. It has an overall length of around 27 centimeters, and its blade measures about 21 centimeters long.

Since the storage cellar dates from the Edo period, from 1603 to 1867, the reverse-edged kogatana is likely just as old. Covered by rust, the dragon engravings remain noticeable. Japanese history had no known records of a reverse-blade sword, so the discovery of the kogatana became significant and regarded as a cultural item.

The Kubikiri Tanto Dagger

There was also a Japanese tanto dagger named kubikiri with a reverse blade. However, it did not feature a point, so it was likely not designed for offensive use. Today, collectors can now find contemporary swords with reverse blades, as bladesmiths strive to make the legendary sakabato a real-life sword.

Contemporary Kenshin’s Sakabato

Real-life Rurouni Kenshin reverse-blade katana, forged by master swordsmith
( Source)

Swordsmith Kanekuni Ogawa crafted Kenshin’s sakabato, providing the first real-life version of the legendary sword. It is called the Sakabato Shinuchi, in which the term shinuchi means truly forged. It was initially displayed at the Meijimura museum in Inuyama, Japan.

Like traditional Japanese swords, it features a natural hamon, which appears along the cutting edge on the inner curve of the blade. On the sword’s tang, it also features the death poem of Arai Shakku—the master swordsmith who forged Kenshin’s sword in the story.

Conclusion

Anime popularized several fictional swords, and the Rurouni Kenshin’s reverse blade katana remains one of the most popular in the world. The sakabato reminds us not only of the heroic story of Kenshin but also of the history and art of sword making in Japan.

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