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Uchigatana vs Katana: What are the Main Differences?

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: March 18, 2024
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

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

The uchigatana and katana are well-known Japanese swords featured in anime such as Bleach and Samurai Champloo, TV shows such as Shogun, and video games like Elden Ring. However, the names of the two swords commonly cause confusion. 

In this article, we’ll clear up that confusion. We’ll start by explaining what these swords are called in Japan and around the world. Next, we’ll talk about their key features and their role in battle. Finally, we’ll dive into their history and see which one comes out on top in a duel.

Uchigatana - Comparison
Katana - Comparison
Heian Period (8th – 12th century CE – Japan
Muromachi Period (14th-16th century CE) – Japan
Warfare, Daily Self-Defense, Martial Arts
Warfare, Daily Self-Defense, Martial Arts, Ceremonial
Average Length
11 to 43 inches (28 to 110 cm)
33.4 – 43 inches (85 – 110 cm)
1.1 to 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg)
2 to 2.9 lbs (0.9 to 1.3 kg)
Blade Type
Straight, Curved
One-Handed, Two-Handed
Tamahagane Steel
Tamahagane Steel
Where to Buy?

Terms & Meaning Explained

Tachi and Katana Scabbard Difference
The different ways of carrying a Tachi (left) and Katana (right) – Credits: Sasaki Kojiro

Uchigatana in Japanese is translated to “striking sword” and refers to the blades carried in an edge-pointed-up fashion inside the obi belt starting in the late Heian Period (8th-12th century CE). It was used to mark certain types of fittings for bigger swords like the tachi and the katana.

In Japan, katana means “sword” and can refer to any single-edged blade. This includes traditional swords, those designed for horseback (tachi), and even practice swords (iaito).

Outside Japan, katana often means the slightly curved swords that first appeared during the Muromachi Period (14th-16th century).

In Japan, the terms uchigatana and katana can refer to the same sword. However, some experts outside Japan see the uchigatana as an early version of the sword. They view the katana as its final and more defined form.

Design and Size Differences

Uchigatana and Katana Characteristics and Differences
The major differences between an early Uchigatana (left) and a feudal-developed Katana sword (right)

Both the uchigatana and katana are made from tamahagane steel, which is a high-carbon material crafted from iron sand into a sharp blade. The uchigatana is shorter and lighter than the katana.

They share many features, such as a single-edged blade, the distinctive hamon pattern from clay tempering, and layers of jigane from folding the metal. Their parts are secured with a single bamboo peg called a mekugi.


The Blade of a Uchigatana and a Katana Differences
The blade of a historical Uchigatana made in the early 16th century with a shorter tang – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

Uchigatana blades often have a stronger curve near the tip, reflecting their time alongside the curved tachi. They have a shorter nakago (full-tang) since early uchigatana were designed for one-handed use. Their shinogi (ridge line) is also more pronounced.

The katana features a gentler curve, which is better suited for foot soldiers. Its full-tang is longer, fitting two-handed grips, and the blade may include a hi (groove) for looks and to make it lighter.


Katana and Uchigatana Hilt Characteristics
Loyal Kobuse Katana” featuring a 17th-century style and an upgraded version of the uchigatana with a bigger tang

Early uchigatana swords were made for one-handed use. As they evolved into the katana, they were designed for two hands. Their fittings, known as koshirae, could be simple and guardless (aikuchi) or have a rounded guard (tsuba). Initially, uchigatana handles were plain and lacked decorations.

The katana’s handle is longer and often decorated on the guard with metal fittings (menuki) on the handle or the pommel (kashira). Its grip is covered with textured ray skin and wrapped in a smooth cord (ito) made from cotton, silk, or leather.

New Combat and Fighting Techniques

The longer Katana sword used for slicing and slashing – Credits: blademan_b

The uchigatana, Japan’s first short sword, introduced a special way of drawing the sword that changed samurai fighting skills.

The katana is key for duels, self-defense, and battles. It’s quick to draw and great for powerful slashes. The katana’s longer length helps with a variety of attacks like cutting and slicing. Using both hands adds strength, and the long blade makes the first strike very effective.

The katana works well as a main or backup weapon for soldiers on foot or horseback, and its guard (tsuba) keeps the hands safe. Meanwhile, the uchigatana’s smaller size makes it easier to handle in close quarters.

History of Development and Warfare

Origin Dagger for the Uchigatana and Katana
The Sasuga Tanto dagger with a smaller Kogai utility knife that developed into the Uchigatana and then the Katana – Credits: Wiki Media

The katana, developed from the uchigatana, greatly changed samurai weapons. Over time, it became more than just a weapon for fighting. It represented the spirit of Japanese warriors. It was used in ceremonies, training, battles, and for everyday self-defense.


The uchigatana style of carrying swords was ignited by a tanto (dagger) called sasuga. This appeared as early as the Heian Period. It spread to larger weapons such as short swords during the Kamakura Period (12th-14th century CE) and was used by infantry in significant battles such as the Genpei War (12th century CE).

With the rise of close-quarters combat after the Mongol Invasions (13th century), the uchigatana became larger and longer. It was very convenient for samurai infantry to carry.


The katana appeared in the Muromachi period (14th-16th century), evolving from the smaller uchigatana. It was often carried alongside other weapons like bows, spears, and rifles. This larger blade could serve as the main weapon when necessary.

British historian Stephen Turnbull, an expert on Japanese military history, notes, “The main weapon was the straight-bladed spear. The familiar scene of a samurai facing his opponent with a sword mainly occurs off the battlefield, in situations like revenge killings or duels.”

The katana became crucial in many battles in the Sengoku Jidai (16th century). During the peaceful Edo Period (17th-19th century), the uchigatana evolved into the katana. It was loved for its usefulness in close fights and its signature way of being carried, which shaped samurai sword fighting.

Cultural Significance and Modern Perceptions

Combat Preference for the Uchigatana and Katana
The Uchigatana and Katana are ideal for close-quarter self-defense – Credits: Japanese Prints and World Art

The katana essentially replaced the uchigatana. In the peaceful Edo Period (17th-19th century), it became a subject of many legends, samurai tales, and works of art, reaching an almost mythical status.

In Japan, the katana, also known as the uchigatana, has become a cultural symbol. These swords are often seen in modern anime, TV shows, and video games. For example, in Elden Ring, the uchigatana is portrayed as a quicker and shorter weapon, while the katana is more powerful but slower.

Conclusion & Duel Winner (Uchigatana vs Katana)

Some see the katana as an evolved version of the uchigatana, designed for use with two hands and much larger in size. Its size gives it a reach advantage in duels against the earlier uchigatana, leading to a decisive win in an unarmored duel.

Sources Cited
  1. Sesko, M. (2014, September 30). Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords.
  2. Ogawa, M., & Harada, K. (2009, October 1). Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868.
  3. Parulski, G. R. (2009, July 15). Sword of the Samurai: The Classical Art of Japanese Swordsmanship.
  4. Sinclaire, C. (2009, September 1). Samurai Swords: A Collector’s Guide to Japanese Swords. Chartwell.
  5. Roach, C. M. (2014, August 19). Japanese Swords: Cultural Icons of a Nation; the History, Metallurgy and Iconography of the Samurai Sword.
  6. Ritta, N. R. (2008, January 1). History of Japanese Armor – From Yayoi Period Muromachi (First Volume).
  7. Turnbull, S. R., & Boxall, M. (1997, January 1). Samurai Warfare. Arms & Armour.
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