Japanese sword-making is considered a sacred art. It takes weeks to complete a professionally crafted sword. In some countries, particularly Japan, swords are not only used for the battlefield but also a display of status, prosperity and are also used in various rituals. It was in the Feudal Era when the swords became an essential weapon to be carried by samurai. Nodachi is a special type of sword that holds notable attention within historians as well as laymen. It is different from other swords because of its immense length and the mysteries associated with it.
Nodachi means field sword. It was used by Japanese samurai in battlefields. For a sword to qualify as nodachi it has to be 35.8 inches or 3 shaku (a unit). Japanese nodachi is also called odachi. It is believed that the word nodachi was used to specify the use of the weapon in battle while odachi literally means great sword. Both words can be used interchangeably.
Nodachi became popular in the Nanboku-chō era, spanning from 1336 to 1392. It was a curved weapon believed to be wielded by a 7-foot giant. It was a standard weapon for the military rather than a weapon of choice. Nodachi was hard to wield because of its gigantic size. The sword was impossible to be carried on the waist like other swords. There were two methods that were used to carry it.
- In hands
- On the back
During the Muromachi era, the samurai were accompanied by a follower whose job was to help in drawing the nodachi. Nodachi focuses on downward cuts unlike other swords in Japanese culture due to its size. It is also believed that the infantry used to wield the weapon against the cavalry to strike the horse’s leg from afar. It needed massive strength to wield the weapon. Nodachi was not only a hard weapon to use but also a symbol of status and strength because very few people were allowed or capable of wielding it.
Production of nodachi makes heat treatment even complicated, because of its length. The longer the blade is, the more difficult it is to heat the weapon to an even temperature. Quenching also needed a bigger medium and uneven quenching might lead to wrapping the blade.
The method for polishing was also modified for nodachi. Nodachi was usually hung from the ceiling or placed in a position to be polished to accommodate nodachi’s bigger size. Normal swords were moved over the polishing stones.
Nodachi required teamwork for its production. A lot of steel was used in producing it, in order to produce a good nodachi it is important to hammer the steel quickly.
The edge of the nodachi was typically blunt, with only the tip being pointed, so they were used more like a big club than a sword.
In old times, getting one’s hands on a nodachi was difficult. They were made in a special custom order. However, in modern times it has become easy to get one due to modern technologies and high demand.
Japanese nodachi is believed to be the weapon of God. It is believed that the first nodachi was discovered in the 5th century, which was unearthed from an old mount in Kumamoto. It has been quoted that the sword called, ‘Hutsunomi-Tamani-Tsurfi’ was gifted to the emperor by the god. Another theory is that the emperor had requested a replica of a sword from Japanese mythology.
DISCONTINUED IN BATTLEFIELD
The nodachi lost its popularity as a battlefield weapon after the Osaka-Natsuno-Jin in 1655. This happened due to two reasons:
- End of open field battle, nodachi is impractical to be used except in open-field
- The Bakufu government issued a new law for prohibiting the carrying of large swords. This made nodachi illegal to be carried. This is one of the reasons ancient nodachi is very hard to find.
Most of the nodachi were used as religious offerings to kami, a Shinto shrine. Warriors used to make nodachi offerings to their Deities before a war or after to celebrate the victory. It was also used as an ornament.
BEST NODACHI WARRIOR
The most famous warrior who used nodachi was Sasaki Kojiro. He was from the early Edo era and learned to fight from his master Seigen Toda.
Sasaki was excellent in the use of nodachi and later made it his main weapon. His sword was named ‘drying stick’ and the blade was more than 90 cm long. He formulated his own technique and called it a ”Rotating Swallow Cut”. It stimulated the apparent motion of a swallow in combat. This consisted of a fierce and fast slash, first downward and then immediately a cut upward.
His strikes were unusually fast and precise, making him the best nodachi swordsman in history. He died while battling Miyamoto Musashi in 1612.
The largest Japanese nodachi sword is known as Norimitsu Odachi. The sword is 3.77 meters long and weighs 14.5 kilograms but it could not be used by any samurai. Its making and use is a mystery in itself. It was created by Osafune Norimitsu in 1447. The weapon wasn’t given much significance until rediscovered by Fujishiro Okisato who made it known to the rest of the world. The other hypothesis states that it was made on the request of a very wealthy man as a religious offering or for ceremonial purposes. The manufacture of the sword also proves the exceptional abilities of its craftsman.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING A NODACHI
A typical nodachi has a blade of 90 cm but can vary on custom orders. There are different materials that the blades are made up of such as stainless steel, high carbon steel and spring steel. For decorative purposes stainless steel is fine but if one is looking for a functional weapon, then carbon or spring steel is necessary.
Contrary to its usage in ancient times, a nodachi is now mainly used as a decorative piece or as a collectible.