The Symbol of the Samurai

17 May 2018

 

 

 

A daimyo's possessions fell generally into two categories: articles for official use (omote-dōgu) and for private use (oku-dōgu). Official articles included armaments appropriate to the daimyo's rank and clan status among other accoutrements he used on official occasions. The sword was called "the soul of the samurai" and was deemed sacred as the symbol of the warrior. Accorded the highest status among the daimyo's luxurious possessions, swords were the items most frequently given as gifts among the military houses of the shogun, the daimyo, and their retainers.

 

For the shogun and the daimyo, swords and other weaponry were an important means by which to represent their status. Katana were worn thrust into the sash in public, decorated the alcove in the residence, and were a samurai's most prized possession. Even during leyasu's lifetime, once firearms began to be widely produced from the latter half of the sixteenth century onward, swords had ceased to be the foremost weapon of war. Nonetheless they continued to serve as ceremonial objects of primary importance, and even after the advent of peace, katana retained their significance as formal gifts exchanged between shogun and daimyo. Tachi ranked highest among Japanese swords, followed by katana and wakizashi. The Japanese sword blades were fitted with appropriate mountings: decorative tachi mountings for ceremonial court occasions, and more utilitarian mountings for katana and wakizashi, whose accessories nonetheless reflected a high level of technical accomplishment in crafts such as metalwork and lacquer. Mountings of outstanding quality were also offered as official gifts to accompany famous blades. 

Strictly utilitarian weaponry such as halberds and spears were never presented formally. 

 

The upper echelons of the samurai warrior class, such as the shogun and daimyo, vied with one another in collecting swords of the finest artistic quality from the Heian and Kamakura periods. Not only did they treasure the blades themselves, they also commissioned elaborate mountings to house them. The demand for high quality sword mounts during the Edo period resulted in the development of an extremely high standard of metal craftsmanship, including detailed fine line engraving, inlay, and other elaborate techniques with which to ornament the surface of these Japanese sword fittings.

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The sword was called "the soul of the samurai" and was deemed sacred as the symbol of the warrior.
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