Shirasaya Sword – Samurai Sword Mounts

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Name: Shirasaya sword
Blade Length: 40-76 cm
Handle Length: 20-35 cm
Weight: 2 kg
Used By: Samurai Warriors
Function: Long term storage for swords
Place of Origin: Japan
Date Produced: Edo Period from 1603 to 1868 A.D.

The Japanese Shirasaya Sword

Shirasaya Swords are Japanese sword mounts that are stripped down to the blade. They usually feature simple, elegant and plain wooden handle and Saya.

The word Shirasaya when translated means white or plain scabbard. Because the Shirasaya sword lacks a hand guard and ito-maki or handle wrap it is not recommended for use as cutters.

The use of Shirasaya can be traced back to feudal Japan. The Shirasyaa mounting was invented to hold the Samurai sword when stored for a long period of time.

After a long period of conflict, there was a time when the government imposed certain regulations on the Samurai class. Swords were not allowed to be carried by anyone in public which includes the Samurai class.

During combat, Japanese swords were carried in elaborate design Koshirae.

The cross section shape of the Shirasaya is different than that of a working saya. The Shirasyaa sword has a tight tolerance between the mekugi and the tsuka. The blade is double pinned.

Unlike Koshirae Mounting, the Shirasaya is is not intended for cutting. When it was time to go home after battle and there is a need to store the sword for a long period of time, the Shirasaya was used. This special mounting protects the valuable sword.

Shirasaya Sword

In fiction and in real life, members of the Yakuza or Japanese Mafia used this as a partially concealed blade when they want to dispatch their rivals or enemies.

Modern day Samurai Shirasaya are normally made of rosewood, ebony wood, maple wood, and different kind of woods available.

This makes a cutting edge an attractive display and the overall look of the sword is simple yet very elegant.

Shirasaya swords are basically used for storage, transport or for display purposes.

From time to time, these are used as disguised weapons and were made famous by the blind Samurai Zatoichi, Japanese gangs and Yakuza movies.

Shirasaya allows the sword to “breath” through the scabbard. This means it should not be painted or lacquered. It is therefore a must to find a scabbard made of natural wood without finishing.

Everything you need to know about Shirasaya

The Katana was a valuable weapon for samurai in feudal Japan. Ensuring the integrity of the blade, as well as keeping it in good condition – for it must not only be prepared for struggle, but to be passed from generation to generation – had become a vital issue for this warrior class.

To this end, in addition to spending time practicing with the sword, samurai also endeavored to keep the sword in perfect condition, maintaining it from time to time and storing it in special mounts so that the blade would not be ruined during the long periods when it was not in use.

These mounts are called shirasaya.

Shirasaya Sword Set
T10 Clay Tempered Steel Shirasaya sword Set with Rosewood handle and Saya.

What is a Shirasaya?

These are custom-made mounts for swords consisting of a saya and a wooden tsuka, traditionally nurizaya wood, which were applied to the blade when it was believed that it would not be used for a long time.

It is important to emphasize the fact that the Shirasaya sword is almost completely devoid of incrustations. It only possesses the minimum to keep the blade well secured during the time it is kept. This means that the habaki and handle mekugi, used to hold the blade firm, are vital.

But for the rest, the Shirasaya sword does not possess any of the carvings, inlays, or pieces of various materials that the Koshirae Katana possesses. It does not need them, because it focuses simply on keeping and, in any case, displaying the blade. But nothing more.

In some cases, however, information from the blade (sayagaki) can be found, which may be of importance to the sword owner.

Shirasaya Katana
T10 Folded Clay Tempered Shirasaya Katana with Sun Tzu Quotes Saya

Why is a Shirasaya Necessary?

At first it might seem that the protective function of the shirasaya is simply to store the blade in a sturdy structure that can protect it from any kind of impact. And this, in part, is true. But the real use of shirasaya goes beyond that.

The need for these mounts to store the blades is because, for extended periods, the koshirae (conventional mount) could damage the blade. The lacquered wood of the saya makes the saya, if it doesn’t get air for a long time, begin to sweat, making it more conducive to corrosion along the blade.

Again, this is only for very long periods when it is not used. However, someone who walks his Katana regularly, allowing the blade to be in contact with the open air and the inside of the saya to cool with the air, should not have this problem.

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Can the Shirasaya Swords be used in combat?

The elegant and robust style of the Shirasaya  swords has made it the ideal type of sword for many collectors and samurai culture enthusiasts. So, in many cases, it is possible to see experts perform cutting tests using these mounts.

There have even been movies, animes, and other types of works in which a samurai is shown using a shirasaya in combat.

However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind about this.

  • The first is that the Shirasaya was never conceived as a mount intended to be used in battle. On the contrary. Its purpose has always been solely to secure the blade and protect it when the samurai felt he would not use it for long.

This means that the different parts of it are not only not made to use the shirasaya in combat, but present various complications at the time of truth.

The first is that the handle of the saya is simply a piece of polished wood. Yes, it has a special structure and everything, but what is in contact with your fingers is simple wood. This means it doesn’t have the reliable grip of a normal Katana, with its ray skin and ito.

Without a material that offers a firm and reliable grip, when using a Shirasaya sword for cutting tests it is more likely to slip out of the hands of the wearer. What could break furniture, injure others or, heaven forbid, ruin the blade’s edge.

Shirasaya Ninjato
Shirasaya Ninjato T10 Clay Tempered Steel with Redwood Saya
  • The second complication of this particular mount is that the Saya (scabbard) is not meant to be worn on the body. A normal Katana is meant to be worn on a belt; in fact, many of the battle techniques taught by some schools focused on how to effectively draw and strike in a single movement.

The Saya of the Shirasaya does not have the necessary design for this, and is devoid of the rope that secures the sword to the samurai’s belt. This makes unsheathing not as convenient as unsheathing a sword with a conventional mount.

  • The third complication that can be encountered when using the Shirasaya as a combat sword is possibly the one that has the worst consequences for the samurai. And this is the lack of a Tsuba.

In feudal Japan, as anywhere in the world where swords were used to fight, the handguard of a sword was a key part of it. Not only does it help to define a good balance point for the weapon, but it also, and rightly so, protects the hand of the bearer. That’s why is called handguard.

In the case of Katana swords, the same thing happens, but it goes further.

Yes, in a sword fight the Shirasaya would have had the disadvantage of not being able to prevent the rival’s sword from sliding into the samurai’s hand, severing it. But there is also another drawback to this, which applies not only to feudal Japan, but also to modern times, and which is one of the most important reasons why you should think twice before using one of these swords for cutting tests.

And this is that, without the tsuba on top of the wearer’s hand, in the event of a slip there is nothing to prevent it from reaching directly into the sharp blade of the sword, severing fingers and bones with the ease with which a piece of ham is cut.

It is not a pleasant image, we know. That’s why it’s never too much to insisst on care when using a sword in a Shirasaya mount.

This does not mean, however, that the Shirasaya cannot perform well in cutting tests. Its blade is still just as good, and the mount is more than capable of withstanding the sudden movements that are made to cut. But it is not recommended that you try to use it for this purpose unless you have experience doing this kind of things.

Maple wood Shirasaya
T10 Clay tempered maple wood Shirasyaa sword

History of Shirasaya Swords

Experts believe that the Shirasaya was invented during the Edo period (1603-1868). This makes special sense if we consider that during that time the laws restricted the carrying of swords in public in Japan.

After a long period of conflict, this was a time when the government tried to establish peace by imposing regulations on the samurai class. This ended up prohibiting anyone from carrying a sword in public.

During this time in Japanese history, the samurai had been robbed of what meant everything to them; their swords. However, they would not easily diminish the result of years of deep devotion to that Japanese steel.

The only problem was that conventional Katana swords, with their Koshirae mount, tended to be ruined if stored for too long periods of time. The lacquered wood of the saya made it prone to sweat, which ruined the blade over the months.

In order to keep their most valuable possession, samurai began to use a specific mount. A sturdy mount that would be able to store the blade of his sword without any corrosion, and at the same time a sober and elegant piece, worthy of the admiration of a samurai warrior.

That mount was the Shirasaya.

With the transition from feudal Japan to modernization, this prohibition disappeared. However, the new weapons, more modern and effective, made it no longer make much sense to go out on the street with Katana, so many of these simply stayed in their original Shirasaya mounts ever since.

Some generals, however, would use Katana again. But this would be more for aesthetic purposes. It should be noted, however, that these swords would also have their place in armed warfare, functioning in a manner similar to that of a combat knife.

Is the Shirasaya a Hidden Weapon?

The shirasaya is a unique piece in its style because when it is sheathed it can simulate being simply a piece of wood. This, of course, before the eyes of someone unfamiliar with the types of Japanese swords and their mounts.

This has led to the misunderstanding that shirasaya are, in fact, hidden weapons. And the truth is, if you don’t know everything we mentioned above about their purpose, you might well think so.

However, there is nothing further from the truth.

There was another type of sword similar to the shirasaya that, in fact, is a hidden weapon, and it is called shikomizue.

The shikomizue is a hidden mount that hides a blade inside. Its purpose is to appear to be a walking stick, so not only is its shape like one’s, but it is also prepared for that use.

It is usually a weapon associated with ninjas, and not only is it able to hide a blade. Historical records indicate that this type of weapon would also have been used to hide chains, hooks, and even special powders.

How to Choose a Good Shirasaya?

If you are thinking of buying a custom Shirasaya, there are some things to keep in mind.

First, consider how you’re going to use it. If you’re a sword collector, a martial artists or just looking for an attractive conversation piece for your home, then you don’t need to pay as much attention to the quality of the steel as to the aesthetic processes of the steel and the mount itself.

For example, you might find a sword made of folded steel more attractive, which causes a series of patterns known as “hada” to emerge along the blade, giving the piece a much more traditional look. This is because, in the past, it was necessary to fold the steel of a sword in order for it to be effective in combat.

Even though you don’t plan to use it for cutting, you can also opt for a Shirasaya sword that has been tempered by clay. This will enhance the beauty of the blade with its famous “hamon”.line, and will ensure the blade is sturdy and durable.

custom Shirasaya Sword
Create Your Own Custom Shirasaya

There are also some pieces of Japanese Shirasaya swords that simply depart from the conventional, and are extremely attractive. For example, there is the case of the Shirasayas with a “layered” design, which gives them a more modern and original look.

Now, if what you are looking for in your Shirasaya is not only its artistic quality, but a 100% functional weapon, capable of being used to cut real objects, then it becomes vital to look into the steel.

The question of steel is too long to explain in a post dedicated to Shirsaya, but if you are interested in knowing more about the subject you can click here.

Finally, you may be more interested in the idea of purchasing a complete Shirasaya sword set of 3 pieces of a Katana, Wakizashi and Tanto sized blades,  usually, when three pieces of Shirsaya are sold together you can expect the set to be cheaper than if you bought them one by one.

You can also contact us to request for reminiscent of the traditional daisho set without the Tanto – the custom that the samurai of feudal Japan had of carrying two weapons in their belt, one of them was the Katana and the other the Wakizashi.

In this case, you can also find multiple offers offering a set of Shirasaya Katana and Wakizashi together. Or even, though less common, you can find sets that combine a Katana or Wakizashi with a Tanto.

you can also purchase your own Kake, so that as they arrive you can exhibit them at home and show everyone some elegant pieces of Japanese history.

Eventually, it’s a good topic of conversation.

Shirasaya Sword in Popular Culture

The Japanese Shirasaya sword was often compared to a shikomizue. However, there is a difference between how these two were used. They are similar in the way they appear because of the undecorated exterior.

The similarity ends here because shikomizue is a hidden mounting to conceal the blade. It looks similar to a walking stick. The mounting use conceals other weapons like hooks and chains.

This is the reason why shikomizue was often identified with Ninjas. Modern day versions of this scabbard were elaborate than its historic version to make this more attractive in the eyes of the viewers whether in television or films.

Katana Shirasaya Sword
Shirasaya Katana T10 Clay Tempered Steel with Rosewood Saya and Buffalo Horn

First Impressions for the Modern Day User

Some enterprising individuals markets the materials that they use on their Japanese Shirasaya sword as being one of a kind.

The rule of thumb is that a thick saya than the handle will disrupt the flow along its length. However, this is noticeable only when closely inspected.

Some versions feature a single mekugi peg made of bamboo. This is a rare feature in Japanese Samurai Shirasaya. An emphasis during the time of making the blade calls for a razor sharp blade.

What Collectors are looking for in a Shirasaya Sword Today

• Has extremely sharp blade especially which should be observable when you take it out of the box
• Made of high carbon steel and has a visible temper line
• Design for long term use
• Clay tempered with polished mirror like surface
• Hand forged
• Strong sword made of traditional method that will allow user multiple applications
• Nicely tempered blade
• Saya constructed to contour the shape of the blade
• Fits seamlessly into the saya.
• Not made of elaborate wood since this has the tendency to retain moisture and might corrode the blade when stored in a long period of time
• Good choice for an affordable custom made sword
• As deadly as it is beautiful

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If planning to purchase a Shirasaya the decision relies on personal preference. Choose between several types of wood, Ebony wood, Maple wood, Rosewood, Redwood or Hardwood. Choose between traditional folded steel, or clay tempered if you are looking for a functional blade.

Using a clay temper process produces a sword with genuine hamon. All of our blades are full tang and hand sharpened. The tang is secured with two mekugi pegs. A blade that is both beautiful as well as functional will fit the bill perfectly. Shirasaya is a popular choice among collectors today.