Shirasaya Sword – Stripped Down Blade
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.
Shirasaya Sword are Japanese Shirasaya that are stripped down to the blade. This has a simple and plain wooden handle. Shirasaya when translated means white or plain scabbard. Because this lacks a hand guard and ito-maki or handle wrap this cannot be used as cutters. The use of Shirasaya can be traced back to feudal Japan. This was invented to hold the weapon when carried in public. After a long period of conflict, there was a time when the government imposed certain regulations on the Samurai class. Swords are 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. This sword has a tight tolerance between the mekugi and the tsuka. The blade is double pinned. It is not intended for cutting. When it was time to go home and there is a need to store the sword for a long period of time, the Shirasaya was used. This protects the valuable 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 made of Musashi rosewood. This makes a cutting edge attractive display when use today. Shirasaya is basically use for storage, transport or for display purposes. From time to time, these are used as disguised weapons and are made famous by 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.
The shirasaya 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.
First Impressions for the Modern Day User
Some enterprising individuals markets the materials that they use on their 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. The blade should be seriously sharp and the thin blade must have a tapering on its edge. If only the myth that to test a sword’s sharpness calls for a paper cutting test this would pass with flying colors. Versions made today are not as differentially hardened as Shirasaya of long ago. The hamon is wire brush which makes it look fine. The Kissaki or tip of the blade is nicely finished and flows cleanly on the rest of the 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
• Safe enough to transport bare blades
• Saya constructed to contour the shape of the blade
• Fits seamlessly into handle
• 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
If planning to purchase this scabbard the decision relies on personal preference. If this will be used as a cosplayer or martial artist, the weapon must be durable since it is use often. Choose between creating a scabbard that is combat ready or for display purpose only. Look for designs that captures the eye. Look and compare the photo from the real piece. If possible touch and feel it. Look for users’ reviews if these are finely made products. Not all brands follow the same production rules though. Choose between traditional folded steel and a piece that uses modern techniques. Pick the right price piece.
The blade must be heat treated and hand forged to remove impurities. Using a clay temper process produces a sword with genuine hamon. The blade must be full tang and hand sharpened for the purpose of fighting a battle. The tang must be secured with two mekugi and must have a signature of the artist who made it. This description fits a Shirasaya that can be a good way to practice martial arts. It must be durable enough to handle bamboo bones, iron wire and similar materials. A blade that is both beautiful as well as functional will fit the bill perfectly. Although Shirasaya can still be made for whoever wants to collect it today there is a need to warn owners about its lack of hand guard. Having a hand guard protects that hands from slipping into the blade when use for cutting or to practice cutting. Those made of smooth wooden finish can potentially increases the chances of accidental slips and cuts. Exercise extreme caution when using the sword.