How Big is a Tanto?

The Tanto has a length ranging from 15 to 30 centimeters or 1 Shaku. The size of this sword is significantly shorter than the Katana, Wakizashi, and other types of Nihonto.

Because of its small size, the Samurai warriors were able to conceal the Tanto in their clothing. It was also the Shoto or small sword in the Daisho and was paired with the Tachi. This was before the Samurai chose to use the Wakizashi over the Tanto as an auxiliary sword.

While the usual size of a Tanto is around 15 to 30 centimeters, it has variations that differ in measurements. Also, it went through changes as time passed, which caused it to have various appearances and measurements.

O-Tanto or Sunobi Tanto

The Tanto that varied from the traditional size were called Sunobi-Tanto or O-Tanto. These were larger versions of the Tanto which featured blades measuring between 13 to 14 inches long. It was close to the size of the Ko-Wakizashi, which is a shorter version of the Wakizashi.

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The Kaiken, also known as the Futokoro-Gatana, is a short Tanto that measured around 20-25 centimeters. The women of feudal Japan usually carried this type of Tanto for self-defense.

When necessary, the wives of Samurai warriors used it for ritual suicide or Jigai. It’s to keep their family’s honor after a military defeat.

The Kaiken usually featured the Aikuchi mounts. This is a small guard or Tsuba that made the blade easier to hide and conceal. With its size, this short Tanto was extremely useful for self-defense when indoors, when the Japanese Katana and Wakizashi were inconvenient.

Aside from being a weapon, it was also one of the wedding gifts given to women.

Tanto Blades – From the Heian to Muromachi Periods

During the Kamakura Period, swordsmiths forged Tanto with longer and wider blades. This was the time when the Kanmuri-Oshi style became popular, and the Tachi was introduced. At this time, the Tanto also developed into a weapon and was paired with the Tachi in the Daisho.

In the era of the Northern and Southern Courts, the Tanto blade became longer than the usual size of 1 Shaku. Swordsmiths forged blades measuring 40 inches long. The blades of these Tanto were thinner between the Ura and Omote, but wider between the Ha and Mune.

At the beginning of the Muromachi Period, wars were constant, which caused the mass production of the Tanto. Higher demand resulted in lower quality blades, so these became narrow with less curvature.


Tanto in the Late Edo Period

During the late Edo Period, only a few Tanto was being forged. These blades reflected the pieces from the Kamakura, Nambokucho, and Muromachi eras. One of the main contributors to forging the Tanto during this age was Suishinshi Masahide.

Modern Tanto

With the demand of the American and European markets, the Tanto has been reproduced from the 1960s until today.

The Westernized modern Tanto features a chisel-like point, and its blade is thick towards the end. These also vary by size. Some modern Tanto has blades that are 4.75 inches long, while others measure around 7 to 8 inches.

What is the Difference Between a Tanto and a Wakizashi?

The primary difference between the Tanto and the Wakizashi is their blade lengths which differ for various applications. Other than that, the differences between the two are the time of production.

The Distinction in Functions

The Wakizashi was a Samurai warrior’s backup weapon that was used for close-quarter battles. Aside from this, the sword was a Samurai warrior’s tool for beheading a defeated opponent. It was sometimes used for committing Seppuku, a ritualistic suicide.

In addition, the Wakizashi was one of the few short swords available to the Samurai warrior. Other words they use were the Yoroi Toushi and Chisa Katana.

The Tanto, on the other hand, was a weapon for executing efficient and swift stabbing or slashing attacks. It had a smaller version called the Kaiken, which women usually carried for self-defense. Women also used this shorter Tanto for another type of ritual suicide called Jigai.

Wives of Samurai warriors committed Jigai by slitting their throats with the Kaiken. They do this when their husband committed Seppuku or if they have brought dishonor to their families. It also preserved their honor when a military defeat happened.

Difference in Size

The Wakizashi has a blade measuring between 30 and 60cm. A Wakizashi that’s close to the length of the Katana is the O-Wakizashi. When it measures closer to a Tanto, it is the Ko-Wakizashi.

Technically, the Tanto isn’t exactly a sword. It’s more of a dagger measuring about 1/3 of a Katana sword’s length. Most Tanto blades measure 20cm or around 7in long.


Time of Usage

The Wakizashi was a functional weapon used as far back as the 15th or 16th century. In the past, the term didn’t really specify swords with an official blade length. It was instead an abbreviation of the words, Wakizashi no Katana or “Sword Thrust on the Side”.

When it comes to the Tanto, it was around during the Heian Period of Japan, making it older than the Wakizashi. During the Kamakura Period, the Tanto created by swordsmiths started having more emphasis on aesthetics.

As Part of the Daisho

Although they had their differences, both the Tanto and Wakizashi were both utilized as a part of the Daisho. Either the Tanto or Wakizashi was carried alongside the Katana. These companion swords had the blade facing up while the handle was set marginally on the right.

A Samurai had to position the sword correctly. It was to make it easier and quicker for them to draw the weapon when necessary.

Which is Better?

The Tanto and Wakizashi have their own advantages so both are excellent weapons.

In this day and age, the Tanto is an appealing Nihonto to a lot of sword enthusiasts. In the past, it was one of the best choices when the Samurai engaged in combat. It was useful for cutting and penetrating armor.

The Wakizashi, on the other hand, became the preferred auxiliary weapon of the Samurai. Although the Tanto was useful for cutting and stabbing, the Wakizashi became more useful for indoor combat.

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