It is a question that has vexed me since I came across this piece, which is to say I never really noticed or gave it much thought. However, upon reading the article, it is actually interesting and makes a good deal of sense. How is one supposed to wear a samurai sword? Blade up or blade down? Enquiring minds want to know.
Turns out it depends on what you are wearing.
If you’ve watched a lot of period dramas, you might have noticed that sometimes samurai wear their curved swords with the cutting edge facing the ground, and other times facing the sky. As it turns out, there’s a reason why, as explained in this illustration shared by Japanese Twitter user Suuko, who seems to be a pretty big fan of Touken Ranbu, the hit computer game that stars a cast of anime-style pretty boys representing actual historical samurai swords.
As you may have guessed, that armor wasn’t made from papier-mâché. Anything that was going to protect a samurai on the battlefield needed to be crafted from sturdy, heavy metal. The plating along the upper arm and shoulder made it difficult for the wearer to raise his arm very high, but by keeping the cutting edge pointing down, the sword could be drawn simply by extending the arm forward.
Once Japan’s government was stabilized, though, open warfare became less common. With the end of centuries of civil war, most samurai in the 16th century and later were going about their business dressed not in armor, but in kimono, with their sword tucked into the sash holding the robe closed.
Having the sword’s edge facing the ground would put the sword’s hilt especially high, level with the ribcage. Unless the samurai had disproportionately long limbs, extending an arm upward to draw the sword would have been at best difficult, and at worst impossible, so instead swordsmen started wearing their weapons blade-up, making them easier to unsheathe.
Now you know. And as the great military philosopher G.I. Joe once said, “knowing is half the battle”.
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