HOW DID SAMURAI WEAR UCHIGATANA TRADITIONALLY?*
S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology
University of North Alabama
November 8, 2003
The way samurai wore uchigatana actually varied depending on the periods in Japanese history. During the early stage of proliferation of
uchigatana (i.e., mid to late Muromachi period), the samurai mostly used a cotton sash of
2 sun 2 bu to 2 sun 3 bu (=6.7cm to 7cm) width what was called
"katana jime" (literally means "katana tie") to wear uchigatana. Therefore, many of existing early
uchigatana koshirae made in this period have their "kaeri-zuno" (i.e., horn hook) closer to
koiguchi. In Edo period, however, the use of regular "kaku
obi" (with the standard with of 3 sun = 9.1cm that many still use today) was popularized. Because of that, on existing antique
uchigatana koshirae made in Edo period, the placement of "kaeri-zuno" is much lower (thus further away from
koiguchi) to accommodate the width of common "kaku
obi." (See Hirato, 1994.)
While wearing hakama and dai-sho was the proper attire of samurai even in Edo period, during the long peace time that lasted till the end of Edo period, more and more samurai (particularly lower ranked samurai) started favoring more casual attire without hakama when they were not on official duties. As it is very commonly seen in samurai movies based on Edo period stories, many lower rank samurai and ronin were no longer wearing hakama unless the social occasions called for a more formal attire.
According to existing historical records, the very first Edo period samurai who actually popularized so called "kinagashi ni otoshi-zashi" style (where the samurai without hakama just drops his katana between the "kaku obi" on the left hip) was Takedayu Hara, who lived in Kyoho era (mid 1700's). This Hara figure was just an ordinary lower rank Edo samurai who was also a patron of his local "whorehouse" in the capital city of Edo. Because of the strict cultural norm of that time that looked down on those samurai who frequented such business establishments, many samurai wore large straw hats to cover their faces while still in a rather formal attire wearing hakama and dai-sho pair of swords. However, Hara (perhaps because of his lower rank) did not even worry about hiding his face nor cared for a formal attire to visit his favorite business establishment at night. He simply dropped his wakizashi between the kaku obi on his left hip and frequented his favorite "whorehouse" without wearing a hat, hakama or even katana (Iiyama, 1995).
From the perspective of traditional samurai, of course Hara's behavior was viewed rather deviant, though the chonin (i.e., commoner) class liked Hara's casual style. Eventually, Hara's new casual fashion was reported in the local newspaper as a "new cool samurai fashion of the night." Then other samurai including ones with relatively higher ranks started adopting Hara's new style - "kinagashi ni otoshi-zashi" fashion (Iiyama, 1995).
Hirato, Kohichi. (1994). "Saya: Koshirae shitaji. [Saya and koshirae wood core.]" In Tadashi Oono (Ed.) (1994), Nihon-to shokunin shokudan. [The tales from Nihon-to craftsmen.] (1st Ed.). Pp.155-168. Tokyo, Japan: Kogei Shuppan. ISBN 4-7694-0051-9.
Iiyama, Yoshiaki. (1995). "Edo jidai no toso to fuzoku. [The customs and sword furnishings in the Edo period.]" In Shibata, Mitsuo. Shibata Mitsuo no token handbook. [The handbook of Japanese swords by Mitsuo Shibata.] Pp. 120-125. Tokyo, Japan: Kogei Shuppan. ISBN4-7694-0094-2.
* Edited and reprinted from the author's original posts on Bugei Sword Forums.
Copyright © by S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.