Our resident American-in-Japan, Corinne Morier, is here to tell us about Japanese weapons!
I studied Japanese language and culture in university, and during my four years there and three years since, I’ve studied quite a few aspects of Japanese culture, such as manners, idioms, history, and pop culture. But one aspect of Japanese culture that my education was severely lacking in was Japanese weapons. So I jumped on Google to rectify that.
Fans of the game Soulcalibur will recognize this one. The character Talim wields this seemingly unobtrusive weapon. Two wooden sticks, each with a handle. These might not seem as dangerous as a sword or a bow and arrow, but one whack from these and you’ll regret everything.
The tonfa was at first used for daily life—historians think it was used for digging or cooking at first, and then later turned into a weapon. Does the shape look familiar? That’s because the tonfa is the inspiration for the modern baton used by police today.
The nunchaku is probably the most iconic Japanese weapon. Appearing in nearly every kung fu movie, as well as the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, this ancient Japanese weapon has joined mainstream Western culture. Originally used as a grain pounding tool in Okinawa, the nunchaku allow for portability and stealth—they can be tucked surreptitiously into a pocket or bag, only to come out when faced with an enemy who then cowers in the face of these deadly batons!
The very obtrusive weapon with the not-so-obtrusive name. This is the traditional Japanese bow and arrow, used by samurai and hunters alike, though it sounds so innocent due to the name, which is a homonym for a common name for girls. Though many will be familiar with the Western style of bow and arrow, Japan’s isolation from the world allowed for a unique development of their own style. Most notably, the length of the bow itself, which measures 2.5 meters on average. Beauty and grace in a deadly weapon. This is one of my favorites on this list.
These two handheld weapons are probably the most iconic when it comes to ninjas. The shuriken, or “throwing star” is used exactly how it sounds: throw it to inflict massive damage. However, the kunai was not used so much for attacking as it was for utility: ninja would use them for climbing walls and trees rather than directly injuring their opponents.
The most innocuous weapon originating from Japan, and my favorite. I often joke with my friends that I have a katana (spoiler alert, I don’t) and one day I’d like to own a real katana. The katana is the most famous of Japanese swords, and in the Edo period, regulations were so strict that only samurai were allowed to own them. This traditional Japanese sword is my favorite out of this entire list because of what it implies. Its longstanding value throughout most of Japanese history, its continued use as a ceremonial weapon today, and the fact that I happen to love swords of all kinds.
Which Japanese weapon is your favorite? Did I miss any? Leave a comment below. Thank you for joining me on this mission to rectify my education, and don’t forget to follow the JL blog and come back for more during our month of weapons!
Corinne Morier is a fantasy author with a penchant for writing stories that make readers feel. Born and raised in Oakland, California, she now lives in Japan, where she works as a TEFL teacher for her local elementary school. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, watching anime, and, of course, writing.