How Long Is a Katana?

by Niklas Feurstein
4 comments
Katana

Have you ever wondered how long a katana is?

Me too! And actually, I didn’t really know until I bought my first own katana.

In this article, you will learn about the average length of a katana without needing to buy one. :D

Average Length of a Katana

The average total length of a katana is 105 cm/41.3 inches (3.5 shaku). Traditionally its length is measured in shaku. However, swords with a blade length over 2 shaku (61 cm/23.9 in) can already be classified as a katana.

The measurement unit shaku will be explained later on in this post.

Blade Length: Nagasa

Katana Nagasa

The property called nagasa indicates the length of the blade. Measuring the blade isn’t overly complicated. Yet there are a few rules we have to consider.

First of all, we have to talk about how exactly we measure the length. As the katana has a slightly curved blade most people get a bit confused on the measurement process.

I get asked where exactly the start- and endpoint for determining the length of the blade is, quite often.

Fortunately for us, we don’t have to measure the curvature of the blade. To put it bluntly, you just have to measure in a straight line from the kissaki (point) to the habaki (metal collar).

As seen in the image a simple folding metre stick will do the job.

Handle Length

Yeah, measuring the handle of a katana should be a no-brainer.

As katanas are double-handed swords the tsuka (handle) is quite long.

The tsuka has a length of around 1 shaku (30 cm/11.9 inches)

Then do some simple math and add the nagasa (blade length) to the length of the handle. And voila you got the overall length of the katana.

Japanese Measurement Unit

I bet you were waiting for more information on the unit shaku. Now here it is.

Japanese swordsmiths use this measure all the time.

1 shaku equals 30.30 cm (11.93 inches).

No need to remember the decimals. I always round it to 30 cm.

Japanese Blades Classified by Length

The Japanese swordsmiths classify their weapons by blade length.

There are three main categories:

Blade Length (nagasa)Blade TypeExamples
over 2 shakudaitoLong sword (katana, tachi, nodachi)
1 to 2 shakushotoShort swords (wakizashi, chisa-katana)
under 1 shakutantoLong knives and daggers (tanto)

Conclusion

At the end of this post, I’d like to summarise the main points we covered.

The average length of a katana ranges from 100 to 110 cm (39.4 to 43.3 in).

However, a sword with a 61 cm (24 in) blade and 20 cm (7.9 in) handle can already be classified as a katana as well, because the blade length is over 2 shaku.

The unit used for measuring the length in a traditional way is called shaku. One shaku equals approximately 30 cm (11.9 inches).

Japanese swords are organized into three categories. Katanas are in the “daito” category.

I hope you liked today’s post. I would really appreciate if you leave feedback and suggestions in the comment field below.

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4 comments

Robert 15. January 2021 - 20:46

Niklas, I am also a student of blades. I have also studied Iaido (or the martial art of the Japanese katana) before multiple knee joint replacements made me give up the more strenuous arts. Nowadays, I do Tai Chi for my health. You might wish to add into your blog here that the body of a katana runs completely tip-to-tip or full tang.

Reply
Niklas Feurstein 16. January 2021 - 14:25

Hey Robert. Thanks for your reply.

I don’t think this info fits into the article.

However, in the future I am planning to create an in-depth post about the katana. I took a note so I will definitely include the information then.

PS: To be precise almost all katana are 3/4 length (push) tang. Whereas most European swords have a full-length tang. This doesn’t mean that Japanese swords are worse (the handle and tang are held in place by one/two mekugi as well)! When buying a replica what counts is that it doesn’t have a rat-tail tang.

Reply
Tom Stone 12. January 2021 - 17:25

Your article is very complete
It’s short and easy to understand, thanks to you, I can be more confident with the desire to make my own katana
Thanks very much

Reply
Niklas Feurstein 12. January 2021 - 21:58

Thanks for your comment.
I am really happy that I could help you a bit with creating your own katana.

Reply

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