All About Tanto

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The tanto is one of the most respected samurai swords in history. And, also one of the oldest.

It is a weapon that has accompanied the samurai from the beginning. It has been with them in all kinds of confrontations, whether in the middle of a huge battlefield or on the village roads, where you never know who might try to kill you.

The use of the Tanto has changed a lot since its beginnings as the favorite companion of the Tachi. It is a weapon that has found many uses throughout history, and has been used in many different contexts.

In this article you will learn everything you need to know about the tanto. And, if at the end of it you like the idea of having your own tanto, you can always build one in our 3D sword customizer. It will take you 5 minutes and you will be able to order your tanto to receive it at your doorstep.

Well, let’s get started.

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Tanto History

The Tanto is one of the oldest and most famous swords of feudal Japan. Its uses, as well as its design and utility, have changed dramatically over the years.

In the beginning it was a key weapon for the samurai. But little by little it had to compete against new types of swords, which greatly diminished its popularity.

But let’s start with the first thing.

The tanto is a Japanese sword (or knife, we’ll talk about that later) that was designed as a companion to the then famous tachi during the Heian period.

The tachi had proven to be a very effective weapon on the battlefield. Its curved design and size allowed the samurai to use all the strength generated by a galloping horse to execute powerful blows.

It was a weapon made for open spaces. However, when the fight was moved to closed spaces then it stopped being so useful. Furthermore, a warrior could not depend only on a sword on the battlefield.


It could be broken, lost, or impractical depending on the situation.

Because of this, the use of the tanto was incorporated as a backup weapon for the dreaded tachi.

It can be translated literally as “short blade”. It was a weapon designed to defend oneself and attack at a very short distance. Its strength is based precisely on its size.

It is called a “short blade”, but it is not as short as usually thought. Having a tanto in your hands is like having a miniature machete.

This small size that is not so small at the same time makes it an ideal weapon for all kinds of situations. Whether on the battlefield in case the warrior’s main weapon is broken or indoors where other swords would get stuck in the furniture.

The tanto enjoyed a golden age. A period of history when it was one of the main weapons of the samurai.

Even after the katana had supplanted the tachi, the tanto continued to maintain its position as the ultimate backup weapon that the samurai carried to the battlefield.

However, every age of glory must eventually come to an end.

And the end of the golden age of the tanto began with the creation of the wakizashi.

Wakizashi vs Tanto

The wakizashi was not properly “created” as a sword. In the beginning, wakizashis were nothing more than katanas for poor warriors who could not afford longer swords.

However, as time went by, the samurai began to take notice of these novel short swords. They were long enough to be useful in open air encounters, and short enough to be viable in indoor fighting.

Of course, nothing would make the samurai replace their flagship weapon: the katana. This was still the king of swords.

However, what did gradually replace the samurai was the use of the tanto by the wakizashi.

As more and more importance was given to the wakizashi as a fighting sword and more and more of these swords began to appear, seeing a tanto became more and more rare.

Over the years, the wakizashi ended up completely replacing the tanto as a backup weapon for the katana.

The tanto became an ornamental weapon. It was still effective in combat, but the samurai had already opted for the wakizashi.

The tanto began to be used for rituals and ceremonies. Different styles of blades were created in order to enhance the appearance of the weapon or try to give it a new function on the battlefield.

During this era, blacksmiths experimented with different variations of tanto, changing the size of the blade, its design, or the materials. Sadly, no matter how many modifications they made to the original weapon, none would ever become popular enough.

There was a period in history, however, when the tanto was reborn.

The Unification of Nobunaga and the Mass Production of Tantos

Feudal Japan was a place of conflict. The civil war had wreaked havoc on Japanese society, to the extent that the dream of a peaceful future seemed too far away to become a reality.

This was true, at least, until the appearance of Oda Nobunaga, the great unifier.

Nobunaga’s campaign sought to bring a new era of peace to feudal Japan. However, one of its side effects was a war for the country’s future.

During this time, the tanto became popular again as a combat weapon and began to be produced in mass quantities.

Is the Tanto a Sword or a Knife?

This is one of the most persistent questions. The blade of the tanto measures between 15 cm and 30 cm, which creates confusion when defining this Japanese weapon.

This is why we propose this distinction here:

The longest variants of the tanto (30 cm of blade alone) are practically small swords. This is a size that does not go unnoticed.

On the other hand, the shorter variants of the tanto (about 15 – 20 cm of blade alone) are practically long knives. This is the kind of knife you would expect to see in the hands of a military or survival expert.

Remember that you can create your dream tanto with our online application. Choose from dozens of pieces for each part of your weapon, customize the size of the blade, and even order custom engravings!

If you like your creation, you can order it and have it delivered to your door— 100% functional and battle ready.

Try our customizer now by clicking here. In less than 5 minutes you can create the perfect tanto for you.