Subject: samurai warrior
Culture: Ashikaga Japanese
Setting: Nanbokuchō jidai, Japan 1333-1392
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* de lange 2007 px-xi
"This period of roughly half a century was a turning point in Japan's medieval era. It was a time when the firm central control of the Kamakura Bakufu was replaced by two competing parties, representing two imperial courts, a Northern and a Southern Court, each vying for the right to rule the country.
"'The period, known to the Japanese as the Nanbokuchō Jidai, began in 1336 when Emperor Go-Daigo escaped from the capital to establish his Southern Court among the Yoshino Mountains. It ended in 1392, when the two courts were unified into a single imperial court in Kyoto. The real fighting, however, had begun three years earlier, when the great warlord Nitta Yoshisada responded to the call for arms from the deposed Emperor Go-Daigo and began his march on Kamakura to overthrow the Bakufu regime. In this he succeeded, but in the vacuum created competing parties with conflicting interests rose to the fore. One, led by Ashikaga Takauji, established a puppet court in Kyoto and founded a new Bakufu nearby, in the capital's Muromachi district. The other, led by Nitta Yoshisada, remained loyal to Go-Daigo, a choice that earned him and his followers the name of Loyalists.
"It was an untenable state of affairs. Never before in Japanese history had the country been led by two courts. As the schism deepened and the positions hardened, clans and domains were rent asunder until each and every man faced the terrible choice between loyalty and friendship."
* de Lange 2007 pix
"[The period from 1185 to 1333] produced no great swordsmen of note. It is only later, in the century following the overthrow of the Kamakura Bakufu, when war became incessant, that the quintessential Japanese swordsman makes his debut and that we begin to see the first traces of a developing Japanese fencing tradition. Over the next century, as Japan was increasingly drawn into the vortex of civil strife, these first attempts at systemization were gradually forged into distinct schools of fencing."
* Art of the samurai 2009 p54 (Ikeda Hiroshi, "Japanese armor: An overview" p37-115)
"The dō-maru armor, which closes along the right side of the cuirass, was intended to be worn by infantry, as opposed to the yoroi, which was designed for use by mounted archers. Its use dates to about the twelfth century. Originally it comprised just a dō (cuirass) and an eight-section kusazuri (skirt) and was made light to facilitate walking; a helmet and shoulder pieces were added only as required.
"Beginning about the fourteenth century, matching sets of cuirass, helmet, and shoulder pieces were made and were worn by high-ranking samurai in place of the yoroi."
* Art of the samurai 2009 p46 (Ikeda Hiroshi, "Japanese armor: An overview" p37-115)
"The type of armor worn by high-ranking samurai from about the Heian through the early Muromachi periods is referred to as a yoroi. Such armors generally consisted of the following components: a dō (cuirass), comprising two front and back pieces joined together with a left-side piece; a four-part kusazuri (protective skirt) suspended from the cuirass; a separate piece called a waidate that protected the wearer's right side; two panels, a sendan-no-ita and a kyubi-no-ita, hanging at the breast; two sode (shoulder guards); and a type of helmet known as a hoshi-kabuto. Because yoroi tended to be larger than the haramaki and dō-maru armors worn by the infantry, they are often referred to as ō-yoroi ('great' armors)."
* Art of the samurai 2009 p120 (Kazutoshi Harada, "History of the Japanese sword" p117-191)
"With the fall of the Kamakura bakufu in 1333, Ashikaga Takauji (r.1338-58), head of a powerful family of warriors, established a new military government in Kyōto. From about 1334 to 1392, however, the military class as well as the aristocracy were embroiled in near continuous strife. During this time, known as the Nanbokuchō period, the imperial family was divided into two factions (the so-called Northern and Southern Courts), and the Japanese sword underwent substantial changes. Exceedingly long swords known as ōdachi ('great' tachi), which average between 90 and 130 centimeters in [blade] length, were made from about 1350 to 1367. Carried across the back, they were used only during the Nanbokuchō period. When the imperial house was reunited during the Muromachi period, the average sword length returned to 75 centimeters, or to about the same as it had been during the Heian and Kamakura periods (75-80 cm)."
* Art of the samurai 2009 p168 (Kazutoshi Harada, "History of the Japanese sword" p117-191)
"During the Kamakura period, the average length of tachi was about 75 to 80 centimeters. This average increased during the Nanbokuchō period, reaching a peak in about the Enbun (1356-61) and Jōji (1362-67) eras .... Nanbokuchō-period tachi were so long, in fact, that during the Momoyama and Edo periods they were often cut down from the tang and carried as katana."
* Royal Armouries 2008 p8
"Following the attempted invasion of Japan by the Mongols in the 13th century, fighting on foot became more prevalent. As a result swords became longer and heavier for use with two hands. In some cases the length could be extreme. For a while there was a vogue for using swords that were so long that they could not be worn adn drawn in the usual way but had to be carried in their scabbard worn across the back. When going into action these no dachi or seiero dachi (field or shouldering swords) are shown in paintings as being carried into action unsheathed over the shoulder."
* Art of the samurai 2009 p22 (Ikeda Hiroshi, "Japanese armor: An overview" p37-115)
"There were innumerable battles between the armies of the rival courts during the Nanbokuchō period. Since many took place in mountainous regions, soldiers fought on foot more often than earlier in the Kamakura period, and close combat using tachi and naginata became the norm. Tachi with a wide blade ... were advantageous in hand-to-hand combat. Some dating from this period are more than 160 centimeters (5 feet) in length."
* Conlan 2003 p60-62
"The prevalence of sword wounds in the fourteenth century does not indicate that warriors fought in tightly massed groups. Rather, swords were better suited for conflicts among widely scattered clusters of men. Some swords reached seven feet in length and were useful in breaking the legs of charging horses. A few long swords (ōdachi) were only partially sharpened, with half of the blade near the hilt blunt and rounded like a 'clamshell,' which indicates that they were used to bludgeon opponents instead of slashing them.
"Mounted warriors wisely refrained from wielding swords because skittish mounts might dump them after seeing the shadow of the blade, or, for that matter, an enemy's sword. If a mounted warrior were to use a sword, he would in all probability wield it as a lance, although some scholars have asserted that wielding a sword was virtually impossible on horseback. More typically, a warrior would dismount and hammer an opponent's helmet with his sword. Unsurprisingly, references to broken weapons are common. Not only could blades be damaged from ferocious blows, but a warrior could lodge his weapon in his opponent's body, which led to some special prayers designed to free a weapon from the corpse. Conversely, the long swords so favored at this time could not be effectively used with an enemy who was too close." ...
* Turnbull 2004 p158-159
"The nodachi (field sword) was a sword with an extra long blade, and first makes its appearance at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Specimens may be seen in several Japanese museums, but caution is needed before concluding that these swords were used for fighting, because many of the longer swords were produced by swordsmiths as offerings to shrines and temples. Nevertheless, there are enough references to the use of nodachi in the chronicles to confirm that long-bladed weapons were valued and could be used effectively by a warrior trained and skilled in their use.
"Nodachi appear to have been used almost exclusively by warriors fighting on foot, and were particularly useful for dealing with a cavalry charge by breaking the horses' legs. Their long blades were often not sharpened for their entire length, leaving the area next to the handle blunt and rounded in the style called hamaguri ha (clam shell blade). The sword would act like an elongated battle-ax." ...
* Tarassuk & Blair 1979 p353
"no-dachi A Japanese field sword of enormous size and weight which could only be carried by exceptionally strong soldiers. The no-dachi, which sometimes measured as much as 1.8 m. (6 ft.), was carried on the back, slung on a narrow belt passed over the left shoulder. The hilt rose above the warrior's head, and the edge of the blade faced to the left. The no-dachi, made solely for fighting, seldom had elaborate furniture, having only a plain iron tsuba and a simple wooden scabbard."
* Stone 1934 p473
"ODACHI. A long sword invented in Japan in the 14th century. The blade was four or five feet long. It was often carried slung from the shoulder. Compare No-Dashi [sic]."
* Stone 1934 p472
"NO-DACHI. Literally a field sword, Japan. A very long and heavy sword used in early times by very strong men. It was twenty-five per cent longer than the ordinary sword and was carried in addition to it, hung over the shoulder by a narrow belt passing over the shoulder and fastened to the right side of the waist, so that the hilt ws above the shoulder and the edge of the blade to the left." [references omitted]
* Art of the samurai 2009 p173 (Kazutoshi Harada, "History of the Japanese sword" p117-191)
* Bennett 1998 232
"nodachi (or ō-dachi) Japanese 'moor sword' extremely long Japanese sword which came into vogue during the Nambokuchō period (1336-92). Many of these swords had a cutting edge of over 1 m/3 ft and were very efficient when fighting cavalry on foot. Because the nodachi was too long to draw from the side, it was usually carried on the back and wrapped in a disposable scabbard."
* Art of the samurai 2009 p22 (Ikeda Hiroshi, "Japanese armor: An overview" p37-115)
"Tantō were .. wide and long, with a significant curvature, and were generally larger than in the Kamakura period."