What Were the Strangest Weapons Used in Feudal Japan?


Those who have watched anime have seen a lot of weapons inspired by those used in the feudal days of Japan, and anyone who has taken a Japanese martial arts class has gotten to play around with at least a few of the more basic ones, such as the bo-staff, or nunchucks. However, the feudal Japanese had a lot of bizarre and interesting weapons; some that you may or may not recognize from your favorite animes, and some that may have been far more popular in real life than you ever imagined. In today’s list, we will go over 10 of the strangest (but still effective) weapons from the days of feudal Japan. 

10. The Kyoketsu-Shoge — The Ninja’s Rope And Dagger Weapon 

The Kyoketsu-Shoge is a weapon from the feudal days of Japan, and is relatively unique in the pantheon of items we have used to kill each other with over the years. It consists of a large, pointed dagger, often hooked or clawed at the end, that is attached to a long chain. The chain is usually attached to a ring, or some other kind of handle, in order to swing it above your head, and throw the sharp, weighted dagger at an enemy or even trip up a mounted opponent. 

While it was popular with ninjas, some legends say it was first designed in the heat of battle. The stories say that the first version was a combination of a broken spear and a long length of rope, which the warrior used to create a makeshift weapon that gave him distance and piercing power. While it gives good reach as a weapon, it was also useful as a tool, as the hooked style of the dagger end usually worked great as a grappling hook as well. As well as grappling walls, it could also be used to grapple enemies if you were trying to just injure or capture them, instead of actually killing them. 

9. Blow Dart Pipes Disguised In Instruments And Similar Items 

The blow dart gun is a weapon that has appeared in many cultures over the years, but they were particularly popular among ninjas and other assassins in feudal Japan. Known as Fukiya, they were often disguised in musical instruments or other pipe-like devices that would go unnoticed. An extremely clever assassin could play street music and slowly make his way towards his desired target in order to get in a hit on them at close range. 

The blow dart guns generally used poison-tipped needles, with fast acting poisons meant to quickly dispatch their victim before any antidote could be applied. While this could be a dangerous way to kill, as you generally had to get close enough in a crowd that you might be apprehended for your crime, this was not always a problem. Sometimes, the assassin already knew their life was mostly forfeit, and was willing to forego their own safety in order to destroy an important enemy target. Of course, the truly skilled could melt into the crowd and disappear afterward, but depending on the size of the crowd, and how many bodyguards their opponent had, this may not have always been possible. 

8. The Kanabo — A Strange Blunt Weapon Heavily Featured In Folklore

The Kanabo, which requires the skill of Kanabo Jutsu to use, was a giant club about the size of a normal person’s height, and was thick, often made mostly of wood. However, the unique factor was that the club portion was always covered in iron spikes or blunt iron bits, and the more expensive and better the Kanabo, the more metal it was made of. This made it extremely hard to swing, as it was absurdly heavy, which meant that only the most skilled warriors could wield it. It was also a risky weapon, as getting a good swing with it and missing left you open to enemy attack in the worst way possible. 

However, it had its advantages, which is why many people went to the effort to learn how to use it regardless. It was simply great against mounted opponents if you could get a good hit against their horse, and with the sheer momentum, and all the iron bits, it usually did incredible damage even against a lightly armored horse and horse-mounted opponent. It also figures in mythology, where it is used to fight demons called Oni, and sometimes it is wielded by the mythological demons as well, whose great strength allows them to utilize it with terrifying ferocity.  

7. Many Do Not Realize Sais Were Mostly Used As Blunt Weapons And By Police

Sais are one of the best known weapons from Japanese history, and most people know them well (for instance, if you’re a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan). While you will occasionally see a sai with a single prong, and sometimes a tassel to provide for better throwing, the vast majority of sais had two prongs, and a main blade, and weren’t really all that great as throwing weapons. Rather, their greatest use was that they were incredible for catching swords, spears, and other weapons in their crossguard, and then disarming their opponents. 

For this reason, many people do not realize that the sai was rarely that sharp, and was used mostly as a blunt weapon. While you would find the occasional sai with a sharpened tip, this was rare as they weren’t great puncturing weapons and were rarely used for such. While they are most known for their origin from the Japanese island of Okinawa, they were originally seen all over Southeast Asia, and have been popular in the past as a law enforcement tool. The ability to catch the weapons of dangerous people made them good for disarmament without causing too much damage, and this is likely why the blunt sai became so popular as the main form of the weapon. 

6. Kama Techniques Can Easily Cause You To Hurt Yourself 

The Kama is a weapon that was often used by Okinawan farmers in order to defend themselves from the better armed forces from mainland Japan, but also even earlier by farmers on mainland Japan against the shogunate and later used in practice by Okinawan farmers after the Japanese authorities suggested learning all techniques they could in case the Chinese invaded. The kama is sort of a cross between a hatchet and a mini sickle, and has a short blade that can be used for cutting, slashing, hacking, and chopping. 

It is almost always dual-wielded, and relies on a lot of crossed movements for both defense and attack. Unfortunately, it is relatively easy to injure yourself with them due to the crossed movements and short range, so it is best to start with dulled blades when you are first practicing. The kama requires great skill to wield due to its relatively short range against enemies, and because it doesn’t really give you that much in the way of defense, unless you are really, really good at what you do. 

5. The Boat Oar (Eku) Was Bizarre — Hard To Use, And Loved By Fishermen

Many people who have studied a martial art or two have tried out the bo-staff, which is relatively easy to use. It’s a long staff, perfectly weighted and ideally a couple inches higher than someone’s regular height. However, if you get far enough into some Japanese martial arts like karate and master the bo-staff, they may introduce you to a similar but more difficult weapon called the Eku

The Eku is basically a modified boat oar, and originally was just a straight up oar from someone’s boat that they used to paddle (and, apparently, later kick some ass). Weapons like the Naginata, which is a staff with a sword blade on the end, became less popular as Okinawans had to hide more advanced weaponry from mainland Japan. Instead, weapons like the Eku became popular, because fishermen could use it with no suspicion at all, as long as no one noticed them practicing with it. It is more difficult to use than a bo-staff because of the counterweight at the end, and for this reason can be tricky to master. In later years, the Japanese authorities encouraged fishermen to practice with it when they were worried about Okinawa being invaded by China but didn’t have a lot of resources to spare for the islanders to defend themselves in times of crisis. 

4. They Had Their Own Version Of Caltrops (Makibishi) To Slow Their Enemies  

Today, caltrops (metal spikes laid out to waylay your enemy) are rarely talked about. This is likely because using them on civilian streets would just create a gigantic mess, and most militaries have incredible treads and tires and such and aren’t as worried about similar devices. However, back in the days of feudal Japan, they had their own caltrops, and they were incredibly effective. They were called Makibishi, and they had two different versions. 

The first version was made of iron and was called tetsubishi; these were entirely artificial constructs. However, they also had a natural version made from the seeds of the water caltrop plant (a type of thistle). They dried them until they were hard and sharp, and then used them the same way as the others; these were called tennenbishi. All of them were used how you would imagine caltrops to be used. They were scattered on the ground in order to slow down the advance of enemy foot soldiers, or horses. If used properly, one person (or a small squad) could greatly slow down a much bigger force, do a little bit of damage, and escape before they could be forced into an armed conflict against a force too powerful for their current numbers. 

3. Kusarigama: Not Just A Weapon From Anime And Manga

The Kusarigama dates from the Muromachi period of Japan, which was roughly from the early 1300s until nearly the end of the 1500s. The Kusarigama is a combination of a kama, a chain, and a heavy iron weight. While relatively memeable from anime, it was a very popular weapon during its era, and was said to have the highest mortality rate of all weapons from its time. The reason it was so effective was due to how it gave you range, and the ability to disarm — and then attack — your opponents. 

The Kusarigama user could swing the chain with the weight above their head, and then throw the iron ball and chain in order to entangle and control the sword, spear, or other weapon that their opponent was trying to use against them. Then, while either removing their opponent’s weapon entirely or simply keeping control of it, they could close the distance, and still have their kama to eviscerate their enemy. The weapon was also versatile, as you could simply strike with the weight from a distance if you didn’t want your own weapon entangled, and at close range you could just wrap the chain around your hand, and use the kama as a hatchet. Interestingly, this weapon is specifically banned in both Canada and the Republic of Ireland. 

2. Reverse Blade Sword: Not Just For Rurouni Kenshin 

If you have ever watched or probably even heard of the anime Rurouni Kenshin, you have probably heard of the reverse blade sword, wielded by the famed Battosai. Now, many people do not know that for the longest time, this was nothing more than a legend and there was no proof such a thing was real. However, recently in Chiro City (in the Chiba Prefecture of Japan), a sword with dragon carvings was discovered in an old family storage shelter that excited historians and made them wonder if there may or may not have ever been more such swords. 

Now, the sword that was found was only 11 inches, and the blade itself was only 8.6 inches, so it really counts more as a kogatana than a full katana, but it does have the reverse blade aspect, which is unheard of in anything the size of a kogatana. Short tanto (dagger) blades like the kubikiri have also been designed with a reverse blade, and used in Japanese history, but they were extremely rare, and usually did not have a point. While it may not be the full length of an actual Sakabato, the very existence of a reverse blade kogatana has madehistorians wonder if, perhaps, there is more to the story of Rurouni Kenshin and the Battosai than many of us had thought. 

1. The Feudal Japanese Used Mini Rockets Fired From Bows 

As early as the 6th century, the Japanese were recorded using fire arrows against the Koreans, using bows known as Yuma. But using fire is, of course, not particularly impressive. Many ancient cultures used fire in their weapons, and fire arrows or other similar devices were quite popular. However, by the mid 1500s, the Japanese acquired matchlock technology from the Portuguese, and this allowed them to step up their fire arrow game to a much greater level. 

They designed fire arrows specifically for their matchlock weapons, known as Bo-Hiya. These fire arrows used primitive gunpowder technology, as did the firing device known as a Hiya Zutsu (or fire arrow gun), which allowed vastly more distance and impact. The primitive combustion simply gave them a much greater edge and turned the weapon into something more akin to almost a mini rocket than a simple fire arrow. 

The Japanese were so impressed by the capabilities of matchlock technology that before long, they started experimenting with primitive guns, and used them more far often, widely, and effectively than most early cultures did. While guns (and fire arrow bows of the past) may not have been the most easy to use weapons, the Japanese self discipline, as well as their incredibly well designed military tactics, allowed them to make use of these types of devices back when most countries considered them too unwieldy and ill-advanced for widespread use in open warfare.

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