The tanto is a Japanese knife that can be either a single or a double edged dagger or knife. The blade can range from six to twelve inches in length, and like most knives can be used as both a stabbing weapon or a slashing weapon. The tanto first surfaced between the years 794 and 1185 as just a standard weapon with no artistic qualities – a practical blade born out of neccessity.
Between 1185 and 1333, higher quality and more artistic tantos began being made.
Interesting, once more fighting started from 1336 to 1573, the blade’s quality of the weapon was again made more for fighting purposes and the artistic quality diminished. Due to the mass production of the tanto during this time period, the blade was made narrower to have more of the weapon material to make more blades.
Tantos are usually forged so that the sides of the weapon have no ridge lines, unlike the katana. These weapons were mainly carried by Japanese samurai warriors. Women carried a smaller version of the tanto called a kaiken and were used for self defense. Tantos are put into two categories. Suguta tantos and koshirae tantos.
Using the Tanto for Seppeku Suicide
It is believed that the tanto was used by women to avoid dishonour – in the form of rape perhaps or the servitude of an occupying army – to kill themselves in what has been known as seppuku. Not so with men however, who generally used a Wakizashi to disembowel themselves or push up through the stomach into the heart.
Many versions of the tanto are used in martial arts such as jujitsu, akido and aikijiutsu. The versions of the weapon for these martial arts have blunt plastic or blunt wooden blades, so as not to injure each other during practice. The form of martial arts that uses the tanto is called tantojutsu.