Norimitsu Odachi: The Mysterious Giant Sword of Okayama

The Norimitsu Odachi is a massive Japanese sword. (Image:  YouTube/Screenshot)
The Norimitsu Odachi is a massive Japanese sword. (Image: YouTube/Screenshot)

Imagine swinging a sword longer than the height of an average human. The famous Norimitsu Odachi sword at the Kibitsu shrine in Okayama Prefecture, Japan, is the perfect specimen of such a weapon. Made in the 15th century CE, experts are still not sure whether such weapons were used for battle or as a showcase of the artistry by sword makers.

The sword

The term “odachi” literally translates into “large sword.” Odachi are typically “12½ feet long (3.8 m), the body being 7 ½ feet (2.3 m) and the nakago 5 feet (150m). It weighs about 31 lb 15.5 oz (14.5 kg). The longest nihonto (Japanese blade)…  [an] Odachi called ‘Norimitsu Odachi,’ is 377 cm long and weighs 14.5 kilograms,” according to Greater Ancestors.

During Nanboku-cho period of the 14th century CE, the Odachi is believed to have been the weapon of choice in battlefields. Odachis of the period was about a meter long. The sword soon fell out of favor with warriors since it was not considered practical in a fight. However, the Odachi only went completely out of use in 1615 after the Siege of Osaka incident in which the Toyotomi clan was routed by the Tokugawa Shogunate.

As to how exactly the Odachi might have been used by Japanese in combat, one of the most popular theories suggests that the weapons were largely used by foot soldiers. This is backed by descriptions in historical Japanese texts. The foot soldier would have slung the Odachi sword across his back rather than by his side due to the length of the blade. But this would have made it pretty difficult for the foot soldier to draw out the sword in case of a surprise attack.

Fighting with the Odachi swords would have been cumbersome. (Image: YouTube / Screenshot)

Another theory says that the Odachi may have been carried by hand. It was common for a warrior during the Muromachi period of the 14th to 16th centuries to have a retainer who would draw the sword for him. This retainer would have been tasked with carrying the sword. Odachi may also have been used by warriors who fought on horseback. Some say that the Odachi was never truly used as a combat weapon. Instead, it often acted as a symbol akin to a warring party’s flag.

“During the Edo period, for example, it was popular for the odachi to be used during ceremonies. Apart from that, odachis were sometimes placed in Shinto shrines as an offering to the gods. The odachi may have also served as a showcase of a swordsmith’s skills, as it was not an easy blade to manufacture,” according to Ancient Origins.

Swinging sword

If you think that the massive-sized odachi was intimidating, consider the Indian “urumi,” which is a flexible, whip-like weapon. “The urumi consists of a hilt connected to a thin, flexible steel blade. The handle is usually protected by a crossguard and knuckle-guard. The long blades extend somewhere between four and six feet in length (or even longer in some cases), and around an inch in width, but the aspect that makes the weapon unique is that the steel is always thin enough to flop around,” according to Atlas Obscura.

The urumi is a flexible, whip-like weapon. (Image: Angampora via wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

What makes the weapon highly potent is the fact that the user can continuously slash at attackers while also ensuring that they are kept at a safe distance. The possibility of the sharp blades cutting across the body would make anyone hesitant at attacking the wielder. Warriors used to wear them on their hips like a belt. When faced with attackers, they would release it, surprising the enemy who may have mistakenly thought that the individual was not armed. 

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