The Norimitsu Odachi is a very large sword originating from Japan. The sword is so large, in fact, that legend says it was wielded by a giant. Ignoring the myth for the moment, apart from some basic details, such as the sword was forged in the 15th century, it measures 3.77 metres (12.37 ft), and that it weighs an impressive 14.5kg, the rest of the swords history is largely unknown.
The History of the Odachi
The Japanese are no stranger to forging swords, their sword making technology and ability are renowned. Many types of sword have been produced over the centuries by Japanese sword smiths, but without a doubt the most famous sword originating from Japan and the one most people are familiar with is the Katana, due in part to its association with the Samurai. Regardless, there are a range of less well known swords produced in Japan over the years, including the Odachi.
The Odachi, which roughly translates as ‘great / large sword’, and is also sometimes referred to as Nodachi, which translates as ‘field sword’, is a long bladed sword from Japan. Like the Katana, the blade of the Odachi is curved, and is commonly between 90 – 100 cm in length. Some Odachi where even recorded as having blades which exceeded two metres in length.
The Odachi was a popular choice on the battlefield and was the weapon of choice during the Nanboku-cho period, which lasted for most of the 14th century AD. During this time, most of the Odachi produced where over one meter long. This sword, however, saw its popularity quickly wane, falling out of favour after a short amount of time. The main reason was likely due to the practicalities of wielding such a large sword effectively and changing battlefield tactics. Still, the Odachi continued to be used in battles right up the 1600’s, following the Osaka Natsu no Jin, during which the Toyotomi clan was annihilated by the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The Odachi may have been used a number of ways on the battlefield. The most likely and common use was that they were used by common foot soldiers . This is backed up by literary works such as he Heike Monogatari and the Taiheiki. A foot soldier provided with a Odachi may have worn the sword slung across his back, rather than at his side as with the Katana, mostly due to its remarkable length. This, however, had a significant drawback, making it near impossible for the wielder to draw the blade quickly.
Alternatively, it’s also possible that the Odachi may have been carried by hand. There are records indicating that during the Muromachi period, it was widely practised for a warrior tasked with wielding an Odachi to have a retainer who would assist him to draw the weapon. There is also evidence suggesting that the Odachi may have been wielded by mounted warriors, the extra reach offered by the Odachi would have obvious benefits for those on horseback.
It has also been suggested that, as the Odachi was such an unwieldy weapon, it was not actually used in combat. Instead, it may have been used as an armies standard, in much the same way as flags where used in the western world during a battle. Additionally, the Odachi may have used exclusively as a ceremonial piece and used ritualistically rather than in battle. During the Edo period, the Odachi was often used in ceremonies. Furthermore, Odachis were sometimes used as offerings to the gods, being placed at Shinto shrines. Lastly, the Odachi may have been used by swordsmiths to demonstrate their expertise, it was considered a difficult sword to forge, requiring considerable skill.
Norimitsu Odachi: Ornament or Practical Weapon?
Legend states that the Norimitsu Odachi was a practical weapon, and due to its size, must have been wielded by a giant. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this claim. A far simpler and more likely explanation for this impressive sword is that it was used for purely non-combative purposes.
Whoever created the lengthy blade would no doubt have been a highly skilled swordsmith. This might suggest that the Norimitsu Odachi was created as a showcase piece, allowing the swordsmith to demonstrate their significant skills. In addition, the sword may have been commissioned by a wealthy individual to show off their wealth and significance.