I recently came across a very cool, very traditional Japanese knife. In fact, this particular style of knife has an interesting history, rooted hand in hand with the development of Japanese sword smithing. Given that few, if any, of my prior posts talks about Japanese knives, I thought it would be a good time to introduce you to the Tantō:

Dragon Tanto

Full Tang Dragon Tanto
[view full size]

Now this is a sweet knife. I have always liked Tantōs. They seemed to always have that cool combination of straight lines and sharp points that intrigue me. However I was surprised to find out that the design I liked so much was decidedly not a traditional tantō design. The Dragon Tantō, and it’s ilk, are in fact a “Westernized” design, a fusion of Japanese and Western knife aesthetics.

Traditional tantōs were developed along side the famous Japanese sword. Most sword makers of the day were also tasked with making knives as well. The tantō was designed to be used as a short sword, worn alongside a Katana, in a samurais belt. It could be used to parry an attackers blows or pierce armor at short range. It was not just simply another knife. Below is a more traditional tantō design. You can see how this resembles the top end of a sword, rather than a kitchen or hunting knife.

Samurai Tantō

Full Tang Samurai Tanto
[view full size]

In fact though they were technically not designed to be used that way, there are some tantōs that are simply broken swords whose blades have been appropriately shortened where necessary, and been refitted with a new hilt. Or flawed blades with the flawed sections cut off and re-tasked for short sword duty.

The aesthetic differences between a westernized and a traditional tantō are actually quite significant. As opposed to the traditional design of a short smoothly swept sword tip, the westernized tantō incorporates a drop/clip point, an almost straight spine, and a very sharp angle from the blade to the point.

A little less obvious, is how the design has evolved to fit it’s new purpose. The original tantō was designed to be a stabbing tool that could also be used to make cuts. The gradual taper of the point and was design to facilitate this, while the smooth curve of the blade and equally smooth transition to point provided the maximum cutting edge for a slash.

The westernized tantō, on the other hand, is designed to be an all around multi-purpose tool. The clip point gives it a lot of piercing strength, as does the straight, thick blade. Overall the design is pretty flexible, and would allow both stabbing, cutting, shaving, whittling, carving, etc. Many of these tasks the traditional tantō was not designed to fulfill.

Though it’s flexibility is a plus, I have to admit, my main attraction to the dragon tantō is it’s aesthetics. And, keeping with tradition, the hilt of this particular knife has received very traditional looking Japanese sword grip and fittings. The handle is wrapped with nylon braid over simulated ray skin.

The final, really cool thing I like about both of these tantōs, especially given that you never see it in traditional tantō design: They both come in black…

Full Tang Dragon Tantō – [True Swords]

Full Tang Samurai Tantō – [True Swords]