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The samurai used various weapons, but the katana is the weapon that is synonymous with samurai. Bushido taught that a samurai's soul is in their katana and sometimes a samurai is pictured as entirely dependent on the katana for fighting. The katana was a symbol of being a samurai and in that role was of much greater importance than the katana as a weapon. This contrasted with the crossbows of Europe or the swords of knights which were, principally, weapons for combat.

The Katana

The katana is the Japanese backsword or longsword of the type specifically in use after the 1400s (following the use of the tachi), although many Japanese use this word generically as a catch-all word for sword. Katana (pronounced [ka-ta-na]) is the kun'yomi (Japanese reading) of the kanji; the on'yomi (Chinese reading) is to. In Mandarin, it is pronounced dao (this does not specifically refer to the katana. It is literally translated as 'knife,' and pronounced 'dao'). While the word has no separate plural form in Japanese, it has been adopted as a loan word by the English language, where it is commonly pluralised as katanas.

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The Wakizashi

A katana and a wakizashi together are called a daisho (lit. "big and small").The wakizashi itself was a samurai's "honour blade" and purportedly never left the samurai's side. He would sleep with it under his pillow and it would be taken with him when he entered a house and had to leave his main weapons outside.Wakizashi were made with different zukuri shapes and sizes, and were generally thinner than katana. They very often had much less niku (literally 'meat' or 'flesh', the measure of how convex the edge is) and therefore cut softer targets much more aggressively than a katana. Its hilt is normally of a square shape but on rare occasion it had none.