While the katana may be the most famous, it is not the only type of Japanese saber in existence. This term also includes weapons with oversized blades that are wielded with both hands, as well as smaller weapons resembling a knife or a dagger. Among the small models, there are concealed weapons like the kaiken. No, this word does not refer to some mysterious sea monster; it is a Japanese sword. But do you know about this famous kaiken? Do you know who carried it and what its purpose was? Is it still used today? Through our article, you should be able to answer all these questions.

Description of the Kaiken

The kaiken or 懐剣 is considered part of the Japanese swords. For us Westerners, this can be hard to grasp due to its small size, which makes it look more like a knife. Indeed, the kaiken measures only about 15 cm, although some specimens may reach 20 to 25 cm, as the length of the blade is not fixed once and for all. It is a sword of smaller size than the tantō, with a straight blade and usually, a single edge. It is a weapon of self-defense and holds great symbolism.

Who Carried a Kaiken?

Kaiken Japan

The kaiken was a weapon held by women, particularly those married to samurais. It was sometimes slipped into the obi, the belt, like the katanas and wakizashis of the samurais. However, its main purpose was to be concealed. Like the shuriken, it belonged to the category of hidden weapons. The kaiken was placed in a pocket or in the wide sleeves of the kimono, making it easier to seize when needed.

What Was the Purpose of the Kaiken?

Primarily, the kaiken served as a self-defense weapon. Often, it was given as a gift by the husband or his family on the occasion of marriage. It was, therefore, a highly emblematic weapon as it represented the unbreakable bond and even the dependency between the wife and her husband. Losing or parting with it could lead to the woman being considered dishonored. If the man's honor was tainted by a mistake or dishonor, he would perform seppuku, the ritual suicide, to redeem his infamy. But if this event occurred, the wife had to go through the same ordeal. This suicide was different from that of the man, as the woman would pierce her carotid artery with her kaiken, whereas the samurai would cross-cut his abdomen with his wakizashi.

Unlike other Japanese swords, the kaiken is not used in various martial arts. However, it gave its name to the Japanese martial art of knife handling, known as kaiken-jutsu. While no longer used in contemporary times, it retains its value as a witness of a bygone era, that of the heyday of the samurais, their rites, customs, and the moral values conveyed by the code of Bushido.

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