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Swords, Cutting and Military History

Collected Japanese sword-related sayings from Markus Sesko

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Markus Sesko is a well known specialist translator of Japanese texts, author, blogger and nihonto expert.

He’s just posted the second of two articles, spaced months apart, containing a range of traditional Japanese sayings relating to swords, sword-use, or sayings which use swords to reference cultural issues.

These sayings cover a lot of territory, from:

denka no hôtô o nuku (伝家の宝刀を抜く) – This term means literally “to draw the precious family treasure sword.” As the literal translation suggests it is today either used to say “to use extreme methods” or to “one´s last resort”, or also to say “to play/pull one´s trump card.”


shinken ni (真剣に) – Literally “with a real sword” (not a bokken or a shinai), this term means just “seriously” or “in all seriousness.”


katana no sabi (刀の錆) – This phrase means literally “the rust of the sword.” As blood causes rust, it is a metaphor for killing someone or being killed but was and is also used in a derogatory manner for someone who isn´t even worth making your sword dirty, like “he/she isn´t worth it.” Variants of the latter context of katana no sabi are katana-yogoshi (刀汚し) and katana no kegare (刀の汚がれ) which mean, expressed very rudely, “you ain´t worth shit.”

By my count, includubg the variants of the main sayings listed, he’s provided over 70 sword-related sayings.  These make a fascinating reading into how the sword still has a large influence on Japanese culture and colloquial language.

You’ll find these posts at the following links;  I highly recommend browsing his entire site.

Sword-Related Japanese Sayings (Part 1): Jan. 16, 2014

Sword Related Japanese Sayings (Part 2): July 19, 2014

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