Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Japanese Spears: Yari and Naginata

In ancient mythology, Japan was known as “the country of one thousand fine halberds,” and very seldom did an illustration of the ancient bushi outfitted for war fail to show him holding his spear—a weapon second in traditional significance only to the bow and arrow….

Secrets of the Samurai, p. 241

In both design and structure, the true Japanese spear (known generally as the yari) was similar to all Japanese blades in the high quality of its tempering, its lightness, and the ease with which it could be maneuvered. The great artists of steel forged these spears for the bushi with the same care and imagination they lavished on his swords. The spear blades were carefully protected by sheaths (a requirement included among military laws of the clans). The shafts (nakae) of these spears came in almost every weight and length imaginable. They were made of excellent wood, carefully seasoned and treated, usually reinforced by and decorated with strips or rings of metal (sujigane) at the points that would be under pressure when leverage was applied or a blow parried.

Secrets of the Samurai, p. 241

Spearheads…were cast of the same high quality steel used for swords and came in many lengths and shapes. They can be divided, however, into three major groups: straight spearheads, curved spearheads, and the variously shaped spearheads. The straight spearhead was the most common. It was double-edged, almost like an abbreviated version of the archaic Japanese sword (ken)….

Secrets of the Samurai, p. 244

At a point of transition between the straight spearhead and the curved spearhead is the blade of the nakamaki, which resembles that famous spear which gained great popularity among the bushi: the naginata, often erroneously referred to in English as a halberd. This term, however…

is a defective translation, for the Japanese naginata (literally, long sword) was not a pole terminating in a battle-axe and spear-head as the English name implies. It was a [scimitar]-like blade, some three feet in length, fixed to a slightly longer haft. Originally, the warlike monks alone employed this weapon, but from the [eleventh century C.E.], when the Minamoto and the Taira clans began their long struggle, the naginata found much favor among the military men, its combined powers of cutting and thrusting being fully recognized.

The blade of the naginata, in fact, was like that of a sword, curved near the point, where its shape became even more pronounced. Stone writes that there were three varieties: the first appears to have been the ancient tsukushi-naginata, the shaft of which was inserted into a metal loop on the back of the blade; the second and most common had the tang or base secured to the shaft; and the third and rarest had a socket at the base into which the shaft was inserted (ta-no-saki). They were all carried appropriately sheathed and their shafts, as might be expected, were heavily lacquered and decorated with metal mountings. The naginata became famous not only because of its tremendous versatility in combat but also because of the many individual schools which developed intricate styles and remarkable proficiency in its use. Certain authors, in fact, even believe that the introduction of protective armor for the legs and the lower part of the body was in answer to the development and lethal use of the naginata….

Secrets of the Samurai, pp. 244-247

The third group of spearheads includes a confusing variety of shapes, usually highly specialized. The sasu-mata, for example, was a spear with a forked head and hooks or spikes at its base that could be used to cut and pierce a target not only in front but also returning behind it…. The futamata-yari was also a spear with a forked head, and the magari-yari was a beautiful trident, with the side-blades set at right angles to the central blade, their points turning slightly inward….

Secrets of the Samurai, pp. 247-248

All emphases mine.