The naginata (な ぎ な た-薙 刀) does not enjoy the undisputed fame reserved to the “sister” katana but is an equally noble and lethal weapon. It is a long rod with a curved end, consisting respectively of durable wood and a steel blade. Historical sources document the existence of the weapon in the last part of the Heian Period (784-1185). The naginata was born to allow the infantry to strike both enemies on horseback and those on land. It proved extremely useful in the Genpei War, a conflict dating back to the last years of the Heian Period between powerful clans aiming at domination over Japan.
The weapon can reach a total length of two meters. The blade was produced with the same technique used to forge the katana. The most interesting aspect of naginata was its conformation: it allowed the soldiers to mow down the enemy horse by eliminating the threat. Its dimensions allowed to keep the enemy at a distance in hand-to-hand combat. Despite the merits of naginata, the white weapon fell into disuse within a few centuries. The advent of firearms and new technology brought to Japan by Westerners condemned naginata to a more domestic use.
During the Edo Period (also known as Tokugawa, the name of the family who for a long time took command of Japan) was used for individual fights and as a training tool. This new function brought the naginata back to a second life. It was mainly used by women as a defence tool and it was studied in schools during the Meiji period.
The brave women armed with naginata fought in the tough Boshin War. This conflcit was a civil war between 1868 and the following year, which ended the Tokugawa power and allowed the start of the Meiji Restoration. One of the most famous women warriors (onna-bugeisha) is Nanako Taneko, expert teacher of naginata defeated during the Boshin war. Nanako (not even twenty-year-old) led a group of other valiant women determined to defend the shōgun in the battle of Aizu, where he found an honorable death fighting to the end. The courage of the young warrior is still remembered every year during the autumn festival of Aizu.