Zatoichi Sword

Zatoichi is a fictional character featured in one of Japan’s longest running series of films and a television series set in the Edo period. The great popularity of the character has been likened to that of James Bond in Western countries. Yet, Zatoichi has become commonly associated with one actor: Shintaro Katsu. The only other actor to portray Zatoichi in the movies is Takeshi Kitano, after a pause of almost 15 years.

Zatoichi seems to be just a harmless blind masseur who rambles around Japan getting a living by gaming. But he is also extremely skilful in swordsmanship (iaijutsu), his blade concealed inside his cane. Cane swords, or shikomizue, were straight, lower-quality weapons, which stood no comparison with usual katanas, but as revealed in Zatoichi’s Cane Sword, his weapon was created very meticulously by a master swordsmith. A recurring theme of both the movies and television series show Zatoichi protecting the villagers from cruel warring clans fighting for overlordship and general injustice.

The Shikomizue (Japanese prepared cane) is a Japanese hidden sword looking like a cane or walking stick. It was sometimes worn by government officials in Japan in the Meiji period.

The name Shikomizue is actually the name of a type of mounting, the sword blade was placed in a cane-like mounting (tsue), to conceal the fact that it was a sword. This cheat was used almost exclusively during the Meiji period, when carrying of swords wasn’t allowed. The blades used in these mountings were usually of poor quality.

This type of trick was most often used at the time when samurais who disagree with the prohibition on carrying their swords in an open manner but knew that obvious violation of the law usually led to incarceration and miserable death.

It is the sword used by the fictional character Zatoichi, a blind masseur. It has also appeared a few times in the anime and manga series Rurouni Kenshin. In another anime series, Bleach, Kisuke Urahara’s zanpakutou is a shikomizue, when not in shikai form.