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In addition to being prized for their superior quality, traditional Japanese swords were often revered for their ornate decorations, including those on the koshirae. Koshirae is somewhat of a catch-all term that covers all ornate mountings in which a sword is carried and stored. Not to be confused with shirasaya -- an undecorated wooden mount -- koshirae emphasized aesthetics to create a vibrant appearance.
As the name suggests, the tachi-style koshirae was typically used as a mounting for the Japanese tachi. The sword would hang down from two hangers (known as ashi), and it features a hilt with greater curvature than the actual blade itself. Normally, this hilt was secured with two pegs (known as mekugi), whereas other koshirae featured only one peg with the hilt.
Perhaps the most popular traditional koshirae was the katana-style. The sword is worn with the cutting edge facing up, with the blade protected in an enclosure of similar size.
The han-dachi is an alternative style of koshirae that borrows elements from multiple styles. For instance, the sword is worn with the cutting edge facing up -- like the katana-style -- but it has kabuto-gane fittings instead of a kashira.
The aikuchi, which translates into "meeting mouth" is a koshirae style that's characterized by the tsuka and saya meeting directly. Normally, there's a tsuba separating these two elements. With the aikuchi style, however, the tsuka and tsuba touch without any barrier between. The aikuchi style koshirae was first used on the koshigatana, as it allowed samurai warriors to keep their sword close to their body while wearing armor. Later, however, it became a popular choice among upper-class mounting due to its ease of use and versatility with the tanto.
The shinkomizue is a koshirae style that's widely recognized for its cane-like appearance. The sword is placed in a cane, where it's both concealed and protected. The fictional swordmaster Zatoichi is said to have used the shinkomizue.
Different Parts of the Koshirae
Of course, there are different parts of the koshirae, some of which include the following: