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The sword is rarely worn directly on a person's body. Usually, they are placed in a long sheath, and then the sheath is worn on the waist or back of a person. This accessory, called the scabbard (saya), proved to be crucial for several reasons.
One of the reasons for putting the sword in the sheath is to prevent self-injury. Even after returning to feudal Japan, the samurai would carry the sword like a katana in a saya. These scabbards are usually made of light wood and coated with lacquer on the outside. However, with the blade in the scabbard, the samurai is unlikely to accidentally injure himself when drawing, using, or carrying the sword.
In addition to preventing self-injury, the scabbard can also protect the sword from injury. The performance of a sword largely depends on the structural integrity of its blade. If the blade is chipped or otherwise damaged, it will not be able to cut as effectively as it should. Storing the sword in the scabbard helps protect the blade from damage. This is one of the reasons why Japanese samurai kept their swords in a scabbard made of lightweight wood. The wood is light enough not to damage the blade. In fact, the samurai must be careful when drawing the sword so as not to cut into the scabbard.
There are countless techniques for making scabbards. In feudal Japan, wood unions used a whole piece of lightweight wood to carve these scabbards. The carpenter only needs to use a piece of wood to carve several scabbards, which can be used to make swords such as katana, waizashi or tanto.
Most scabbards produced in Japan's feudal era were made of wood, while scabbards produced in other regions were mostly made of other materials. Leather is an alternative material used to make scabbards. Since the 19th century, brass and steel have also been used to make scabbards in Europe. The advent of this type of metal paved the way for stronger scabbard designs, and metal eventually surpassed leather and wood. But light wood is still the most popular material for traditional Japanese scabbards.
To this day, scabbards are still used to hold swords, and their basic purpose remains the same, that is, to protect the blade from injury and to protect the user from self-injury.