Not Another Damn Katana

Since the story that I am writing is in a fantasy-fied setting based on a mashup of various east and southeast Asian cultures and religions/mythologies, I had an important decision to make. Obviously, in pretty much every setting that has even a sliver of Japanese anything in it, you have the ubiquitous katana making an appearance. This nigh-magical blade, lifted entirely from history of physics, regularly cuts people in half, shears through armor, and is used in various impossible ways as a matter of genre convention.

I have at least one character who very well could be using a katana – he’s a katana kind of guy, so to speak. So I had a decision to make. What I ultimately decided is to simply excise the word “katana”, and likely even its little brother “wakazashi” from my lexicon of weaponry for this story. Certainly nothing so crass as a “ninjato” would be making an appearance. These are just things that have so much baggage that you have to dig your way out of expectations – like Elf and Dwarf and Wizard in your more traditional European mash-up settings – and I didn’t want any of those expectations to be operating, if I could help it.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of terminology for swords, even just looking at Japanese history, apart from the over-utilized “daisho”, and I will be drawing from these. I like using the specific terms for the various weapons, for those sword-geeks out there like me who can tell you the difference between a tachi, an odachi and a chokuto.

So far, so good. I’m also intentionally drawing heavily from non-Japanese, non-Chinese sources, so we have some Korean shapeshifters and one dude chopping up his foes with a khanda, not to mention two cultures drawn from the Mahabharata.  It’s kind of fun, and after all that effort to avoid typing “katana”, I hardly wanted to just fall back on presenting a warmed-over Legend of the Five Rings.

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