Weapons of the Samurai, Stephen Turnbull

Weapons of the Samurai, Stephen Turnbull

This book studies all samurai weapons apart from the katana, with the aim of giving us a broader picture of what the samurai actually used in battle, how those weapons were used and how that changed over time.

The book has quite a specific focus – all samurai weapons apart from the Katana, and when used by individual samurai rather than by formed units. The same author has already produced an Osprey on the Katana, and focused on the use of formed units in Samurai vs Ashigaru. It must be said the second distinction is rather vague, and is perhaps clearest in the section on firearms, which concentrates on the use of the teppo as a personal sharpshooting weapon by individual samurai. For other weapons the point being made is that each samurai normally fought with a mix of weapons during any particular battle, using the most effective one for any particular moment.

We start with a brief explanation of the evolution of the term samurai – what it meant and who it applied to changed over time, so Turnbull has chosen to examine every type of weapon used by Japanese warriors in this period, on the grounds that all of them would have been used by people known as samurai at some point. The book thus covers an impressive range of weapons, including bows, firearms, very long swords (odachi and nodachi), the naginata, the yari spear, various forms of smashing and hooked weapons, and even the use of the thrown stone.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is that the survival of a type of document listing the wounded at a particular battle allows Turnbull to examine the relative impact of these various weapons in some detail (certainly more than would be possible for the vast majority of contemporary European battles). This supports the point that is often made that the katana was not a significant weapon in Samurai warfare – missile weapons of various types and spears were the key weapons right to the end of the active samurai period, with wounds from thrown stones appearing to be more common than wounds from swords! The text sources are supported by an impressive array of images from contemporary scrolls and other artworks, which give us a vivid picture of what these weapons looked like in action.

All in all this is an excellent book that gives us a much more accurate picture of samurai warfare than the more normal focus on the katana.


Author: Stephen Turnbull
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 80
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 202

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