Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, Tantõ, Mid-late Kamakura Period ca. 1270, Private Collection
The tantõ is a common Japanese single or, occasionally double edged dagger with a blade length between 15 and 30 cm (6-12 inches). The tantõ was designed primarily as a stabbing instrument, but the edge can be used to slash as well.
The tantõ first began to appear in the Heian period of Japan which extended from 794 to 1185. This period was named for the location of the Imperial Capital, which was moved from Nara to Heian-Kyõ. The blades in this period lacked any artistic quality and were purely weapons.
In the early Kamakura period which ran from 1192 to 1333, high-quality artful tantõs began to appear. This Kamakura period brought the emergence of shogun rule. Japanese warlods, shoguns, claimed power from the hereditary monarchy and their scholar-courtiers, giving the Samurai warriors and their lords ultimate control of the early Japanese Empire.
Awataguchi Yoshimitsu was born around 1229, the son of Awataguchi Kuniyoshi who had founded the Awataguchi School of Kyoto, considered one of the brightest lights in the world of Japanese swords. Yoshimitsu is considered the greatest maker of the tantõ in history. His blades were the most expensive at that time; one thousand pieces of gold were known to have been given to acquire one of his works.