The Saya is the Japanese word for the sheathe/scabbard of a Japanese Katana sword. It is worn or displayed with the edge upwards, and designed so that it can be quick drawn using a technique known as iai (the art of which is known as iaido or iaijutsu).
Saya come in a wide variety of styles and colors and were traditionally made by a skilled artisan for a particular sword - while these days they are mass produced and matched on a 'best fit' basis.
A perfectly fitted Japanese scabbard should be able to be turned upside down without the blade falling out, yet able to release the blade with a push of the thumb on the hand guard (tsuba).
WHAT IT IS MADE FROM: Traditionally they were made using Honoki wood with buffalo horn reinforcements at the mouth and tip of the sheathe, and coated with many layers of cashew lacquer in a variety of colors and styles.
HOW MUCH IT COSTS: Typically a hand crafted saya made in the traditional way costs between $650 to $1500 as it is an extremely time intensive process. For this reason, most are mass produced with several tested to find the one with the best possible fit. Well made mass produced versions typically cost around $50.
The short video below by Walter Sorrels gives you some indication of how much time and effort is required to make a good scabbard.
COMMON PROBLEMS: Even mass produced saya are actually fit fairly well at the source of production, but as they are made from wood they are subject to changes in barometric pressure, temperature, elevation, humidity, etc and may expand or contract slightly whenever rapidly transported from one set of conditions to a new one.
For this reason, it is usually recommended to wait a week or two after a slightly too tight or too loose saya arrives before making any attempts to fix it.
SUB PARTS: Sub parts of the Japanese scabbard are as follows.
KURIGATA: The knob used to secure the sageo cord to the scabbard - traditionally made from buffalo horn but often nowdays made of wood.
SHITIDOME: Two small, usually brass inserts that cushion the sageo cord.
SAGEO: The cord/rope usually made from silk or cotton designed to secure the scabbard to the warriors belt (obi).
KOIGUCHI: The mouth of the scabbard, where the blade is housed, usually (ideally) made from buffalo horn.
KOJIRI: The end cap, also ideally made from buffalo horn.
We hope this information on Saya has been helpful. To return to Samurai Sword Terminology from Saya, click here