The nagamaki (長巻) is a Japanese weapon that was popular between the 11th and 14th centuries.
It is a hast weapon with a wooden handle that has been covered with a coiled strip of leather, brass, or bronze over the first half of the handle or even the entire handle.
Nagamaki is also known as nagamaki-naoshi, when the blade has been altered from its original form: the blade may have been shortened as well as the tang.
In most cases, nagamaki blades were reassembled into uchi-gatana or katana in the Edo period (1600-1868). Contrary to what is sometimes believed, the original handle of a nagamaki does not have braiding in the style of katana (tsukamaki).
The reason is that late restorations sometimes tend to add this kind of braiding while it did not exist in the Heian, Kamakura and early Muromachi period on these types of weapons.
The blade of a nagamaki has a length between 70 cm and 100 cm. The handle is about the same length as the blade, 3 shaku (91 cm) without exceeding 4 shaku (1.21 m).
Ancestor of the naginata, it was carried by bushi (warriors) of low rank or by ashigaru (called "light feet" because they wore little armor). It was used to intercept the higher rank horsemen armed with the bow or the tachi (ancestor of the katana).
The shape of its blade will be taken later for the naginata so that the long blades of naginata cannot be distinguished from the short blades of nagamaki.
The shape differs from the katana by the absence of a perpendicular edge to the cutting edge (yokote) allowing to measure the point, by the existence of a wide groove on the first third of the blade,
of a counter-edge on the back of the blade which serves to lighten it and often of a small thin groove on the middle of the blade on all its length. The general curvature is more pronounced than for a katana.
The nagamaki is a weapon often represented in the hands of fighting monks (sōhei), before they eventually adopted the naginata.
It would even sometimes be the weapon of horsemen during the late Kamakura period, before they adopted the short straight blade spear (yari).
The nagamaki in its short version will be progressively replaced by the nodachi (long battlefield sword) and in its long version by the naginata.
The latter had a shorter blade and a longer handle, which made the weapon faster, less heavy and a little longer. The last nagamaki disappeared at the end of the Muromachi period.
In the Heian period, nagamaki were poor quality weapons. But, little by little, the smiths will take more care in their conception until equaling that of the swords (tachi).
Today, there is almost no difference between nagamaki and naginata : the latter name being often given improperly to the older weapon.
However, in the vicinity of the Bakumatsu, the distinction was still emphasized, as on the tombstone of master blacksmith Fujieda Tarō Teruyoshi was inscribed, "He forged for the account of his fief 200 naginata, nagamaki and katana blades each."
This also indicates that demand had increased during the Bakumatsu, compared to the peaceful Edo period.