"Bokuto" are wooden copies of Japanese swords. In martial arts, they are also called kidachi. They have been developed for the kata-geiko (form practice) of Japanese kenjutsu (swordplay). They are also used to practice suburi (solo cutting exercises) and kata (forms); they are also sometimes used in actual fighting in kendo (Japanese fencing) and aikido (an art of self-defense derived from judo). They are more commonly called bokken abroad. Ornamental bokuto decorated with mother-of-pearl, engravings and so on are also available in the market.
Bokuto for general sale mimic the shape of nihonto (Japanese swords), and those in wide circulation are often elliptic, curved, and flat in cross section, the same as those for sale in souvenir shops. Most bokuto are made of Japanese evergreen oak (quercus acuta) and bamboo-leaf oak (quercus myrsinaefolia), but some of them are made from expensive materials, such as ebony, winterhazel (distylium racemosum), and loquat (eriobotrya japonica). Japanese evergreen oak is light but is easily broken in an exchange of powerful strokes, while hardwoods like Siamese senna (senna siamea) easily produce splinters in a similar exchange.
In addition to ordinary swords, known as tachi or daito, there are also wooden copies of the weapons used in other schools, such as kodachi (small swords), saya bokuto (wooden swords with sheaths), naginata (Japanese halberds), yari (spears), kusarigama (chain-sickles), jitte (one hook truncheons), and bayonets used, respectively, in kodachi-jutsu (kodachi techniques), batto-jutsu (sword-drawing techniques), naginata-jutsu (naginata techniques), yari-jutsu (yari techniques), kusarigama-jutsu (kusarigama techniques), jitte-jutsu (jitte techniques), and jukendo (bayonet techniques).
Artisans specializing in bokuto often make these school-specific weapons to order as today, for various reasons, they are difficult to produce. Those used in some famous kenjutsu schools with many practitioners are commercially available.
There are additionally training bokuto for suburi that are made longer so as to be of similar length to odachi (long swords), as well as ones, such as those used by the Tennen-rishin school, for practicing the correct hand position and so on that are not lengthened, but weigh more and are fatter than normal shinken (real swords). Today, it is also possible to acquire bokuto with engraved grooves called 'toi' (literally, gutters).
The commercial bokuto used in kendo, like the shinai (bamboo swords), are of fixed length. Their tsuba (sword guard) and tsuba-dome (tsuba stopper) are fitted from the tip of bokuto. Eighty to ninety percent of bokuto as craft products are produced in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture.
The Jigen and Yakumaru-jigen schools use bokuto made of yusu tree (distylium racemosum) that is cut to an appropriate length after its branches and leaves are removed, and is simply dried without being processed at all. Likewise, long bokuto called nagabokuto that are very long unprocessed yusu sticks, to which fat tsuba made of koyori (pieces of twisted-paper string) are attached, are used as targets during uchikomi (hitting) practice.
In Japanese kenjutsu, kata-geiko is carried out using mainly bokuto. And training bokuto are used to practice how to handle nihonto in schools that do not give additional instruction in iai-jutsu (sword-drawing techniques). Until around the early Edo period, bokuto were used in uchi-keiko (hitting practice). However, as they were very dangerous and could be life threatening if hit, for example, on the head, they were replaced by shinai, which appeared later.
Bokuto are also used to practice the kata in Japanese kendo.
In batto-jutsu and iaido (both of which concern the art of drawing and handling nihonto), the beginners who have recently started studying practice with bokuto switch to mogito (imitation swords) once they become familiar with the forms.
A very small portion of iai-jutsu schools (those founded since the Edo period) practice with saya bokuto.
Bokuto as Souvenirs
Bokuto are sold as souvenirs throughout the country in souvenir shops at tourist spots, such as historic buildings and sites. It is believed that they are targeted mainly at students and children on school trips. It is said that Imori Mountain in Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture, was the first tourist resort to sell bokuto and that they were byakkoto (white tiger swords), based on the swords of the Byakkotai (White Tiger Corps), a unit of which, comprised of young, mainly teenaged samurai, is famous for having committed suicide when they mistakenly believed they had been defeated. Since they sold well, the manufacturer of the byakkoto promoted bokuto marked with the names of tourist sites throughout the country to those tourist sites. This led to them being sold across the country.
The bokuto of Toya-ko Lake are also very popular today. Above all, the 'Echigo-ya Department Store' at Toya-ko Lake that has been offering the service of hand-engraving memorial inscriptions for more than 30 years has become popular because of a story in the manga "Gintama" (Silver Soul), in which the main character 'Gintoki SAKATA' fights with a bokuto whose hilt is engraved with the name of Toya-ko Lake. Orders from around the country for bokuto from the same store have been increasing rapidly.
The Echigo-ya Department Store is believed to have been the first to provide the 'bokuto memorial inscription service', since it was the only one that was offering such a service until a few years ago.
(It is the only place that engraves letters on bokuto in front of customers.)
When the 34th G8 Summit (Hokkaido Toyako Summit) was held, many of the foreigners visiting Toyako Town purchased them as well.