Uses of Yari Spears in Japanese Battlefields

Uses of Yari Spears in Japanese Battlefields

Centuries ago, an ancient spear was introduced to Japan. The Yari was not exclusive to Japan because several cultures also used this spear. The most modern version of the Yari has got to be the bayonet on the rifle. All the variations of the Yari was all lethal. This spear has played a role in Japanese culture both in times of war and in peace. The Japanese warriors use this as weapon and served as a form of entertainment when there was no war through game exhibitions. The word Yari means spear. This weapon was closely associated to the Samurai warriors who use it on horseback. Although the samurai version was referred to as Naginata. This was a straight headed spear. The art of wielding the yari for martial arts is known as sojutsu.


The early yari is said to be derived from the Chinese spears of the Nara period. The earliest historical appearance of the term yari referring to a spear was in 1334. However, it was not popular until the late 15th century.  The warfare of the bushi was a ritualized form of combat between two warriors who challenge themselves on horseback through archery. However, it was the invasion by the Mongols that prompted the change for Japanese weaponry. The Mongols employed Chinese and Korean footmen who wield long pikes and fought in tight formations. These formations effectively stave off cavalry. It was during this period that polearms such as yari were used because of its longer reach and lighter weight.

Yari replaced the naginata because of its style and design. The naginata is versatile when executing cutting and thrusting movements however, it requires more space so that the warrior or soldier can effectively use it. This is also why in the Sengoku period, the yari caused the vast majority of close quarter battle wounds. It made sense to fight larger armies using this spear than the naginata. The combination of horsemen, soldiers who use the yari, archers and gunners made the combat flow with greater fluidity. It was easy to clear battalions of the enemies with forces that used these weapons.

During battles, the swords were used as emergency side arms. This was the custom from the Heian through the Muromachi periods. Although in the latter half of the 16th century, ashigaru were holding pikes with length of 4.5 to 6.5 meters or 15 to 21 feet to fight armies. Foot troops or Ashigaru formed lines and were fighting with soldiers bearing firearms and short spears. These men in pikes form two to three rows and were trained to move their pikes in unison following commands. The yari replaced the long how as a weapon even for the samurai and foot troops. This is the weapon of choice for cavalry and infantry.

It was during the Edo period when the yari has fallen into disuse. During this period, emphasis was place heavily on small scale close quarter combats where swords were needed instead of long battlefield weapons. Polearms and archery lost their practical value. However, this did not end the demand for the yari. During the peaceful Edo era, yari was still produced and at times by renowned sword smiths. Although the yari made during this period was used as police or ceremonial weapons.

Legends Are Made This Way

The Japanese spear or yari is a simple weapon in terms of parts and production. It was never associated with a particular rank and status unlike the sword. The first Japanese island was created with the help of the heavenly spear. The heavenly deities gave the spear to Izanami and Izanagi. These deities stood on the heavenly floating bridge and lowered the jeweled spear. When they lifted the spear, the brine that dripped from the top of the spear piled up to become the island of Onogoro.


Yari was a straight blade that can be from 3 feet or more in terms of length. The blades used for these spears were similar to those used on traditional swords and arrow heads in feudal Japan. These tamahagane steel was very durable and strong. Throughout history, variations of the straight yari blade were made. This often has the protrusions on a central blade. The yari comes with an extremely long tang or nakago. This would be longer than the sharpened portion of the blade. What makes the blade strong and unbreakable is the re-enforced hollow portion of its handle. This results in a very stiff shaft. The shaft was of different length, width and shape. These are made of hardwood and is covered with lacquered bamboo strips.

The cross sections were either oval, polygonal or round. The shaft was wrapped with metal rings or wire and held in place with a metal pommel on its butt end. Yari shafts are decorated with inlays or metals and sometimes with semi-precious materials. A sheath or saya is part of a complete yari as well. Some yari designs were preferred more than most. The Jumonji Yari for instance that has a cross shape is considered as the most popular yari. Similar designs can be seen used in Western weapons. The Jumonji has a head made of the same metal used on swords. This is said to cause far greater damage than the sword. This is the reason why this type of yari is preferred. Another popular yari is the Kama Yari that has a sickle shape.

Using the Yari requires disciplines and skills. The one wielding this spear must be agile. Most of those who use the yari belongs to a group of warriors that were trained to be experts at using the spear with competence. It takes hours of practice each day to be proficient at using this weapon. This was not just a weapon for man alone. The Japanese required their women to be proficient in spear when they reach the age of eighteen. This is still practiced even today however, for physical education purposes only. After all this Yari spear is primarily a thrusting weapon but, it has a razor sharp edge that can deliver a mean cut as well.