'to' (long o) and 'ken' are technically synonymous, if anything then 'to' refers more to a sword and 'ken' to a blade. With 'boku' meaning wood, then
bokken = wooden blade
bokuto = wooden sword
My impression is that Japanese usually use 'bokuto', and long-noses use 'bokken' (maybe as its easier to say?).
A katana and a tachi are particular types of sword, i.e. they are both ken, but a ken doesn't have to be a katana. Like 'rapier' or 'claymore' in English. The usual practice bokkens are based on katana. A tachi is longer, worn blade-down, mounted on hangers rather than thrust through the belt and is particularly used on horseback.
An iaito is an 'iai-sword' - a blunted, usually untempered katana used for iaido practice.
As Dave said, 'shinken' means 'live blade', to distinguish it from an iaito.
Hope that helps,
|Originally posted by Arianah
I have been wondering this for a while, but I decided to post it now, in the hope that it will generate some replies, since the forum is usually dead on the weekends : what are the differences, if any, between all the words for "sword" in Japanese? Are bokken and bokuto synonymous? Are ken, katana, iaito, shinken, tachi, etc. etc. all the same, or are there some subtle differences that separate them?
Thanks to anyone that feeds my curious mind.