Some time ago I received a question why dashi-same sword handles exist. The term dashi-same is used when a Japanese sword handle is NOT wrapped with tsuka-ito and you can see the full skin wrapped around the handle. It looks very nice but can't be too comfortable... right?
The ray skin (samegawa) that is used on tsuka is extremely tough but it's also very coarse and not friendly on the hands.
You can easily tear open the flesh of your hands, before you even have the chance to develop some callus ;)
There are two reasons why samurai could safely use dashi-same swords. The first reason is that a good quality ray skin is polished carefully to clean it and to make it nice and shiny. This will also remove some of the really sharp edges. The polishing of samegawa is done with a horsehair brush and ibota powder (which is also used to lubricate the burnishing of the bo-hi and shinogi-ji during the mikagi work).
The second reason to make rayskin easier on the hands can be seen in the following picture. Yugake or gloves :)
Yugake are often overlooked in samurai attire. People simple seem to forget that this is also an option :)
I'm sure everybody has drooled over pictures of helmets, face masks and cuirass but when was the last time you noticed these samurai gloves?
Even the infamous fundoshi (cloth underwear) seems more known ;)
The funny thing is that when mentioning yugake to a budoka, they will often associate these with Kyudo (archery). But in fact they were very much part of the base equipment of a samurai.
So next time, wear some light cotton gloves during your iai training* and please let us now how your teno-uchi was ;)
* Please be careful when wearing gloves when handling a sword. You do NOT have the same grip on the handle as with bare hands...