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Goin’ Japanesque!

4 Actually Existing Japanese Swords with Interesting Stories

Japanese swords fascinate us with its cool and sharp beauty. For their divine atmosphere, people have used them as a ritual article since ancient times. They were also appreciated as excellent weapons and just a single stroke of a sharp Japanese sword is said to have been able to cut even a human torso right in two. Photo: flickr.com

What comes to our mind first as masters of this weapon is samurai, the Japanese feudal soldiers whose existence is now recognized worldwide and has gained a kind of pop icon status. Many manga, movies and TV dramas feature samurai whose stock-in-trade swords symbolize their heroic character, comparably to the shield of Captain America and the hammer of the Mighty Thor.

Here we are introducing to you some interesting stories behind the ever still popular weapon. Enjoy the four finest pieces we have chosen for you! 

 

1. Dojigiri

童子切

The Evil Expelling Sword which Defeated Devils

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A Scene from the Battle

Some swords are said to have special mystic power to defeat devils and monsters (yokai). Dojigiri, the favorite sword of Yorimitsu Minamoto, the famous ancient warlord from the Heian Period (9-12th century), is one of such swords. Racked by the evil deeds by the devils that have settled in Mout Oe in suburban Kyoto, the then-emperor ordered Yorimitsu, who was already famed for his prowess, to dispel the devils.

Yorimitsu, accompanied by four of his vassals, who are also historically renowned for their bravery, challenged the devils and successfully defeated them. The sword Dojigiri was used at this time to cut the head off of Shuten Doji, who was the leader of the devils. The name of the sword “Dojigiri,” which literally means “cut Doji,” comes from this story.

The sword has been designated as a national treasure and is today stored at Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo. Information: Map

 

2. Tarodachi

太郎太刀

The Sword Loved by a Herculean Soldier

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Even without any special mystic power, some swords earned their places in history for their sheer destructive power. Tarodachi is one example among such swords and was favored by Naotaka Magara, the famed samurai who served the warlord Asakura during the Sengoku Period (15-16th century). The sword was as long as 220 centimeters and no one else but Magara could skillfully handle such a long sword. Magara himself is said to have been 2 meters tall and weighed about 250 kilograms when average men were only about 155 centimeters tall. He must have appeared like a monster to his enemies.

In 1570, Magara served in the war (Battle of Anegawa) between his lord Asakura and the allied forces of Oda and Tokugawa. In order to save his army, which was apparently on the losing side despite the brave and desperate fight, he rushed alone with his Tarodachi sword, broke deep into the stronghold of the Tokugawa force and fought fiercely until he was finally killed. His brave fight grasped the heart of many samurai soldiers and the heroic story of Magara and his sword has since been handed down to later generations.

Today, the sword Tarodachi is enshrined at the treasury hall of Atsuta Jingu Shrine in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture. Information: Map

 

3. Raikiri

雷切

The Sword that Shredded Apart Lightning and Saved its Owner

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Manga is another great culture that Japan boasts to the world as highly as Japanese swords. There are many manga in which swords play important roles. Chidori, or Raikiri, is known to many as the killer technique of Uchiha Sasuke, one of the characters in the greatly popular manga Naruto. While Raikiri is the name of a skill of slashing down enemies in the manga, it comes from an actual Japanese sword, which, according to a legend, is said to have shredded a flash of lightning into pieces.

Dosetsu Tachibana, one of the most notable war generals in Kyushu from the Sengoku Period, was overtaken by fierce lightening one day but brandished his sword Chidori, slashed down the god of thunder and managed to survive. The damage he suffered at this time left him half-paralyzed but he never lost his samurai spirit and kept fighting in battles together with his favorite sword Raikiri, which won him a formidable reputation as “lightning slashing general.”

Today, Raikiri is stored at the Tachibana Family Historical Museum in Yanagawa City, Fukuoka. Information: Map

 

4. Himetsuru Ichimonji

姫鶴一文字

The Sword Indwelled by the Soul of a Beautiful Princess

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It is not only sharpness and destructive power that is praised in stories behind Japanese swords. Himezuru Ichimonji, the sword owned by Kenshin Uesugi, one of the most famous warlords from the Sengoku Period, has more of a graceful and romantic story behind it.

One day, Kenshin Uesugi thought his sword was too long for practical use in battlefields and ordered one of his vassals to remake it shorter. On the very night he placed the order, a beautiful princess appeared by his bedside and pleaded him not to shorten the sword. When she appeared again the next day, she introduced herself as “Tsuru” to answer Kenshin’s inquiry. He thought the girl must be the soul indwelling his sword and called off his order to shorten the blade for the sake of the princess’s plea.

The sword has since been handed down over generations as the treasure of the Uesugi Family and is today stored at Uesugi Museum in Yonezawa City, Yamagata Prefecture. Information: Map

 

The four swords we have looked at here all still exist and are exhibited at each location. Elsewhere around Japan, there are still many other swords each with its own interesting story and legend. Whenever you find a museum collecting such an article, make sure to visit it and get close to the soul of ancient samurai. “Samurai Sword Tour” could well be one of the future projects launched from this website for you to join!

Related Articles: The History of Hara-kiri, the Custom of Samurai

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Keisuke

About the author

I am a Japanese male whose reasons to live are studying Japanese history and watching sports. I currently live outside of Japan, but would like to share the realizations I have had about Japan from spending my days living outside of the country.

View all articles by Keisuke
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