Japanese Swords & Knives: Nara’s “Sanjo Kokaji Munechika”, Blacksmith Family of 1000 Years
At the Foot of Mt. Wakakusa
In Nara City, Nara Prefecture, many long-established stores line the streets. The main store of Sanjo Kokaji Munechika is quietly located at the foot of Mount Wakakusa, where an air of the ancient days remains as if the area were isolated from the wave of development in modern Japan.
This venerable blacksmith’s store was founded during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) and the family has been known as far back as the Heian Period (794-1185). Today they are no longer operating as a swordsmith; instead they are primarily producing and selling knives and scissors, utilizing their traditional techniques.
A Legendary Swordsmith “Sanjo Munechika”
An ancestor of this store is the legendary swordsmith, Sanjo Munechika. He is even sung in “Kokaji”, a Noh play (traditional performing arts of Japan).
The synopsis of “Kokaji” goes like this.
During the Heian Period, an emperor orders Munechika to forge a sword, following divine revelation he received in a dream. Munechika becomes greatly troubled as he has no appropriate assistant to help him produce a sword, and he goes to the Inari-god for help.
Then a messenger of Inari-god appears in the form of a fox, helps Munechika, and he managed to present a stunning jewel of a sword to the emperor.
Perhaps because of this anecdote, Sanjo Munechika is also enshrined as a god of swordsmith.
Testaments to Munechika’s Life
Among the swords forged by Sanjo Munechika that still exist to date, this sword, so-called “Mikaduki (Crescent) Munechika” is most representative. The origin of the name is in the myriad crescent patterns on the surface of the blade.
This sword has been known as best of the best swords since ancient times, and it has miraculously survived through numerous warring periods to the 21st century. Today this sword is designated as a National Treasure and is stored in the Tokyo National Museum.
You can confirm the blade pattern that has become the origin of its name.
Craftsmanship to Hand Down
Knives produced by Sanjo Kokaji Munechika are renowned for their amazing sharpness. The reputation goes that even though little force is applied, their knives slice vegetables and meat sharply, leaving beautiful cross sections.
You can purchase knives that are priced at a few thousand to scores of thousand yen in the store, but there are also souvenir products available, including Yatsuhashi crackers and sword-themed mementos.
Nail clippers are available at a reasonable price less than 1000 yen, and they are just perfect for souvenirs and memorabilia. How about feeling the great craftsmanship that has been handed down as long as 1000 years while trimming your nails?
25 minute walk from JR Nara Station
20 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station
Business Hours: 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM
No regular holidays