In today’s post, I will discuss the top 7 legendary Japanese Katanas of all time.
If you have read my previous article about medieval weapons, I notably mentioned the katana, the sharpest sword ever made that was able to cut a 9mm bullet without damaging its blade.
A katana is a Japanese sword that has a long, two-handed grip and a single-edged, curving blade with a squared or circular guard. It was created after the Tachi (early Japanese sword) and worn by samurai in feudal Japan with the edge facing upwards.
The term “katana” is first used to refer to a sword in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), while Japan’s history of producing bladed weapons goes back more than two hundred years. Japanese swords were originally straightforward adaptations of straight, double-edged Chinese swords. During the early Heian period, the earliest original Japanese swords thought to be the forerunner of the “modern” katana first appeared.
This sword is special because a swordsmith would take a really long time to create it. It is difficult to make perfect katana because it has a procedure that needs to be thoroughly followed. A swordsmith can create a single katana for approximately three months.
Katana swords are made from both low-carbon and high-carbon steel. Low-carbon steel is sturdy and durable, making it ideal for dampening shocks. When high carbon steel reaches the swordsmith or blacksmith, it is heated, hammered, and molded to the required size of the warrior because it is robust and brittle, making it the perfect material for forging sharp edges.
These are the parts of a katana:
- Tsuba – The purpose of the tsuba, an iron disk, is to shield the hand from the opponent’s sword blade.
- Tsuka – Is the sword’s handle.
- Saya – Is the name of the katana’s scabbard.
- Koi-guchi – The koi-guchi is the saya’s mouth.
- Habaki – It is the part of the sword that fits the koi-guchi.
- Kojiri – It is the end of the saya.
- Kurigata – This is where the rope is tied.
In the paragraphs that follow, I will talk about the 7 legendary Japanese katanas and share their interesting backstories.
Katanas were developed in the year 1281, during Kublai Khan’s conquest of Japan. Older blades proved ineffective in combat with the Mongolian mounted cavalry, chipping or breaking against the invaders’ hardened leather armor. Swordsmiths were forced to experiment, trying to produce a weapon that was sharp enough to pierce armor yet durable enough to reliably use throughout a battle. Their eventual solution was the katana blade. The superiority of the katana Samurai sword allowed the Samurai to do what no army from China to Poland could accomplish during Kublai Khan’s campaign: effectively resist the conqueror’s army. ~ Invaluable
7 Legendary Japanese Katanas
I’ll start at # 7 and work my way up to # 1.
# 7: Jyuzumaru-Tsunetsugu
This 32.3 inches long katana was created by Aoe Tsunetsugu in the Heian Period (794-1185). Compared to the other swords on this list owned by warlords, this katana is deeply connected to Nichiren Buddhism. The Nichiren wrapped the handle with a Japanese Buddhist rosary called a juzu that is where it got its name juzumaru. The Nichiren believed that the Juzumaru Tsunetsugu was created to cut through evil. Instead of being displayed in a museum, this katana is stored at the Honkoji Temple in Hyogo Prefecture.
Juzumaru Tsunetsugu dates to the 1100s-1300s. The sword maker Aeo Tsunetsugi is credited for crafting this blade. The name of this sword comes from its design. It was decorated with a type of Buddhist rosary called juzu. Juzumaru Tsunetsugu belonged to a priest named Nichiren and was thought to contain magical properties. ~ Working the Flame
# 6: Odenta Mitsuyo
One of Oda Nobunaga’s generals Maeda Toshiie witnessed this katana’s miracle when his daughter was cured of a deadly illness. It was said that Maeda prayed to the Gods with the sword Odenta Mitsuyo by his side then suddenly his daughter was immediately healed. This katana was crafted in the Heian Period (794-1185) by Miike Denta Mitsuyo the founder of Miike School of sword making. Compared to the other katanas on this list, the Odenta Mitsuyo is wider and short about 30 inches in length.
Odenta Mitsuyo is one of the famous swords of the Ashikaga clan of samurai. It was created by the bladesmith Miike Denta Mitsuyo and is one of his greatest swords. The sword dates to the 14th, 15th, or 16th centuries, when the Ashikaga clan enjoyed the height of its power. Odenta Mitsuyo was allegedly owned by the legendary general Maeda Toshiie is is said to have had healing powers. ~ Working the Flame
# 5: Mikazuki Munechika
The Mikazuki Munechika or the crescent moon blade is forged by Sanjo Munechika the head of the Sanjo School of swordsmiths, in the Heian Period (794-1185). Some say that this katana is the most beautiful of them all because of its crescent blade. It is 31.5 inches long and its blade was blessed by Inani, the kami or deity of foxes, fertility, and wealth. This katana is considered to be one of the National treasures of Japan and it is currently kept at the Tokyo National Museum.
Its distinctive form bespeaks the old style of Japanese sword making: a strong curvature from the tang through the lower half of the blade, but almost no curvature in the upper half. The crescent-moon-shaped pattern of the tempering gives the work its name, “Crescent-Moon Munechika”. ~ e-Museum
# 4: Onimaru Kunitsuna
Much known as “the demon” the 30.5 inch Onimaru Kunitsuna was forged by a blacksmith known as Awataguchi Kunitsuna the inventor of Shoshuden (method of forging katanas) during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). It was said that Onimaru Kunitsuna was used to kill a demon. It is owned by Hojyo Tokiyori a regent of the Japanese emperial family. It acquired its moniker after strangely moving by itself one day, falling off the sword stand, and leaving an engraving of an oni (demon) on the leg of the sword stand.
Onimaru is one of the ‘Tenka-goken’. Its legend is also about an ogre which made Hojyo Tokiyori, 5th regent in Kamakura era, suffer from nightmares. One night, he saw a dream of an old man , who turn out to be a spirit of the katana. After following the his advice in real world, the katana fell down and cut down silver decoration of an ogre. Since then, he never saw a nightmare again. Imperial Household Agency is currently keeping this Onimaru. Unfortunately, it has only been displayed three times in a history. ~ Wasabi
# 3: Dojigiri Yasutsuna
Considered to be another one of the National Treasures of Japan, the Dojiri Yasutsuna was forged by Ohara Yasutsuna in the Heian Period (794-1185). Legend says, the katana is sharp enough to slay a demon called Shuten Doji who is believed to be rampaging Kyoto around that time. The Dojigiri Yasutsuna is approximately 31.5 inches long, it was made from ground iron with, substantial warpage, graining and hardly any imperfections. Now it is on display at the Tokyo National Museum.
Like many of Japan’s greatest samurai swords, the Dōjigiri was used in a legendary battle. The Dōjigiri Yasutsuna got its name after Minamoto no Yorimitsu used the sword to kill the thieving demon, Shutendōji. The Dōjigiri became one of Japan’s most cherished treasures and was used by shoguns Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. ~ Oldest.org
# 2: Muramasa
The Muramasa is also described as the demon blade because the legend says that it turns people into ruthless killers when they wield it. This masterpiece was forged by the mysterious swordsmith Sengo Muramasa who was thought to be a wild and unpredictable guy. All of the information we have about him is intertwined with a number of mystical ideas that are probably very difficult to relate to his real background.
Some say he studied under Masamune the greatest swordsmith in Japanese history or he did some apprenticeships under Heianjō Nagayosh a swordsmith from Kyoto, but no one really knows about his background. There were also rumors that the katana was crafted by Sengo Muramasa putting all his rage into the sword.
The samurai preferred Muramasa swords for their superb quality, especially those who supported Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo era. The Muramasa katana is approximately 39 inches in length and around 2.8 lbs. It is very lightweight and sharp that it can possibly cut through armor to the bone.
The name ‘Muramasa’ is often used in video games as well as Masamune. It is also the name of a legendary swordsmith. The name Muramasa is often described as a demon blade, which turns people into a killer because of its excess sharpness. According to one theory, the infamous story comes from Tokugawa shogun. It is because many of Tokugawa family’s death were caused by Muramasa swords coincidentally. ~ Wasabi
# 1: Honjo Masamune
The Honjo Masamune katana is undeniably the best of the bunch and there was a lot of historical proof that would vouch for it. This masterpiece was crafted by Goro Nyudo Masamune Goro Nyudo Masamune from 1264 to 1343. This sword was labeled to be the best out of the best katanas to be ever made in Japan.
The sword’s curved edge, which easily cuts through flesh despite its weak back and sharp edge, was the crucial element that contributed to its lethal effectiveness. It became the symbol of the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period, this sword was wielded by Tokugawa Ieyasu and since then it was passed on from shogun to shogun.
Way back then, the samurai developed a practical way to measure the sharpness of their blades. For a small amount of money, an official tester would use the blade to cut the flesh of a corpse from the execution grounds and report back to the blade’s owner about the results. What the tester does is check how many bodies it cut and how it actually cut.
It was considered to be one of the National treasures of Japan but it was lost after World War II. Some say after the war, it was melted and turned into scraps. Some say that an American war veteran took the sword and brought it to the United States as spoils of war. It was said that the military veteran tested its sharpness and took it for himself after proving its worth. Until now, the Honjo Masamune sword is not yet found.
In the late 13th century, the rulers of the Kamakura province near Tokyo had a serious problem, the invading Mongol hordes of Kublai Khan. Under the onslaught, their weapons simply weren’t up to the task, and would often break against the toughened Mongol armor. To solve this problem, they turned to swordsmith Gorō Nyūdō Masamune. Masamune’s task was to redesign the Japanese sword to withstand the armor and kill the Mongol invaders. Masamune developed techniques that have never been surpassed. First, he beat red hot high carbon steel into a thick rectangular billet, then cutting and folding it again and again, he forged a blade composed of over 30,000 layers. To the thick back edge and the thin cutting edge he gave very different properties, and these were born not from the heat of the fire, but how the steel cooled in water. ~ Swords of the Northshire
In conclusion, these Japanese katanas have had a lot of historical value, since the end of the samurai era, they were no longer used in battles but were only used in ceremonial events. Some of them are kept in museums for people to see and some of them are still waiting to be found. You might uncover one of these swords in the future, but you might want to know its roots before holding it.
The famous TV show “Pawn Stars” on the History channel, was able to identify some of the oldest katanas. It might not be the Honjo Masamune but still, it is fun and interesting to watch the video below to see how much a Japanese Katana is worth and know some of its historical facts.
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About the Author
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