The katana is more than just a weapon: it's a symbol of Japanese history and culture. Over the centuries, certain katanas have become famous, whether for their exceptional quality, their fascinating history or the people who wielded them. In this article, we'll explore the history of some of these famous katanas.
The Honjo Masamune: the lost national treasure
The Honjo Masamune is perhaps the most famous katana in history. It was forged by Goro Nyudo Masamune, considered the greatest blacksmith in Japanese history. Masamune lived in the 13th century, and his blades are renowned for their exceptional quality and beauty.
The Honjo Masamune takes its name from Honjo Shigenaga, a samurai who obtained it in the 16th century. According to legend, Shigenaga won the katana in battle, after defeating its previous owner in a duel.
The Honjo Masamune was handed down from generation to generation, until it became one of Japan's national treasures. However, after the Second World War, the katana was lost. Despite numerous searches, it has never been found, and its disappearance remains one of the greatest mysteries in Japanese history.
The Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi: the divine sword
The Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi is another famous katana, although its existence is shrouded in mystery. According to Japanese mythology, this sword was found in the body of an eight-headed dragon by the god of wind and sea, Susanoo.
The Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi is one of Japan's Three Great Treasures, alongside the Yata no Kagami mirror and the Yasakani no Magatama jewel. These objects symbolize the legitimacy of the Emperor of Japan.
However, no one knows what the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi looks like, as it is never shown in public. It is kept in the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, where only priests and the emperor can see it.
Muramasa: the cursed sword
Muramasa is not the name of a specific katana, but of a series of katanas forged by blacksmith Muramasa Sengo in the 16th century. These katanas are famous not only for their exceptional quality, but also for the legends that surround them.
According to legend, Muramasa katanas were cursed and drove their wearers to violence. They were reputed to be bloodthirsty and were supposed to cause accidents, injuries and murders. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Muramasa katanas were highly sought-after and became valuable collectors' items.
Mikazuki Munechika: the sword of the waxing moon
The Mikazuki Munechika is one of the oldest katanas in existence. It was forged by Munechika, a famous 10th-century blacksmith, and is renowned for its beauty and quality.
The Mikazuki Munechika takes its name from the shape of the waxing moon (mikazuki in Japanese) visible on the blade. This characteristic is due to the tempering technique used by Munechika, which has created a distinctive wave pattern on the blade.
The Mikazuki Munechika is now kept in the Tokyo National Museum and is considered a Japanese national treasure.
The Yasutsuna Dojigiri: the demon slayer
The Yasutsuna Dojigiri is another famous katana, forged by Yasutsuna, one of Japan's oldest and most respected blacksmiths. The Yasutsuna Dojigiri is renowned for its exceptional quality and is considered one of Japan's "Big Five Swords".
According to legend, the Yasutsuna Dojigiri was used by the hero Minamoto no Yorimitsu to slay the demon Shuten-doji, hence its name "demon slayer". Today, the Dojigiri Yasutsuna is housed in the Tokyo National Museum.
Every katana has its own story, and these stories reflect the history and culture of Japan. Whether it's the Honjo Masamune, the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Muramasa katanas, the Mikazuki Munechika or the Dojigiri Yasutsuna, these famous katanas remind us of the beauty, artistry and mystery that surround these iconic weapons.