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Famous Eastern Swords


The sword or katana is historically a symbol for military strength, individual martial prowess, and strength of will. While the weapon holds different meanings across different geographic locations, it is universally significant to history and culture. Swords of the East hold a special meaning even today, and in areas like Japan and China are even incorporated into national identity. When many people think of famous swords, they picture Excalibur or the Sword of Mercy, but there are a number of swords of the east both mythical and historical that are still revered today.




Perhaps the most famous blade to come out of Japanese history is the Grass-Cutting Sword (Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi), also known as the Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven. This katana was, according to legend, handed down by the god Susanoo to Ashinozuchi, whose family was being terrorized by the Yamato-no-Orochi, a fearsome serpent with eight heads akin to the hydra of Western legend. After slaying the beast, the sword was handed down through generations, eventually reaching Yamato Takeru, a prince.


The sword gets its modern name from an incident in which Yamato Takeru was ambushed in a field by an enemy lord, who slew Takeru's horse and fired burning arrows into the field. Takeru used the weapon to slice down the grass around him, but in the act realized that the sword allowed him to control the very wind itself. Using this new power, he redirected the wind to send the fire back towards the enemy lord's forces, single-handedly routing the entire army.





The most famous swordsmith throughout Japanese history is Goro Nyudo Masamune, who created everything from swords to daggers to polearms. He was so widely respected that the Honjo Masamune, considered to be the perfect sword, was handed down from ruler to ruler during the Edo period as a symbol of leadership. The sword still exists today, and was made a national treasure in 1939. His other works held such significance that one of his blades was given to President Truman following World War II, and is still displayed in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum.


There are many legends surrounding the work of Masamune, including one in which his swords were compared to another smith's by placing them in a river with the blades upright in the water. Leaves were send down the stream toward the swords, and those that came into contact with Masamune's blade were sliced so perfectly that they reformed as they traveled past. The respect for this smith is so long-standing that twenty-four generations later, one of his descendants is still creating katana to this day.


Other Famous Weapons


Japanese history is full of legendary and mythical weapons, some real, some fictional. The Murasame, which translates to “village rain,” is referenced in a nineteenth century novel. This blade allowed its bearer to summon rain and thunderstorms, and is referenced in many aspects of popular culture today. Amenonuhoku, or “heavenly jeweled spear,” was a naginata (one-bladed spear) that was so powerful it was used to raise land out of the sea. Two deities from Japanese folklore used the spear to visit the place where the heavens met the earth, and stirred the ocean until the first islands rose out of it.


The Tonbogiri is another famous Japanese spear, which was created by the legendary smith Masazane Fujiwara. The weapon was used by Honda Tadakatsu, a daimyo (warlord) during the late Sengoku period. The weapon's name means “dragonfly cutting spear,” and was so recognized because legend states that after being forged, a dragonfly landed on the blade and was instantly sliced in half. The weapon is considered one of the three great spears of Japan, along with the Nihongo and Otegine. The Kongo was a trident that could, according to legend, emit light in complete darkness as well as grant wisdom to its bearer. It belonged to the mountain god Koya-no-Myojin.


Historical Significance


Many of Japan's weapons are today marked as national treasures, as they symbolize the military ingenuity and technique of centuries past. Some of these weapons have survived through centuries of combat, and have been wielded by dozens of famous warriors. Japanese museums feature many of the more famous weapons that have survived through history, and replicas of some weapons are popular among enthusiasts.


The samurai sword (specifically the Kusanagi) is one of the imperial regalia of Japan, which speaks to its significance in Japanese culture. Few objects are more instantly identifying culturally than the katana, as it harkens back to Japan's past.