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Weapons and the Mythology of Japan


Japanese folklore is full of tales of gods and demons, but many of these tales also feature great warriors and legendary weapons. In Western myth heroes are defined by the exploits they achieved, as well as the enemies they defeated, but in Japanese legends the weapons wielded by famous figures (both real and fictional) are often given an equal amount of credit as the heroes themselves. The best-known example of this would likely be the legendary sword Honjo Masamune.


Honjo Masamune and the Sengoku Period


The Honjo Masamune is a fabled katana, forged by the most famous swordsmith to have ever lived in Japan (and possibly the most well-known in the entire world). While the sword is known to have existed due to its extensive documentation throughout history, its current location is unknown. Goro Nyudo Masamune created the blade for one of the warlords of the Sengoku (warring states) period of Japan, during which individual clans attempted to take control of the nation's capitol.


The Honjo Masamune takes its name from both the weapon's creator and a famous general who survived a battle against its wielder, then took the blade for himself. The sword has changed hands through generations, and has survived for centuries longer than its original owner. Through the Edo period of Japan, the Honjo Masamune was used as a symbol of the Shogunate, and today is considered a national treasure of Japan.




Of all the famous swords of the East, that with the greatest number of myths and legends surrounding it is likely the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, or “Grass-cutting Sword.” The sword was, according to legend, created by the god Susanoo and given to the mortal hero Ashinazuchi, to defend his clan against a fearsome monster with eight heads. At this time, it was known as the “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven.” Ashinazuchi used the blade in battle against the creature, after trapping its heads behind eight gates, and severed them one by one.


The sword was later given to a Japanese prince, Yamato Takeru. When Takeru was later lured into a trap by a rival lord, he found himself surrounded by enemy forces in a field of tall grass. The enemy lord has killed Takeru's horse and ordered his forces to shoot fiery arrows into the field, which quickly turned into an out-of-control inferno. Takeru used the sword to try and clear the grass around him, and as he cut at the grass realized that the sword allowed him to control the wind itself. He used this newfound power to send gusts of wind toward the enemy forces, causing the fire to sweep into his enemies and routing the entire army. The Kusanagi became so important in Japanese history that today it is one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan, though its very existence and nature are in question as the Imperial Regalia are not allowed to be seen except by the Shinto priests that care for them.


Tonbogiri and Ame-no-Nuboko


There are also two famous spears that exist within Japanese mythology: the Tonbogiri and Ame-no-Nuboko. The Tonbogiri was one of three spears created by the smith Masazane, and takes its name “dragonfly cutter” from an incident in which one such insect attempted to land on its edge, only to be cut in half. This spear was fabled to have been used by the famous daimyo (warlord) Honda Tadakatsu, who came to power during the late Sengoku period. He was a member of the Four Heavenly Kings of the Tokugawa dynasty, and was credited as one of the best generals and warriors of the period. He was known to be such a great warrior that throughout all his battles, of which there were many, he was never once wounded. His exploits were a major contributor to the success of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who later went on to reunify the nation of Japan and end the Sengoku period.


The Ame-no-Nuboko was a halberd used by the twin gods Izanagi and Izanami to create the first land. In the legend, the two gods visited the place where the heavens meet the earth, or the “floating bridge of heaven,” and stirred up the ocean using the spear. As drops of water came off the blade of the spear, they formed the first islands. The two gods descended from the heavens and lived on the island from that time on.