One of the greatest swordsmiths in Japan is Masamune Okazaki. Masamune is almost legendary in Japan. Most of his work was done during the 13th and 14th century. Most Japanese and historians may agree that Masamune has lived in the Sagami province. His most famous works are the tachi swords and tanto daggers. His works are recognized as the best creations that an award called Masamune prize is given as recognition to top swordsmiths for creating exceptional swords.
Masamune had learned the art of swordsmithing from Shintogo Kunimitu. He often produced blades with a straight temper line. His swords can be distinguished by clear grey lines called chikei and lines that resemble when lightning strike called kinsuji.
Masamune is known to be the most famous Japanese sword maker of all times. The swords of Masamune have a solid reputation for superior quality and beauty. He is considered to be responsible to bring perfection to the art of “nie” where martensitic crystals are embedded in pearlite matrix believed to resemble stars in the night sky.
Just like in music there are such classics as Bach and Beethoven, Japanese sword-making exist some names that are associated with exquisite perfection and art. Masamune is definitely one of them. His swords are famous for quality and originality and are considered as an example of that fine art of sword-making. What is most amazing is that at 13th century there weren’t any sophisticated forging tools and steel used for sword-making was as a rule impure. Nevertheless, many sword-makers today can’t compete with Masamune swords when it comes to elegance, nie (martensitic crystals in pearlite) and what’s most important - quality.
Legends of Masamune
It is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction on legends of Masamune. The sword of Masamune was said to cut ten thousand Mongol necks, mails, and helmets without suffering any dent during the Mongol invasion of Japanese shoguns in the 13th century.
Legend also has it that his sword can easily cut a blade of grass blown by the wind but the leaf restores its original shape as it travels away. While other stories tell that when a samurai warrior sways a sword created by this well known Japanese sword maker at nightfall, the Masamune sword shines like a lone star in moonless night sky.
Famous Masamune blades
Perhaps the most popular swords created by Masamune are the Honjo Masamune. It became the symbol of the Tokugawa shogunate and is highly regarded as one of the finest Japanese swords to be ever created. It was declared as a national treasure in 1939.
The name of the sword was coined after General Honjo Shigenage who won the sword in a battle. He took possession of the sword from Umanisuke and actually split Shigenaga’s helm with the blade. In the turn of events, Shinenaga survived and took the swords as prize after killing Umanosuke. He managed to keep the sword but had to sell it due to being low on money. Toyotomi Hidetsugu the nephew of Toyotomi Hideyoshi bought the sword and passed the blade on to his uncle who would later pass it down to future shoguns including Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokugawa Yorinobu, and Tokugawa Ietsuna. Ietsuna was the last of the Tokogawa shoguns. The blade then remained in his family. The sword was soon passed down through the line until World War II. It was when Tokugawa Iemasa surrendered the sword to a police station along with fourteen others. These swords were then passed on to members of the 7th cavalry in 1946. After these events, the swords were missing as the location of the Honjo Masamune remains unknown today.
The sword smith signed one of the few Masamune including the Fudo Masamune. In 1601, it was purchased by Toyotomi Hidetsugu in 1601 and passed down through the Owari Tokugawa. Its designs as a tanto sword shows grooves on one side and a dragon engraved on the part of the blade. It also features an engraving of the Buddha deity Fudo Myo-o, the source of the sword’s name.
Hocho Masmaune refers to the three different tanto blades. The three swords are quite unusual for having wide bodies. In fact, they closely resemble kitchen knives more than daggers. One of these blades is currently displayed at the Tokugawa Art Museum.
There are several but a few Masamune blades found outside of Japan. After World War II, the government of Japan offered a Masamune to President Harry Truman as a show of solidarity and peace between the two countries. This sword is currently on display at the Truman Presidential Library.