More Than a Weapon: The Mikazuki Munechika Sword and Its Centuries-Old Brilliance

If somebody asks who makes the best swords in the world, many will answer that it’s the Japanese. They may not be wrong although it’s hard to back the claim up with facts. created a list of the best swordsmen in history; two were Japanese. Topping the list was Miyamoto Musashi, a part-time Japanese soldier and duelist. He reportedly survived 60 duels in his lifetime. 

It goes without saying that if the Japanese have the best swordsmen, they also have the most iconic swords. Case in point: the Tenka-Goken

Portrait of Musashi Miyamoto

What Is the Tenka-Goken?

Tenka-Goken refers to five Japanese swords that are considered the best ever made. These swords are also known as the “five swords under heaven.” 

What are these five swords?

  • Dojigiri Yasutsuna – created during the Heian period (794-1185)
  • Juzumaru Tsunetsugu – located in the temple Honkoji in the Hyogo Prefecture
  • Odenta Mitsuyo – believed to have miraculous powers
  • Onimaru Kunitsuna – owned by the Imperial family and is rarely showcased to the public
  • Mikazuki Munechika – created between the 10th and 12th centuries

In this article, we will talk about the Mikazuki Munechika. It is a tachi or a saber-like sword typically made in Japan. 

A sword part of the Tenka-Goken group of swords

What’s So Special About the Mikazuki Munechika?

According to various reports, the Mikazuki Munechika was made between the 10th and 12th centuries. It is 80 centimeters long with a curvature of 2.7 centimeters. The scabbard is about 85.3 centimeters long. 

Some say that it was the most beautiful blade in Japan—certainly the best-looking of the five in the Tenka-Goken. Many have described its distinctive design as having a strong curvature through the lower half of the blade but almost none in the upper half. 

The Legend of the Sword

It is called Mikazuki because of its crescent-moon shape. The bladesmith Sanjo Kokaji Munechika created the sword. He is the inspiration for the eponymous Japanese noh

According to the noh and the legend of the Mikazuki Munechika, Emperor Ichijo commissioned a sword from Sanjo Kojaki Munechika. The swordsmith said he could not create the sword because he needed a partner of equal brilliance whom he had yet to find.

Fearing the consequences of denying the emperor, Sanjo Kojaki Munechika visited a shrine to ask for guidance. According to legends, a fox spirit known as Inari appeared to Sanjo Kojaki Munechika and offered to be his partner in forging the enchanted sword. 

The Mikazuki Munechika blade

The spirit turned into a young boy who assisted the swordsmith in creating the Mikazuki Munechika. For those who believe the tale, it’s no wonder that the sword turned out to be among the most beautiful blades in the world. 

Sanjo Kojaki Munechika also made uchi no ke markings on the sword, which looks like small crescent moons. It is yet another reason why the sword was named Mikazuki. 

The Mikazuki is reportedly the favorite sword of Ashikaga Yoshiteru, the 13th shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate. 

The Last Competent Shogun

Historians would say that Ashikaga Yoshiteru, who reigned from 1546 to 1565, was the last effective shogun. He was known as the kengo shogun, which translates to “sword shogun” because of his skills with the blade.

He also attended martial arts schools. This provided him with well-rounded fighting skills. 

Yoshiteru was born in 1536. He became a shogun when he was only 11 years old because he had to succeed his father due to political turmoil.

He didn’t have an easy leadership but Yoshiteru eventually established himself as a respectable shogun. However, he had many enemies.

Time and time again, Yoshiteru had to defend himself and his people with his trusted blade, the Mikazuki Munechika. 

The Mikazuki Munechika had been owned by many Japanese families. It belonged to the Ashikaga family during the 16th century, which was how it landed in Yoshiteru’s hands. 

On June 17, 1565, Yoshiteru died defending himself and his shogunate using the Mikazuki Munechika. The forces of the Miyoshi clan that attacked the Ashikaga shogunate were too much even for the majestic sword to handle. 

Miyoshi Masayasu reportedly took ownership of the Mikazu Munechika following Yoshiteru’s death. 

Since then, it has been passed down from one powerful family to another. Despite its history of having been part of many killings and the continuous transfer of ownership from one clan to another, the sword has not lost its luster. 

Another known owner of the sword was the Tokugawa clan, which ruled Japan from the 1600s to the 1860s. The warlord Oda Nobunaga and the Maeda clan (a prominent family of samurai lords) also reportedly used the Mikazuki Munechika. 

Where Is the Mikazuki Munechika Sword Now?

The sword is currently on display at the Tokyo National Museum. It was gifted to the museum by Watanabe Seiichiro. 

It is one of the most popular attractions in the museum even among those who aren’t sword enthusiasts. After all, the sword is an important part of Japanese culture. 

Lines to see the sword can be quite long and visitors are usually only allowed to take one photo to keep the queue moving. 

The sword is more than 900 years old. 

“(It) is a sword made during the Heian period, but it has maintained its brilliance. This is because people have been taking care of it for about 800 to 900 years, handing it down with great care,” said Sato Hirosuke, the museum’s general manager from the registration office. 

“People in every time period must have had exactly the same feelings about this sword as we do, ‘Oh, it’s wonderful. It’s beautiful.’ If someone along the line had thought ‘It’s no big deal’ or ‘It’s damaged so I won’t care for it anymore,’ then the sword would surely have disappeared at that point,” Hirosuke continued. 

Swords: An Important Part of Japanese Culture

Swords are important and revered weapons in Japanese culture. They are considered sacred.

After all, people’s lives depend on them. This reverence is the reason why the Mikazuki Munechika sword, despite being old, remains in a brilliant state even after it has been passed down for hundreds of years. 

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