I have mentioned before that the sum total of my knowledge of Japanese metallurgy and Asian blades in general would fill a small matchbook. I enjoyed learning about the Dha while researching a previous post. Chris’s piece on the Higo No Kame remains a top 20 post for us and continues to bring folks our way. This past week one of our readers, Sam, sent me a link to “The Curse of the Samurai Muramasa Blades“, which has allowed me to venture further down the rabbit hole.
According to that piece from Ancient-Origins.net and a (very) little bit of confirming research on my part from outside sources, Muramasa Sengo was a master swordsmith somewhere during the 15th-16th century period. His blades were prized for their quality, however they were frequently the tool of choice for enemies of Emperor Tokogawa and his associates, which led to a deserved, but somewhat unlikely reputation.
“Muramasa has been described as completely mad and prone to bouts of violence. It was therefore believed that these destructive qualities were passed by the master swordsmith into the blades he forged. The blades would then ‘possess’ their wielders, turning them into insane and deadly warriors, just like Muramasa himself…
…Despite the bad reputation surrounding the blades Murasama forged, they were undeniably of high quality, and were popular in Japan. This is evident in the fact that his school of sword-making was passed down to his students and continued for the next two centuries. It was during the reign of Togugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period, that Muramasa’s blades fell out of favour. The shogun’s father, Matsudaira Hirotada, and grandfather, Matsudaira Kiyoyasu, were both murdered by their retainers who were wielding Muramasa blades. The shogun himself was also cut by a (supposed) Muramasa blade whilst inspecting the yari (a Japanese type of spear) of one of his generals.
Of course the obvious answer is always to ban the tool. And this leads to hoarding of banned item. Every.Single.Time. It makes outlaws of honest citizens who have the temerity to possess that which the State deems dangerous to the State. Again. Still.
The article continues:
“These coincidences gave rise to the legend that Muramasa’s blades had the power to kill members of the Tokugawa family. Consequently, the shogun decided to ban ownership of the Muramasa blades. Many blades were melted down, though some were hidden away. The ban was taken seriously by the shogun, and those caught keeping Muramasa blades were severely punished. The most notable case was that of Takanak Ume, the Magistrate of Nagasaki. In 1634, the magistrate was discovered to have hoarded 24 Muramasa blades, and thus was ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment). Despite such harsh punishments, there were those who continued to keep Muramasa blades, and even had the markings on these blades changed so as to avoid detection from the authorities. In addition, numerous forgeries have been made over the year, thus making it quite difficult today for authentic Muramasa blades to be identified.”
You can read the whole thing here. I found it interesting, and the site looks to have much more information on all forms of swords and the like. Definitely worth a look if you are timewasting. Thanks Sam.