12 Magical Weapons From Japanese Mythology to Know About
Like other ancient cultures, magical weapons in Japanese mythology are more than supernatural armaments or expressions of godly might. The nature and shape of these weapons often hint at actual historical events – the most obvious example being the “grass cutter sword” Kusanagi no Tsurugi. Here are 12 amazing weapons from Japanese mythology to know about. Read between the lines of the associated legends and you might just have a glimpse into Japan’s past.
1. Ame no Nuhoko (天之瓊矛)
In Shintoism and ancient Japanese mythology, this was the bejeweled spear used by creation gods Izanagi (伊邪那岐) and Izanami (伊邪那美)to raise the islands of Japan from the sea. At the Floating Bridge Between Heaven and Earth (Ame no Ukihashi | 天の浮橋), Izanagi stirred the sea with the spear, following which salty drops from the tip formed the islands of Japan. In art, this mythical spear is most famously depicted as a naginata in a pre-modern painting by Kobayashi Eitaku. Some historians and writers have also highlighted an underlying sexual procreation symbolism within the legend.
2. Totsuka no Tsurugi (十拳剣)
The “Sword of Ten Fists/Hand Breadths” is not a specific weapon in Japanese mythology. Rather, it refers to the immense swords wielded by Shinto gods. Most famously, Storm God Susanoo no Mikoto (素戔嗚尊) used one such sword to slay the multi-headed Yamata no Orochi Serpent in Izumo. His mighty sword was then chipped when the Storm God attempted to chop up the dead serpent’s body. This led to the discovery of the Kusanagi Blade (see below).
3. Ame no Ohabari (天之尾羽張)
The Totsuka no Tsurugi wielded by Izanagi, Male Progenitor God of Shintoism. After his wife Izanami died giving birth to Kagutsuchi (加具土), the God of Fire, Izanagi used this sword to behead his fiery offspring. The bloodshed then gave birth to new triads of Shinto Gods. The act itself could also be symbolic of Japan’s eternal struggle with volcanoes.
4. Futsunomitama (布都御魂)
Futunomitama was the Totsuka no Tsurugi wielded by Shinto God of Thunder, Takemikazuchi (建御雷) during the mythical quelling of the Middle Country (i.e. Izumo). In another legend, it was also the divine sword given to Emperor Jimmu during his campaign against the monsters and deities of the Kumano region. Today, the spirit of the sword is enshrined at Isonokami Shrine in Nara Prefecture.
5. Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi (天叢雲剣)
Alternatively known as the Kusanagi no Tsurugi (草薙の剣), the “cloud-gathering sword” is hands-down the most famous Japanese legendary sword ever. In Japanese mythology, this was the mythical blade found within the carcass of the Orochi Serpent by Susanoo no Mikoto after the Storm God slayed the monster. After Susannoo gifted the blade to his sister Amaterasu, it was eventually passed down to Yamato Takeru (日本武尊), the legendary twelfth Emperor of Japan. Today, the blade continues to be venerated as one of the Three Imperial Regalia of Japan. It is however, never fully revealed in public. Not even during imperial coronations.
Of note, “Kusanagi” means “grass cutting” in the Japanese language. This alternate name comes from the legend of Yamato Takeru using the blade to swipe away large swaths of grass when trapped by his enemies in a field. He also used the magical powers of the blade to control the wind, thus redirecting the wildfires set off by his adversities to kill him. In games and Anime, the sword tends to be referred to by this shorter and catchier name. Typically, it is also an “end-game” weapon i.e. a supremely powerful armament.
Alternate Interpretation of the Orochi Myth
The Orochi Serpent is the Japanese version of the Hydra i.e. a multi-headed serpent. It possibly symbolizes an often flooding river with many tributaries in Ancient Japan.
6. Ame no Makakoyumi (天之麻迦古弓)
The Kojiki, a collection of ancient Japanese myths, speaks of the subjugation of the Kunitsukami (Land Deities) by the Amatsukami (Heavenly Deities). In one chapter, the heavenly deity Ame no Wakahiko (天若日子) was dispatched to Izumo to battle the Land Deities, with the Ame no Makakoyumi i.e. a divine bow being his given weapon. Wakahiko, however, fell in love with the daughter of Okuninushi, the ruler of Izumo, and did not return to heaven for eight years. He even used his bow to slay the heavenly emissary sent to question him. Wakahiko himself was ultimately killed when the Heavenly Deities threw back the arrow fired from the magical bow at him.
Tribal Conflicts in Ancient Japan
It is widely believed that the current Japanese dynasty i.e. the Yamato Clan did not always rule the whole of Japan. The Shinto legends of the battle between the Amatsukami and the Kunitsukami thus likely symbolize the conquest of other tribes by the Yamato Clan.
7. Kogarasumaru (小烏丸)
A Japanese Tachi, or samurai blade, supposed forged by the legendary 8th Century swordsmith Amakuni (天國). Part of the Japanese Imperial Collection today, the blade is believed to be one of the earliest samurai swords created. It was also an heirloom of the Taira Family during the Genpei War. Alternate legends claim that the sword was given to the Taira Family by Yatagarasu (八咫烏), the divine three-legged crow of the sun in Japanese mythology.
8. Kogitsunemaru (小狐丸)
The “Small Fox” blade is a mythical sword believed to have been forged by Sanjou Munechika (三条宗近) for Emperor Go-Ichijō (後一条天皇) during the Heian Period. Last owned by the Kujou Family, the current whereabouts of the blade is unfortunately unknown. It is also said that Sanjou did not forge the sword alone. Instead, he was assisted by a child avatar of Inari (稲荷), the Shinto God of Food. Inari was the patron god of Emperor Go-Ichijō.
9. Onimaru Kunitsuna (鬼丸国綱)
One of the Five Legendary Blades of Japan. Legend goes that Regent Hōjō Tokimasa (北条時政) of the Kamakura Shogunate was tormented by an imp in dreams every night. One evening, an old man appeared in his dreams claiming to be the spirit of a sword. The old man also stated that he was unable to leave his scabbard as he had been defiled by dirty human hands – and should Tokimasa wish to rid himself of the imp, the regent should help to clean the blade of its rust. Upon following this instruction, Tokimasa finally noticed the decorative leg of a brazier in his room resembling the imp in his dreams. The freshly cleansed sword then moved by itself to lop off that decorative leg, thus freeing Tokimasa from his nightly torment. The Regent subsequently named the blade as Onimaru, “Oni” meaning ghost or ogre in the Japanese language.
10. Onikiri (鬼切)
The Demon Slayer. A mythical Heian Period sword given to Watanabe no Tsuna (渡邊綱) by his leader, Minamoto no Yorimitsu (源頼光). The name comes from Watanabe’s legendary defeat of the ogre Ibaraki Dōji (茨木童子) at Kyoto’s Rashamon Gate. Wielding the mighty sword, Watanabe severed the arm of the wicked ogre after an epic battle.
11. Dōjikiri Yasutsuna (童子切)
“Dōji” means youngster in the Japanese Language. In Japanese mythology and folktales, though, dōji tends to refer to supernatural offsprings or ogres. In this case, the “ogre slasher” was the legendary blade used by master samurai Minamoto no Yorimitsu to slay Shuten Dōji (酒呑童子). This beastly ogre tormented medieval Kyoto with his regular rampages, stealing wine and kidnapping women, till vanquished by Yorimitsu and his retainers.
12. Muramasa (村正)
Nowadays famous in pop culture as a cursed katana of Japan, Muramasa was actually the family name of Muramasa Sengo (千子村正), a superb Japanese swordsmith who lived during the Muromachi Era. In later centuries, the school he founded was favored by the early leaders and samurais of powerful Tokugawa Clan; Muramasa blades were widely owned by top Tokugawa warriors. Subsequent Tokugawa leaders, however, came to regard Muramasa blades as sinister items, to the extent official Tokugawa records fabricated stories about the blades being cursed. Today, there are still a good number of known Muramasa blades in existence. Exhibitions are also occasionally held. For example, at the Kuwana Museum in 2016.
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© 2019 Kuan Leong Yong