Born In: Japan
Born In: Japan
Japanese blacksmith and swordsmith Masamune, who lived in the 13th century, is considered one of the finest sword-makers in history. Remembered as the founder of the Soshu school of sword-making, Masamune revolutionized the metallurgical technique of making blades. His signature style was the hamon edge of his swords. His best-known creation was the Honjo Masamune, a unique sword known for his unmatched sharpness and hardness. It remained as the family heirloom of the Tokugawa shogun family for centuries. It was declared a National Treasure in Japan but was handed over to the local police in 1945, following the American occupation of Japan. It later disappeared and was never retrieved. There are many legends about Masamune, and some sources claim he possessed supernatural powers. One legend featuring Masamune and his student Muramasa states how Masamune created swords that could distinguish between what to cut and what not to cut.
Also Known As: Gorō Nyūdō Masamune
Died At Age: 79
children: Hikoshiro Sadamune
Born Country: Japan
Died on: 1343
place of death: Japan
Medieval Japanese blacksmith Goro Nyudo Masamune was born to swordsmith Yukimitsu, from Awadaguchi, Kyoto. Though it is believed he was born in 1264, there are no exact dates available for his life events.
Masamune is widely regarded as one of the finest swordsmiths of Japan and is known for his tachi and tanto (swords and daggers). He is also remembered as the founder of the Soshu school of sword-making, which required making sword blades entirely out of steel. The technique was a metallurgical breakthrough and was much more modern than the techniques used in Europe or elsewhere in Asia.
His signature feature was the hamon edge he gave his swords. Some believe many of the swords made by him did not bear his signature or name because he was employed by the feudal government on contract.
It is believed he made most of his swords between 1288 and 1328 and that he lived in the Japanese city of Kamakura in the 13th century. Masamune probably worked in the Sagami Province towards the end of the Kamakura period. He was the chief swordsmith of emperor Fushimi by year 1287.
Some sources state he originated from the Okazaki family, while others believe this is a fabrication. Some experts also state that he was taught sword-making by blacksmith Kunimitsu, as there are stylistic similarities in their works. Others believe he was also trained by Saburo Kunimune and Awataguchi Kunitsuna.
Over the years, there have been a lot of legends about Masamune. It is believed that he had supernatural powers and that his swords too had magical qualities.
There is one particular legend that has been the most famous. It is about Masamune and another master swordmaker, Sengou Muramasa. Though some call them rivals, they apparently were not of the same era. They are best remembered for their unique katana (formed by cutting the sword’s tang or shank.
It is said Muramasa was Masamune’s student. Muramasa apparently challenged Masamune to a competition, which would require them both to forge a sword and judge which one was better.
After the swords were forged, the test required suspending them on a small creek with their edges against the current. While Muramasa’s sword cut off almost everything that came on its way, such as leaves, fish, and even the air, Masamune’s cut only the leaves.
Muramasa was ecstatic and declared his victory. However, a monk who had been watching them explained to Muramasa why he had not actually won. He was told that while his sword cut through anything that came on its path, Masamune’s sword was able to distinguish between what to cut and what not to cut.
Thus, Masamune’s sword, in being able to avoid harming innocent creatures, was the more superior sword, while Muramasa’s sword was a bloodthirsty one that could not distinguish between evil and innocent creatures.
There are other versions of this tale. A more realistic one states that Muramasa’s sword had remains of leaves, while Masamune’s sword did not have any. Another version states that Masamune won because his sword was able to cut off leaves in such a way that that they would join back after a while.
Masamune was known for his distinctive style of making swords. Back in his time, steel was mostly impure, which meant forging a perfect sword for wars was difficult. Most swords ended up being brittle and inefficient, which meant blacksmiths had to work extremely hard to deliver quality weapons.
Masamune, however, was known for the quality and beauty of his swords. He was skilled in the art of nie, a technique that left a pattern of lights in the sword which would shine like stars.
His swords were also known for their signature style of notare hamon, which were the undulations on the blade which gave them their characteristic shape. The swords were later termed works of art.
However, the best-known of all his swords was the Honjo Masamune, which was termed the ultimate samurai sword. The Honjo Masamune was a treasured katana that was passed down through generations of the Tokugawa shogun family for ages. Known for its unmatched hardness and sharpness, it was used by the Tokugawas to conquer the Toyotomi shogunate in around 1600.
Even after the reins of the kingdom went back to the emperor after the Meiji Restoration of 1867, the sword remained with the Tokugawas as their family treasure, till it was named a Kokuhou (or National Treasure) in 1939.
It apparently stayed safe till the American occupation of Japan began in 1945, and keeping swords was made illegal. Thus, after being passed down from generation to generation for about 700 years, the sword, along with other weapons, was handed over to the local police station by the head of the Tokugawa family soon after World War II.
The sword was never heard of or seen again and virtually disappeared. It is believed an American sergeant had probably taken it away with him to be destroyed. Some believe, he saved it and took it back home to the US.
Some tried tracing the sergeant but ended up on a dead end, as the name of the sergeant in the records was probably a typing error. Some believe this was deliberately done to cover up the tracks of a possible treasure hunter.
Recently, there were rumors of the sword being hidden away somewhere in Northern California. However, when experts went there to explore and confirm the identity of the sword, they were disappointed and found it was not the treasured Honjo Masamune.
Masamune’s son (by blood or adoption), Hikoshiro Sadamune, was another famous Soshu master. Masamune’s current lineal descendant, who is a 24th generation Masamune bladesmith, owns and manages a forge in Kamakura, considered the home of the first Masamune swordsmith.
The Masamune Prize is the name of an award that is presented at the Japanese Sword Making Competition. Although not presented every year, it is awarded to a swordsmith who creates exceptional work.
A Masamune creation was presented to US President Harry S. Truman soon after World War II. It remains preserved in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.
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