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Masamune


Also known as Masamune Okazaki or Goro Nyudo Masamune (Priest Goro Masamune), Masamune is considered by most to be the finest swordsmith in Japanese history. He lived in the 13th and 14th century, his blades are classified as belonging to the Kamakura period (1288 - 1328) and were made in the soshu tradition. He made both tachi and tanto, and every blade confirmed to have been made by Masamune is of exceptional quality even though he signed very few of them.

At high quench temperatures, blades had a tendency to become warped or crack. Masamune was the first smith to discover how to get around this limiting factor, tempering blades at a much higher temperature than his predecessors. This in turn made stronger blades which earned him a great deal of acclaim.

It is believed that Masamune was taught by Kunimitsu, the founder of the soshu tradition, and he in turn taught dozens of swordsmiths and had a great influence on the direction of Japanese swordsmithing. The ten most famous students of Masamune are called Juttetsu or "Ten Great Disciples". Additionally his adopted son Sadamune carried on the soshu tradition and is considered a master in his own right.

Masamune is most often compared with Muramasa and there are many variations of a fictional encounter between the two. However, Muramasa's earliest dated work is 1501, so it is impossible for them to have actually met. However, the legend has allegorical value because the two swordsmiths are considered the masters of their respective eras and the time period in which they lived provides a context for the nature of their work. In the legend, Masamune's work is considered that of a serene warrior while Muramasa's work is thought to be bloodthirsty or contain an evil spirit.

A set of 3 books written in 1714 called the Kyoho Meibutsu Cho catalogued 61 blades that were made by Goro Nyudo Masamune. Additionally the Tokugawa Jikki, a journal of events relating to the Tokugawa reign lists many of his works as well. Here is an incomplete list:

  • Daikoku Masamune - Tanto, signed by Masamune.
  • Fudo Masamune - A tanto which was passed down from one Shogun to the next during the Tokugawa era. Named after the Buddhist deity Fudo Myo-o and signed by Masamune. Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi.
  • Fuma Masamune - Tanto
  • Fushimi Masamune
  • Helmet Breaker - A hachiwara believed to be made by Masamune with the following inscription:
    Made by the Japanese Swordsmith
    Priest Goro Masamune made this
    A lucky day in the first month of the first year of Genko (1331)
    Made for Kusonoki Masanari

  • Hocho Masamune - Refers to any one of three tanto that are unusually wide compared to other pieces created by Masamune. They resemble kitchen knives (hocho) and are on display at the Tokugawa Art Museum.
  • Honjo Masamune - The most famous of Masamune's swords, passed on from one Shogun to the next during the Tokugawa era all the way up to World War II. At the end of the war it passed into the hands of a United States army sergeant (along with thousands of other blades that were taken by American soldiers) and has not been seen since. Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a katana, it is believed to be a wakizashi or have been cut down in size at some point in history. There is speculation on the internet that the Honjo Masamune has resurfaced and is in the hands of an American collector.
  • Horio Masamune - Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi.
  • Hyuga Masamune
  • Ichian Masamune - Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi.
  • Ikeda Masamune - Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi.
  • Ishida Masamune
  • Kanamori Masamune - Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi.
  • Kotegiri Masamune - Tachi used by Asakura Ujikage to cut off the wrist armor of an enemy at the battle of Toji. Kotegiri is a kendo strike to the wrist, which is how the sword came to be named. It was later owned by Oda Nobunaga, then passed down through the Maeda clan until presented to Emperor Meiji in 1882 as a gift.
  • Kyogoku Masamune - Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi. Signed by Masamune.
  • Miyoshi Masamune - Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi.
  • Nagamei Masamune - Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi.
  • Ouchi Masamune - Listed in the Tokugawa Jikki as a wakizashi.
  • Shikibu Masamune
  • Wakasa Masamune
  • Yawarakai-Te - "Tender Hands", the sword reputedly made by Masamune in his fictional encounter with Muramasa.

    CE 13th Century, CE 14th Century, History, Japan, Sword, Weapon


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    Comment From: Stephen --

    Love your site on Masamune!! You ought to see Tsuguhira Oshigata which show famous Masamune swords. When comparing Tsuguhira Oshigata Masamune swords with the actual sword today, they are totally different swords!! The Japanese wanted to hide what the swords actually looked like. Tokugawa Jikki says Fudo Masamune was a Wakizashi but in person it it a tanto. Amazing!!