Masamune Sword: Japan’s Legendary Samurai Swordsmith And The Mystery Behind It

13th century Japan marks the birth of the samurai. Masamune created legendary, flawless swords for these savage warriors to defeat their enemies.

Who Was Masamune?

Masamune Sword: Japan's Legendary Samurai Swordsmith And The Mystery Behind It

Masamune is celebrated for being the greatest swordsmith Japan has ever seen (and given that Japan boasts the best swords ever created, that is quite a title). Not only was he a master of the craft, but Masamune’s Honjo sword was shrouded in mystery.

The swords that he created have been used in legendary samurai battles, making him a Japanese samurai icon. Gorō Nyūdō Masamune’s elegant method of sword making is still mimicked and admired by blacksmiths today.

Making Of Masamune Sword

Masamune Sword: Japan's Legendary Samurai Swordsmith And The Mystery Behind It

Masamune fashioned his swords during the Kamakura period in Japan. The Kamakura was an intense era that could have been taken straight from an action film. It started when Minamoto no Yoritomo appointed himself a military dictator (shogun).

In 1180, shogun Yoritomo found himself defeated in his first major battle and fled to live in the mountains. While there, he spent six months raising a powerful army. His determination and strength eventually established him as an undefeatable force in Japan.

But great success often brings enemies, and Yoritomo found an arch-nemesis in the Taira clan. The two groups battled up until the Taira clan tried to overthrow Yoritomo’s military control. However, Yoritomo managed to remain supreme and establish a warrior samurai regime in the area.

The period then became famous for the emergence of the samurai. An excess of samurai warriors meant a greater requirement for swords. This meant there was a lot of demand for Masamune and his god-like sword-making skills.

Why Were Masamune’s Swords So Great?

Masamune: Japan's Legendary Samurai Swordsmith And The Mystery Behind His Swords

In the 12th and 13th centuries, sword-masters encountered an issue when it came to using the strongest material available, steel. As steel was often impure, it was not that tough and was too brittle for the intense battles the armies were encountering.

For this reason, Masamune experimented with different methods of creating the weapon. He used various heating and cooling techniques (temper, notare hamon, and quenching for the experts). These methods create a distinct, stunning pattern of thin streaks down the sword.

His practices were so innovative and successful that Masamune established one of the most iconic swordsmith schools in the country – the Sōshū school. After which, his son, Hikoshiro Sadamune, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a famous Sōshū master.

What Swords Did Masamune Make?

Masamune: Japan's Legendary Samurai Swordsmith And The Mystery Behind His Swords

Although Masamune would have made loads of swords in his lifetime, only a few exist today. This is because it was popular at the time to cut a sword down and use it as a dagger.

Honjo Masamune sword

The most famous sword he created was the Honjo Masamune. This sword was a prized item amongst royalty and was passed down from shogun to shogun. It was involved in the legendary tale of a battle between general Honjo Shigenaga and an enemy general (see below).

Fudo Masamune sword

Masamune Sword: Japan's Legendary Samurai Swordsmith And The Mystery Behind It

Even after 700 years, some of Masamune’s swords still survive. This sword is signed by the master and features a dragon on the blade. It was passed around the samurai elite and was made for stabbing and slashing the enemy.

Musashi Masamune sword

This sword once belonged to Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s greatest swordsman. He was undefeated in 61 duels. He wrote The Book of Five Rings, which has been turned into a graphic novel. The sword is currently considered a national treasure of Japan.

What Is The Legend Of Honjo Masamune Sword?

Masamune Sword: Japan's Legendary Samurai Swordsmith And The Mystery Behind It

The Honjo Masamune is a sword with a rich, illustrious history. The sword has been present at iconic Japanese battles and owned by notorious families, but its location is currently unknown.

In the 13th century, Japan faced the threat of the Mongol invasion. These great, bloodthirsty warriors wore leather and iron armor, materials that ensured they were tough to destroy. The brittle steel swords that were created were not up to the task.

To address this issue, Masamune began experimenting with different methods and materials. He forged a blade consisting of over 30,000 layers and a special ability to be used as a weapon and a shield.

One of Masamune’s pupils, famous swordsmith Muramasa, believed that he created a better sword than his master. To test this theory, both swords were placed in a river. Muramasa’s sword slashed everything it encountered, where the Masamune’s blade slashed nothing!

The pupil celebrated his victory, but it was then observed that the Honjo sword did not cut needlessly. It was honorable and more than just a blade, traits held by the samurai warriors. The perfection of this sword has never been surpassed.

Three hundred years after its creation, the sword gained its name. In the 16th century, an enemy attacked general HonjoShigenaga with the iconic sword. Surprisingly, Honjo defeated the enemy and claimed the sword as his prize.

General Shigenaga later found himself in financial hardship and ended up selling the sword for 13 gold coins ($3,000 today). The sword was consequently passed around until it ended up in the hands of warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu.

At the start of the 17th century, Japan entered a brutal civil war. After hundreds of samurai deaths, the warlord gained enough military power to become a shogun. The sword then remained in the Tokugawa clan for over 200 years until its demise in 1868. The Honjo then continued to be passed through Japanese nobility until it was deemed a national treasure in 1939.

Where Is The Honjo Masamune Sword Today?

Masamune: Japan's Legendary Samurai Swordsmith And The Mystery Behind His Swords

The sword’s prosperous fate changed with Japan’s World War 2 loss. Thousands of Japanese soldiers were forced to hand over their swords to America. In 1945, a shogun descendent obeyed the law and handed over the greatest sword ever made to his local police station.

Thousands of swords were destroyed or discarded, but some valuable, sentimental, specialty swords were returned to their rightful owners. The Honjo was not included in this process.

Twenty years after the war had ended, the sword turned up in an American adventure and mystery magazine. The article listed the Honjo Masamune as one of 14 swords that went missing in the war. However, there was a suspicious clue in the article! It noted that a Coldy Bimore collected it from the police station.

The sword’s presence has not been known to the public since! Many have worked hard to track down the sword, but its whereabouts remain a mystery.

Masamune brought beauty and perfection to the art of sword-making, and his techniques are still used to this day, although no one has managed to recreate his standards.