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Mystery tour : Muramasa , a cursed blade – Part 1 –

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/20 Traditional Culture , , , ,

Muramasa (1)

Masamune and Muramasa

“Masamune” and “Muramasa” are probably the two well-known Japanese sword brands to common Japanese people.
You may have seen those names in Japanese manga, video games, novels, etc.
For example, “Masamune” is used by Sephiroth in a Playstation game, Final Fantasy 7.


- Final Fantasy 7 International version -
I've also got Japanese original version somewhere in my house.

Also, there is a game entitled as “Oboro-muramasa” (in USA, “Muramasa: The Demon Blade”).
In “Wizardry”, role-playing video game series, “Muramasa” appears as the (strongest) weapon for samurai.


- Oboromuramasa -
Haven't played yet.

Japanese swords are not only weapons but also artworks.
Great swords should be beautiful as well as practical.
I heard a “Muramasa” sword was very practical, and it was rather ordinary as an artifact unlike “Masamune”.
This means “Muramasa” is extraordinary sharp but not beautiful.
You can see it from the fact that most of extant “Masamune” swords are designated as national treasures or important cultural properties while “Muramasa” aren’t.

The “Masamune” brand is very famous for outstanding swords.
On the other hand, the “Muramasa” is very notorious as cursed swords.
I can’t remember the title, but I’ve read several stories like this;

  • The “Muramasa” sword always has a thirst for blood.
  • When somebody holds the hilt of the drawn-out blade of “Muramasa”, it takes over the person’s mind.
    Then, the person starts to kill other people with “Muramasa”.
    The only way to stop the person is to kill him / her.
  • Anybody can become the “host” of the sword unintentionally like picking up the sword from the ground just after the previous host was killed, or unconsciously by being mesmerised by the sword to hold it.

Of course, all of these sound quite absurd, but it is true “Muramasa” has been commonly believed to have supernatural (evil) power.


General information about “Muramasa”

“Muramasa” swordsmiths had produced swords from age to age since the middle of the Muromachi era.
The first “Muramasa” was a swordsmith in Kuwana, Ise (area around the part of the present “Mie” prefecture).
The oldest extant “Muramasa” sword was produced in 1501.

One of its features is it has almost identical “hamon” (lit. blade pattern) on both sides of the blade.
It was rather unusual as a blade produced in those period.


- Hamon -
Pattern on the blade.

Another (probably the most famous) feature is, as I said above, its sharpness.
A “practically” “sharp” sword means it can cut things easily, fatally.
It is said that when a “Muramasa” blade is drawn out from its scabbard, it always makes somebody bleed.
I heard that every time a person drew out the blade, he cut his finger however much careful he was, and maybe this is the reason why “Muramasa” is said to be “bloodthirsty”.

The origin of the legend

From the story I introduced at the beginning of the post, “Muramasa” seems to curse anybody, anywhere.
However, originally it was believed its evil power was pointed to one clan only – Tokugawa.

Ieyasu Tokugawa

- Ieyasu Tokugawa -
Illustration from Illust-ya

Ieyasu Tokugawa was the first shogun of Edo era.
His grandfather, Kiyoyasu Matsudaira (1511 – 1535), was killed by one of his retainers.
Then Hirotada Matsudaira (1526 – 1549), Ieyasu’s father, was also killed by his retainer.

In 1562, Ieyasu formed an alliance with Nobunaga Oda.
Nobunaga became much more powerful than Ieyasu, so Ieyasu was rather subordinate later on.

Nobunaga Oda

- Nobunaga Oda -

In 1579, Ieyasu’s wife Tsukiyama-dono (1542 – 1579) was killed and their first son Nobuyasu (1559 – 1579) committed a suicide (“seppuku”, lit. cutting belly) * both under the orders by Ieyasu.
It is said that Ieyasu had to do it because he was ordered by Nobunaga to punish them for alleged espionage for one of their enemy forces, the Takeda family.
I’ve read in a website that this story is perhaps dressed-up for Ieyasu, because all the official records about the incident were written as “Tokugawa Official”.
Whoever gave those orders, it is the fact that Ieyasu’s wife was murdered and their son killed himself.

In the “Muramasa” legend, it is believed that the weapons used to take Tokugawa members’ lives were “Muramasa” swords. *
Also, Ieyasu himself had cut his hand twice with “Muramasa” blades.
The first wound was by a short sword when he was a child, and the second was by a spearhead in 1600.
At the second time he hurt himself with a “Muramasa” blade, he was said to have told “Muramasa curses the Tokugawa family.”

*– “Seppuku” of Nobuyasu –
In many “seppuku” cases, there is a person called as “kaisyaku-nin” to do “kaisyaku”.
“Kaisyaku-nin” is waiting behind a person who do “seppuku”, with his katana.
Just after the “seppuku” person cuts his own belly in a certain manner, “kaisyaku-nin” will chop his head off so that the person won’t prolong his pain.

In the Nobuyasu’s case, the katana which “kaisyaku-nin” had was the “Muramasa” sword, not the short sword Nobuyasu used to cut himself.

*– The case of Hirotada (Ieyasu’s father) –
There was a website saying that he was stabbed in his thigh by his retainer with a “Muramasa” sword but it was not a life-threatening attack.
The other websites mentioning about Hirotada and “Muramasa”, it was clearly said he was killed with “Muramasa”.


Related posts:
#Katana : Japanese sword (1) (2)
#Muramasa , a cursed blade (2)

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A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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