Honjo Masamune – The Best Katana Ever Made

2 minute read

The Greatest Swordsmiths

Masamune and Muramasa are credited as being the two best Japanese swordsmiths who ever lived.  Their blades were so good that they were often described as having mystical properties.  While the swordsmiths lived over 500 years ago, some of their swords survive today.

Masamune and Muramasa were described as having very different temperaments, and the swords they created were said to be imbued with traits embodied in the swordsmiths who forged them.  One legend perfectly describes this.  In the story, Masamune and Muramasa are taking part in a sword competition to determine which of them is the best.  The swords are suspended over a river.  Muramasa’s sword cuts everything that touches it, while Masamune’s blade cuts only the leaves, leaving the fish unharmed.  Muramasa quickly claims victory.  However, a traveling monk who is judging the competition declares Masamune’s blade superior, for while Muramasa’s blade did not distinguish between friend or foe and bloodthirstily cut everything it could, Masamune’s blade spared that which was good, and cut only what it must.  

The Greatest Blade

The greatest sword Masamune ever forged was called the Honjo Masamune, after a 16th century general Honjo Shigenaga and Masamune himself.  In 1561, Honjo fought a duel against an enemy general who wielded said sword.  When Honjo won by striking the enemy’s helmet so hard it split in twain, he claimed the sword as his own.  Many decades later, he sold the sword to the ruling Toyotomi clan, who lost it to the new Shogun (military dictator) when he took power.  The sword then passed from Shogun to Shogun until the Tokugawa Shogunate eventually fell.  Even after losing power, the family managed to keep the sword.

At least, until the end of WWII, when Japan lost the war and the Allies came looking for booty.  The Allies demanded all the nobility in Japan hand over their familiar swords.  As you can imagine, the nobles were livid at this demand.  However, Tokugawa Lemasa, who possessed the sword at that time, decided to set an example and gave up his family’s collection.  The sword immediately disappeared from history, and its whereabouts are still unknown.  However, all hope is not lost.  Someone recently (2013) brought a sword to the Kyoto National Museum, and it was later to be determined to be one of Masamune’s make (The Shimazu Masamune), rediscovered after disappearing from historical records for over 150 years.  Thus, the Honjo Masamune might still be out there, hidden in some unsuspecting family’s trinkets or owned by a knowledgeable but secretive private collector.

Fun Fact

Powerful swords in video games are often named after Masamune and Muramasa. 

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