“The Legacy of the Japanese Tsurugi Sword

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In Japan’s past, swords were more than just weapons—they were art and symbols of faith. The Tsurugi, also recognized as a Ken, denotes an ancient double-edged sword with straight edges. Throughout Japan’s history, swords weren’t just tools for fighting; they also viewed them as art and symbols of religion. The Tsurugi, sometimes referred to as a Ken, is a straight double-edged sword and one of the oldest sword types used in ancient Japan. Ancient warriors used the sword in battles and worshiped them as gods. Let’s delve into its history and significance, from ancient times to today.

History of the Tsurugi Sword

History of the Tsurugi Sword

The swords of ancient Japan, notably the tsurugi, held profound mystical and religious significance, transcending their role as mere weapons. In the Yayoi Period (400 BCE – 300 CE), while iron tools were prevalent for farming, bronze swords remained integral, possibly used in religious rituals alongside other ceremonial objects. Transitioning into the Kofun Period (250 – 538 CE), characterized by burial mounds, swords emerged as vital tools of warfare, with the straight, double-edged tsurugi playing a significant role. However, as clans vied for power, the limitations of straight blades became apparent against the curved swords of later periods. By the Heian Period, Japanese blades evolved towards curved designs, marking a shift towards slashing weaponry with the emergence of the tachi as the standard weapon for Heian warriors, signifying a departure from the bulky tsurugi designs of old.

Characteristics of the Tsurugi Sword

Metal and Structure: The material of the tsurugi changed over time, initially crafted from stone, then bronze, and eventually iron. Unique to the tsurugi was the forging of handle and blade as one piece, allowing for uniform hardening. By the late Kofun period, Japanese swordsmiths developed a method of tempering blades, ensuring the cutting edge was harder than the back to prevent brittleness.

Blade Appearance: The tsurugi boasts a straight blade with dual cutting edges, sometimes widening near the tip. Ancient examples featured shamanic symbols, while later blades showcased decorative carvings, such as bonji or Sanskrit characters. Blades from the middle Edo period often displayed a temperline pattern and straight grain pattern, with some featuring fullers or blood grooves.

Size and Length: The length of a tsurugi varied based on blade form rather than a specific measurement, ranging from approximately 30 to 60 centimeters. Yet, the famed Kusanagi no Tsurugi, a component of Japan’s imperial regalia, purportedly measures approximately 84 centimeters in length. However, its appearance remains shrouded in mystery due to government-imposed restrictions prohibiting public viewing.

Sword Mounting: The hilt decoration of a tsurugi sword varied, with ceremonial ones often featuring a triple-pronged vajra hilt associated with Tantric Buddhism. Historical tsurugi swords either mounted in plain wooden scabbards called shirasaya or adorned with decorative lacquered scabbards, enhancing their ceremonial and aesthetic appeal.

Tsurugi vs. Katana vs. Chinese Jian

The tsurugi, resembling the Chinese jian, serves primarily as a straight, double-edged sword used for thrusting. Conversely, the katana, intended for slashing, features a slight curve and a single edge. Ancient Japanese warriors known as Mononofu favored the tsurugi, while the samurai preferred the katana. Early Chinese jian swords shared similarities with the tsurugi, being bronze-made. Initially, swordsmiths uniformly hardened tsurugi blades. However, they later adopted katana-style tempering techniques. Creating a distinctive aesthetic feature called the hamon or temperline pattern, which enhanced both the strength and beauty of the swords.

Facts About the Japanese Tsuguri swords

Facts About the Japanese Tsuguri swords

Origin and Meaning of “Tsurugi”:

The term “tsurugi” originated from ancient Japan, serving as a common reference to straight, double-edged swords. It stems from the verb “tsurihaki,” signifying the act of wearing a sword suspended from the belt.

Mythological Significance:

The tsurugi is connected with Shinto mythology and plays a key role in legends and folktales. The famous Kusanagi no tsurugi, also expressed as the Grass Cutting Sword, is one of the most venerated swords, which is another reminder of the divine power and heritage of Japanese people.

Role in Imperial Regalia:

The Kusanagi no tsurugi is one of the Three Imperial Regalia of Japan, alongside the mirror Yata no Kagami and curved jewel Yasakani no Magatama. These treasures embody the divine lineage and authority of the Japanese emperors.

Part of Enthronement Ceremony:

At the enthronement ceremony of Japanese emperors, which is conducted with great fanfare, the tsurugi holds significant importance, just like the other imperial regalia. It represents par excellence the earthly manifestation of the emperor’s divinely ordained and upright reign, signifying the perennity of tradition and the perpetuity of the imperium.

Who used the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi?

Who used the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi?

According to Japanese mythology, Susanoo, the god of sea and storms, owned the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, also known as the Grass Cutting Sword. When he discovered the sword within the coils of a massive serpent, Susanoo eagerly presented it to his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu, as a representative. Eventually, following tradition, the sword was passed down to his grandson, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, who became the ancestor of Japan’s imperial line. Since ancient times, the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi has come to symbolize the divine authority and power; a symbol of authority used in important rituals and during the kenji (FA) ceremony for the emperor

How long are Tsurugi swords?

How long are Tsurugi swords?

Tsurugi (剣) is a Japanese sword, similar to the Chinese jian. In the West, it refers to a particular type of ancient Japanese sword with a straight, double-edged blade. These swords typically measure around 100 cm in length and have two cutting edges, one on each side of the blade. In ancient times, people commonly used them for various purposes, including warfare and ceremonial rituals.

Conclusion of the Tsurugi Sword

The Japanese tsurugi sword goes far beyond just the role of a weapon, it has a rich history. Blades not only serve as battle equipment in Japan but also find application in art and symbolize religion. The Tsurugi, a straight single-edged blade, occupies a prominent place in ancient Japanese culture. Revered as the most common sword type worshipped either as military or religious artifacts. From Yayoi to Kofun and Heian Periods, the transfiguring of the Tsurugi demonstrates the transformations of Japanese warfare as well as the Tsurugi production. It would be hard to imagine that the sword Tsurugi, which is one of the oldest Japanese relics, has lost its significance today. The sword embodies the spirit of Japan throughout the ages and represents a great deal of authority and tradition.

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