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Historical Mythbusting: Muramasa and the Tokugawa

 
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JLBadgley
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 4:05 pm    Post subject: Historical Mythbusting: Muramasa and the Tokugawa Reply with quote
A Muramasa blade recently showed up on Aoi Art, and it sparked a question that had been languishing in the back of my head for some time: What do we know about the origins of the Muramasa legend?

For those who don't know, the popular conception of the Muramasa legend is given here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muramasa. Informed by such notable sorces as Ratti and Westbrook, I hesitate to take up such a question, but I feel it is best in the interests of hunting down some of the larger myths and legends about Japanese history.

As the story goes, Muramasa was a mad swordsmith, who instilled a demonic spirit into his blades. Tokugawa Ieyasu is later supposed to have banned these blades specifically because of this evil spirit, which had taken or wounded many of his friends, and which he believed was going to be the end of the Tokugawa house.

So the parts to this legend seem to be:

1) Muramasa was a swordsmith of the early 16th century.

2) Muramasa was crazy/demented/unstable.

3) Muramasa's swords were famous by the mid- to late-16th century.

4) A member of the Tokugawa family was directly harmed by a Muramasa.

5) Tokugawa Ieyasu feared the Muramasa blades.

6) Tokugawa Ieyasu banned the blades because of this fear.

Can anyone think of any other parts to this legend?

So we need hard evidence on these facts. As I see it, we have several avenues to explore.

A) Archaeological evidence in the form of extant Muramasa blades, which can be dated.

B) Primary historical source material. Do we have any historical records from the time of Muramasa or the time of Ieyasu to corroborate these persons and/or their thoughts? Do we have descriptions of Muramasa as a wild man in his own time, or only after the fact? Was it simply his beefy blades with unconventional hamon that gave him such a reputation? How about the banning of Muramasa swords--do we have historical records to back that up?

C) Secondary historical sources: For this I will include Muromachi, Momoyama, or Edo period accounts of the legend. When do we first see it reported, and what sort of conclusions can we draw?

D) Tertiary sources: Assuming we can't find the actual sources, can we find references to them, and how reliable are those references?


Starting facts: I'm making the following assumptions based on my own experiences going into this. We know enough about Tokugawa Ieyasu that I don't think we need to "prove" anything about him. The existance of Muramasa blades is also fact, and I don't think anyone would dispute that there is a tradition of blades with common features that are attributed to "Muramasa" (whether to a person or to the school in general is the question). In my experience, these blades are generally wide, with a very erratic hamon that I personally find hard to classify. Nonetheless, there is a striking boldness to all works I've seen attributed to Muramasa.

So my question revolves more around the dates of Muramasa, evidence of his mental state, and whether or not any incident actually occured with Tokugawa Ieyasu--or if that is a later legend, possibly even anti-Bakufu propaganda.


I'll need to do more research myself, but are there any immediate thoughts out there?

Note: It is good, when posting, to get the name right--Muramasa vice Muromasa. 村正
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JLBadgley
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 6:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
More fuel for the bonfire, from http://www.nihonto.ca/muramasa/:

"In 1535 Kiyoyasu, grandfather of the first Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, was struck down by his retainer Abe Masatoyo. Kiyoyasu was said to have been cut in two by the Muramasa blade used by his attacker. In 1545, Matsudaira Hirotada (Ieyasu's father) was attacked and killed by Iwamatsu Hachiya, a retainer of his wielding a Muramasa sword. Ieyasu as well wounded himself badly with his own wakizashi bearing Muramasa's signature. When Nobuyasu, the son of Ieyasu, was ordered to commit seppuku by Oda Nobunaga in 1579, the blade that was used by his second to sever his neck was a Muramasa katana. The last event was after one of the generals of Ieyasu (Oda Kawachi no Kami) put his yari through the severed head of an opposing general after the defeat of Ishida and Konishi in Keicho 5. Ieyasu asked to inspect this very sharp yari, and cut himself on the blade. One can almost imagine the sigh, as he pronounced that this yari must have been made by Muramasa. It was, and that yari sealed the fate of Muramasa blades as far as Ieyasu was concerned."

And...

"In 1634 Takanak[sic] Ume no Suke Shigeyoshi, the Magistrate of Nagasaki, was ordered to commit seppuku as he was discovered to have hoarded 24 Muramasa blades."

So, can we track down a source for any of these stories?

I'll keep looking--might have more luck back home.

-Josh
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Tornadoes28
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 05, 2010 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Of course I am familiar with the story and your information sounds exactly as I read it somewhere. Probably from many sources but is that story, specifically about Ieyasu's grandfather, father, and son, from AL Sadler?

I am curious too about the theory of Muramasa's madness or if it is just a myth made up post-Ieyasu?
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JLBadgley
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 05, 2010 1:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I'm wondering if his hamon and artistic style were so bold and striking that it generated the idea of madness later.

Maybe I'll have some time to go digging, today.

-Ii
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JLBadgley
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 05, 2010 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I tracked down Sadler's quote. He attributes the following conversation to Ieyasu following the death of Nobuyasu.

"When the two inspectors returned and reported to Ieyasu, not without emotion, he said nothing. Tears stood in the eyes of all in attendance, but Honda Tadakatsu and Sakakibara Yasumasa could not restrain themselves, and wept aloud. 'And of what make was the wakizashi with which the second struck off the head?' inquired Ieyasu. 'Muramasa,' was the reply. 'How ominous!' he remarked. 'It was with a Muramasa blade that Abe Yashichi struck down my grandfather Kiyoyasu. And when I was a child at Miyagasaki in Suruga I cut myself with a sword by accident, and that was a Muramasa blade, too. And now my son is killed with one. Muramasa blades bode ill to our house. If any of you possess one he had better get rid of it."
- from Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu, by A. L. Sadler

Unfortunately, this quotation lacks proper attribution in order for me to actually find it. Does anyone know where this comes from? I'm assuming it is some tale of the life and times of Ieyasu, but unsure if it is contemporary.

I notice it doesn't seem to mention anything about the Muramasa being particularly mad, nor that there was an official edict against Muramasa swords. In fact, I'm finding hints on the Internet that Ieyasu himself might have owned a few Muramasa swords. This isn't surprising if, as I've been seeing, Muramasa Sengo was a swordsmith in Mie area.

Still trying to find out more.

I suspect the madness is overemphasized, and I'm still wondering if the "curse" was also exaggerated by anti-bakufu proponents in the latter years of the Edo period; it would be a nice, subtle means of defying the power structure.

Unfortunately, the connection seems to be otherwise glossed over in most of my sources. I know it isn't a burning issue, but I'd love to see if I can find any more information about this.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 05, 2010 11:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Much of what Sadler based his book on is found in the Mikawa Go Fudoki, which sounds like a gunkimono and hence prone to exaggeration and making things up.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Cool. So, assuming it comes from the Mikawa Go-Fudoki (三河後風土記?), then we are looking at a date of 1610; though that draws from other sources as well, so possibly some more contemporary accounts. It still doesn't discount the possibility of exaggeration, though if this is the source it does put the Muramasa aversion contemporary with Ieyasu.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:23 am    Post subject: Superstition in the supreme ruler Reply with quote
Nothing to do with the price of fish, so please forgive the huge jump.

This discussion was pulling me right in, and then I remembered reading about King James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England in 1603. He was quite superstitious and deadly afraid of naked steel. Convinced he would be stabbed by some assailant, he used to sleep rolled up in a thick mattress.

He received a couple of suits of Japanese armor/armour from Tokugawa Hidetada in about 1613, possibly of Ieyasu's demoted enemies. Being a scholar, and coming to the throne just about the same time as Ieyasu became supreme ruler of Japan, he must have been aware through letters from William Adams in Japan of the stories surrounding Ieyasu, especially the deadly Muramasa blade that was haunting his family. Perhaps King James even watched too much MacBeth...
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 05, 2011 2:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
So long as we're going off on this tangent, for anyone interested, a photo of one of those suits of armor:


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 05, 2011 2:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Nice find. Thanks. Actually I was trying to find some source of extra info about Muramasa when I gave up and posted tangentially off topic above. Gomen nasai! Cool
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 12, 2011 8:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Josh, Micha Baudenelle has published a short article on "the curse of the Muramasa" on The Japanese Sword Society of United States bullettin of November 2010 .

I've checked the sources he quotes that are Nihonto specialized books, NOT academical historic works, but are surely good sources.

They are : NihonTo Koza part I, Art and the Sword by Kataoka Ginzasku, Ise no Toko by Sato kanzan, The Connoisseur's book of Japanese Sword by Kokan Nagayama.

Hereafter a summary of the info you can be interested in, most of which already posted :

- Between 1501 and 1615 there were 4 generations of Muramasa. Any of these could have made swords that played a role in one or another of the facts you're referring, as AFAIK there was not much discrimination between the different signatures when the Tokugawa's "damnatio ad memoriam" occurred.
So it's possible we're talking about more than one person.

most accepted version is :

1th generation 1501-xxxx9
2nd generation 1521-1555
3rd generation 1558-1592
4th generation 1596-1615

- Ieyasu's father, Kiyoyasu, was hurt by a Muramsa blade in 1535.

- When young Ieyasu cut himself with a Muramasa kogatana.

- In 1579 Nobuyasu was ordered to commit Seppuku, that was perfomed with a Muramasa Wakizashi.

- During Sekigahara campaign Oda Yurakusai offered to Ieyasu the head of an enemy general on top of a Muramasa's Yari. Ieyasu cut himself while handling the head.

- After the death of his son Ieyasu forbade anybody under his control to possess Muramasa blades ordering to get rid of these blades.
This was performed in three ways :
1) removing the signature
2) altering the signature's kanji in something else
3) offering the blades to a Shrine

- The ban had an interesting side-effect when the destiny of the nation wasn't fixed yet. Enemies of the Tokugawa clan begun to collect these blades because they were seen as good-luck charms. This led even to fogeries (Gimei).

- The seppuku of Shigeyoshi in 1634 that was ordered cause his collecting of Muramasa blade out of greed.
He supposed the blades would rise in price after the colapse of the Tokugawa clan (not much foreseeing the guy...)

I skip totally the discussion on Mei characters as not belonging to this topic.

Hope it helps.
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Tsubame1
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2011 8:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tsubame1 wrote:
2) altering the signature's kanji in something else


This is supposed to be the case.

Begun a "Yoshimura Masahiro"


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