Don’t forget to purify your soul before heading to this museum’s display of samurai swords that were designed to do just one thing: kill.
Japanese swords are strikingly beautiful, conveying a set of deep cultural traditions and aesthetic values. However, some katana look like works of visual art because that’s precisely what they were designed to be. As symbols of prestige and power, many of Japan’s most treasured blades were made specifically to serve as family heirlooms or as ceremonial objects kept at Shinto shrines.
However, that’s not something you can say about the swords forged by Muramasa Sengo, an amazing collection of which are now on display as part of a special exhibition being held by the Kuwana Museum in Mie Prefecture.
While many of his celebrated contemporaries were doing all they could to make their swords look their best, Muramasa spent his days hammering at the metal in his workshop with the singular purpose of making weapons that could kill their target.
However, Muramasa may have been a little too good at his job, which eventually drew the ire of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the dynasty that brought Japan’s centuries of civil war to a close and ruled the country for roughly 300 years. Ieyasu’s grandfather and father were both killed by Muramasa katana, and one of the swordsmith’s blades was used in the ritual suicide of his eldest son. Ieyasu himself was even injured by a Muramasa-made weapon, and having had enough tragedy come to his family via one craftsman, banned the possession of Muramasa swords.
Because of this, Muramasa blades became extremely rare, despite having been in wide circulation until that point in history. Legends began to circulate that Muramasa’s swords were cursed, and would fill their owners’ with unrelenting bloodlust.
Thankfully, the protective glass of the museum’s showcases seem to be as effective in keeping such dark forces away from visitors as they are in protecting the swords from damaging heat, dust, or humidity. Over 20 Muramasa blades are on display, on loan from collections across Japan, as well as weapons produced by the famous swordsmith’s apprentices.
While this piece may look bloodstained, the coloring of the blade actually comes from a preservative lacquer that it’s been coated with.
However, some of the swords that are part of the exhibition have, indeed, drawn blood at some point in their past, according to the museum.
The exhibition is scheduled to run until the October 16, so unless you happen to be a descendent of the Tokugawa clan, don’t miss this chance to see this darkly intriguing display of samurai history.
Kuwana Museum / 桑名市博物館
Address: Mie-ken, Kuwana-shi, Kyomachi 37-1
Admission: 500 yen (US$4.85) (junior high students and younger children free)
Open: 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed Mondays (open on holidays that fall on a Monday, in which case closed the following day)
[ Read in Japanese ]