Shichseiken or Seven Star Sword is a Japanese sword that is 62.1cm in length and belongs to the Shitennou-ji Temple located in Shitennouji-ku, Oosaka City, Oosaka. It is designated as a National Treasure.
Shitennou-ji Temple was built by Shoutoku Taishi in 598 and it is sacred to Kukanzeonbosatsu.
Along with Heishishourinken, another sword that is also kept in Shitennou-ji, Shichiseiken is said to have been much loved by Shoutoku Taishi.
The name Seven Star Sword came from the fact that the sword is engraved with seven golden stars in the shape of a plough, using a technique called zougan. Additionally, the front side of the sword is carved with 5 asukagumo, using the golden zogan technique and at both ends of the seven stars, there are three V-shaped stars and three stars aligned with a blue dragon and a white tiger. The back of the sword is also engraved with asukagumo, seven stars, a blue dragon and a white tiger.
Shichiseiken, by comparison to Heishishourinken, has a more noticeable residual metal substance called suragu, however, it uses a finer raw metal called koitame-hada and it has a hososugu blade.
Shichiseiken is a historically valuable sword that has been carefully preserved from an ancient period.
At the foot of Yahiko mountain soaring high in the middle of the Chikugo plain in Niigata pref. stands the Yahiko(Iyahiko) Shrine. The grounds are covered by a dense grove of aged trees, such as cedars and Japanese cypresses. Though the exact year of construction is not known, the shrine is referenced in Manyoshu, an old poetic anthology dating back to 750 AD, so it certainly predates that time. The shrine is devoted to Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto. Ordered by Emperor Jinmu (the legendary first emperor), Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto taught the people of Echigo region of Niigata pref. various agricultural methods of fishing, salt making, rice farming, and sericulture amongst others, and contributed greatly to the development of the region. The shrine was once affectionately called Iyahiko-sama and flourished as a spiritual home of the mind and the soul for people in Echigo. In its museum, shrine treasures such as Shidano-Ootachi, a prominent long Japanese Katana and designated as an Important National Property, and armors that are said to have once belonged to Yoshiie Minamto and Yoshitsune Minamoto, both being legendary warriors from 12th century, are exhibited. The hall was rebuilt in 1961after being destroyed in a large fire.
Zogan (or inlay) is a metalwork technique which involves engraving the surface of a metal sheet and then inserting different materials into it.
Nisshu-Sukashi Zogan was highly influenced by the Higo Zogan method, which was started in 1632 by Matashichi Hayashi. He was an artisan who worked under Tadatoshi Hosokawa, the head of the Kumamoto Clan. He mostly used the zogan to decorate rifles and sword guards.
In zogan making, a metal sheet is prepared by casting or hammering it. A design which can be as small as 0.3mm, is then engraved into it. Gold is inlayed and the work is then further engraved. The intricacy of this process is so fine that it is almost the ultimate in what a person can produce by hand. The finished zogans are treasured because of their elegant patterns and rare beauty.
Nisshu-sukashi Zogans are still created today in the Nobeoka region. Because of the intricacy of the process, however, only a handful of them can be made each year. This adds to the value of these rare and beautiful craftworks.
Yagoro-don Festival held on November 3 every year serves as an annual autumn festival of Iwagawa Hachiman Shrine in Oshumi Town in Soo City, Kagoshima Prefecture. It is a gallant festival that represents the southern part of Kyushu and counted as one of the three largest festivals in Kagoshima Prefecture.
The highlight of the festival is the Hamakudari parade of Yagoro-don, a 4.85 meter tall giant with goggle eyes and strong eyebrows. Wearying long and short swords on his waist, the giant goes through the town in hope of a rich harvest. There are many theories about its origin. Some say that he is modeled after Takenouchi Sukune, a legendary hero who served six generations of the emperors. Others say that he was the head of the Hayato clan, who ruled the ancient Kyushu. It is believed that if you touch things pertaining to Yagoro-don, you will be in sound health for one year.
In the ancient times, a Japanese sword was more than a weapon for a samurai warrior. It was the symbol of “the soul of bushi.” Therefore, to keep a sword always sharp, polished and serene represented the bushi’s heart and pride. A bushi warrior sat in front of his sword and silently asked for a teaching when he was in doubt or in trouble. Today Japanese swords are loved by a lot of people all over the world as works of art. The name “Japanese sword” can be seen an old record in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) in China, and it is said that Japanese swords were already exported to foreign countries as early as in the Heian to Kamakura periods. Akitsugu Amata (1927-), a contemporary master swordsmith in Niigata Pref. was designated as the holder of National Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure) in 1997. He was fascinated by fine swords made in the Kamakura period and since then he has been making efforts to realize his goal of duplicating the ancient steel to create an excellent sword. He has visited the ruins of ancient iron mills and made several experiments to make iron with the duplicated blast furnaces. He is still making persistent efforts to create his ideal sword.
Nihon-tou is a sword created by techniques unique to Japan. It is manufactured using Tamagane, by applying low heat on refined iron sand. It is formed from a combination of two different steels, softer steel for the inner core of the blade (shingane) and harder steel for outer skin of the blade (kawagane) and the edge of the blade (hagane). This unique combination imparts the Nihon-tou with the distinguished feature of “won’t break or bend, but cut well”. The ridge line of blade that can be seen today was invented by the end of Heian period. Swords manufactured until the Keichou period (1596 ~ 1615) is called Kotou (old swords) and, after the period, called Shintou (new swords). They are also valued as art or crafts, and highly regarded not only in Japan but also abroad. Many proverbs and words were born from Nihon-tou, a proof that swords have a deep root in Japanese way of life.
Akitsugu Amata was born in 1927 as the son of Amata Sadayoshi, the swordsmith in the village of Honda (present-day Shin-hatta) in Niigata Prefecture.
In 1997, Akitsugu Amata was designated as a Living National Treasure for his work as a master swordmaker. Akitsugu recalls his father as an 'innate master swordmaker'. Sadayoshi passed away when he was only 38. Akitsugu was just 10. Akitsugu wanted to carry on his father's work so, after graduating from primary school, he entered a training school in Tokyo.
Since then, he has committed his whole life to swordmaking. When Akitsugu was 33, he was taken ill and took 8 years to recover. But his spirit for swordmaking helped him.
After all these struggles, at the age of 41, he won the 'Masamune' prize in the 'New Katana Sword Exhibition', a contest which is considered to be a stepping-stone for master swordmakers. It was the first occasion that people recognized his talent and effort.
Today, he is still searching for iron sand around Japan and also pursuing his intense study of katana swords.
Toshihira Osumi was born in 1932, in Ota, Gunma Prefecture. His real name is Sadao Osumi. He was designated a Living National Treasure for his 'to-kaji' technique.
In 1952, Osumi became apprenticed to Akihira Miyairi (another Living National Treasure) and studied the craft of katana swordmaking. When he was 28, Osumi became independent.
He energetically entered competitions held by the Japanese Fine-Art Sword Preservation Association. In the first two competitions, he won a prize for effort. But from the 3rd to 8th competitions, he won a special prize. Finally, on the 10th, 12th and 14th times, he won the Manamune prize, which is the highest prize of all. Despite winning many prizes, Osumi is not proud. He believes that the implications of craftsmen are deliberated through their pieces.
In 2001, Osumi presented an amulet sword to Princess Aiko, the Princess Toshi. Moreover, he has dedicated many other pieces to places like Ise Shrine and Ota District.