Miyamoto Musashi was a famous Japanese samurai of the early Edo period (1603-1868). In recent times, he is also recognized as a great thinker, who left the writings on art of living well and cherished mottos.
Musashi was born in 1584. At the age of 13, he fought a duel for the first time and won. Then he left his village and spent his time traveling and honing his skills in swordsmanship. During this time, he engagrd in as many as 60 duels, in which he never lost. His most famous duel is the duel with Sasaki Kojiro.
His swordsmanship was characterized by practical strategics. He was always seeking for the meaning of life through swordsmanship. Musashi created and perfected a two-sword kenjutsu technique called Niten-Iichi (meaning “two heavens as one”).
Musashi’s cleverness in the use of hands and his acute sensitivity brought him to the field of at, sculpture, calligraphy, and handicraft. Records also show that he had skills in town planning and landscape architecture.
Just before his death, he completed “Go Rin no Sho (the Book of Five Rings),” a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy, which is still studied today.
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.
Nakatsu Castle is a 'water castle' located in Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture. Construction of the castle was undertaken by the master of fortifications, Yoshitaka Kuroda, who was gifted six Toyomae counties by Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
The foundations for the castle were arranged in a fan shape on a piece of land near the mouth of the Yamakuni River, and it was also known as 'fan castle'. Due to the fact that the Yamakuni River flows into the Toyomae sea, the castle moat is filled with seawater. This makes Nakatsu Castle a water castle, and it is counted as one of the three best water castles in Japan.
Inside the castle are many interesting displays of costumes, swords, armory, as well as old pictures and writings. Nakatsu Castle is now part of Nakatsu Park. It is also part of the premises of Nakatsu Shrine. A mock main keep and corner tower were built in 1964 and are currently used as a museum.
Nakatsu Castle is an ancient fortress built during the Warring States period, and is also the symbol of Nakatsu.
The town of Osafune, in Okayama Prefecture, thrived as the land of swordsmiths from the Kamakura period. The Bizen Osafune Touken Village is a unique museum specializing in Japanese swords, a once flourishing craft that continues today.
At Bizen Osafune Touken Village, each process relating to swordmaking can be seen closely. There is a forge, for example, where the 'tamahagane' metal is heated and extended at a temperature of 1,300℃. There is also a sword craft center, where swords are sharpened and sword hilts are made.
The reason why Bizen thrived as an area for sword production was, firstly, because high-quality materials and fuel were easily found here. Secondly, Bizen lay at a key junction for transportation between the Sanin and Sanyo areas. The iron sand found in the Chugoku Mountains was good for swordmaking, while the local sawtooth oak trees provided good fuel for the strong fires needed for the forges. In addition, the Sanyo-do highway running east-west was a major transportation route at that time. This enabled the easy circulation of materials and fuel for swordmaking.
Iga kumihimo is a traditional braiding handicraft from the city of Iga in Mie Prefecture. Kumihimo braid uses silk threads for the main thread combined with gold and silver threads. It is woven in a traditional manner using kumidai braiding stands.
The origins of Iga kumihimo date back beyond the Nara period. In the Heian period, elaborate braids began to be used for Buddhist altar objects and ritual articles. When samurai became a prevalent class, kumihimo braiding was used on weaponry. Even after the Meiji period, the techniques of traditional kumihimo were still familiar in the world of Japanese kimono, being used on obi sashes, as well as haori and hakama from the Edo period.
The beautifully dyed silk threads intermingle with other threads, creating kumihimo braid's distinctive texture and quality. The special feature of kumihimo is its way of beautifully combining various elements. In 1976, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry designated Iga kumihimo as a Traditional Craft of Japan.
Kurikara Fudouson Temple is situated near Kurikara Pass, which was made famous by the battle between the Heike Clan and Saso Yoshinaka during the 2nd year of the Eiju period (1183). It is said to be one of the three best fudousons in Japan.
In the 2nd year of the Yourou period (718), at the request of Emperor Genshou, the Indian high priest Zenmui-sannzou-houshi was called upon to spread the laws of Buddhism upon the land. It is said that deep inside the temple's main building, hidden from the public, lies the sword of enlightenment which has a winding black dragon carved right on it. The sword has been called Kurikara-fudouson since then.
One hundred years later, the Buddhist priest, Kobo Daishi, reached Kurikara Fudouson, carved a statue that was almost exactly identical to the one made by Zenmui-sannzou-houshi, and conducted the Goma fire ritual. This statue is enshrined in the main hall.
The temple was partially destroyed during the Gennpei battles in the 2nd year of the Eiju period, but was reconstructed owing to the dedications of Minamoto no Yoritomo. A prayer house by the name of Chourakutei was built nearby by the Kaga Domain in the Edo period. Kurikara means 'black dragon' in Sanskrit.
Kyoto knives and the sophisticated art of making them date back to the Heian period. The entire process is done manually and the blade quality is unparalleled elsewhere.
It is claimed in 'Records of Ancient Matters' and 'The Chronicles of Japan' that knives were first introduced to Japan in the 4th century. However, the implements were more like swords. In the Heian period, proficient sword-smiths, such as Sanjyo Munechika, began to spread knife-making techniques around Japan. As time passed, these knives were treated more as a commodity. As a result, the craftsmen subdivided their work into swords, farming implements and other bladed implements.
As a result, techniques of metalwork and forging became more skilful and there was demand for the manufacture of implements used in fan-making, cuisine and dyeing. Nowadays, items ranging from knives to specialized swords are manufactured and are acknowledged for their quality.