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Swords, Cutting and Military History

Images of oldest existing manuscript on swords and swordsmiths in Japan, and more

Images of oldest existing manuscript on swords and swordsmiths in Japan, and more

credit: National Diet Library, Japan

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I’m very pleased to post this rarely-mentioned find, of interest to those who study the Japanese martial arts or nihonto:  online images of the oldest manuscript in Japan dealing with swords and swordsmiths.  Originally brushed in 1312 (late Kamakura Period), this is copy dated 1423 (Muromachi Period).

This document, the Kanchi-in Bon Meizukushi  “Manuscript of Swordsmiths’ Signatures and Sword Connoisseurship”, is presently kept in Japan’s National Diet Library in Tokyo.

It contains the signatures or marks (called mei, found on the tang or ‘nakago’ of a blade) of famous early swordsmiths in each region of Japan, allowing students to identify swords signed by these smiths.  In addition, it contains information about these smiths, their lineage (if they had students who carried on their style),  and the nature and characteristics of the swords each made;  this also helped a scholar identify whether a blade was genuine.

This manuscript became the source for which many future books on the topic drew from.

You can download a .pdf of the document for free, or you can view the entire manuscript online, page by page


Page from the Kanchi-in Bon Meizukushi

Another page from the manuscript


One of the books this text had an influence on was the “The Complete Manual of the Old Sword,” by an unknown author, published in 1793 in Yedo.  This work was translated into English, and commentary supplied, through Ethel Watts Mumford under the title: “The Japanese Book of the Ancient Sword” in 1905.   This book is now in the public domain, and can be viewed or downloaded in a variety of formats at

One final image of an ancient manuscript appeared in a 2013 article in The Japan Times, “Yagyu: Nara’s hidden village of the shoguns’ sword masters“.  This article explored the village which keeps the manuscripts and relics of Yagyu Munetoshi, revered the greatest student and proponent of the  Yagyu Shinkage Ryu style of swordsmanship, adopted by the Tokugawa Shogunate family as the official sword style of their family.


Manuscript from Yagyu

photo credit: Alon Adika, The Japan Times
Click to see full size





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