Tenga Goken: The 5 Great Swords of Japan ~ Part 3

The second sword we are looking at from the famed Tenga Goken is the Mikazuki Munechika (三日月宗近). This sword has a history of passing through the hands of elite families, all the way up to modern times. Let’s take a look at the specifics:

Images of the Mikazuki Munechika (blade only, top) and its saya (scabbard, bottom). From Wikipedia.

  • Status: national treasure
  • Blade length: around 78.2 cm
  • Curvature: 2.7 cm
  • Width: 2.9 cm
  • Wrapping: tachi-style with (silk?) thread-wrapped handle, paired with a scabbard
  • Maker: Sanjō Munechika

Unlike the Onimaru Kunitsuna, there is more info on the Mikazuki’s construction, from the number of mekugi ana (holes for rivets on a sword hilt) in its tang, to the type of threads and brass that adorns its handle. Due to how detailed the descriptions are about its features, the Mikazuki Munechika is considered the most lavishly adorned out of the Tenga Goken. As a national treasure, it is currently being kept at the Tokyo Kokuritsu Senbutsukan (Tokyo National Museum).

Specific info regarding the origins of the Mikazuki Munechika come from a 1488 old record called “Chōkyō Meizukuri” (長享銘尽). As an example, it is though to have been made sometime in the 10th century of the Heian era, during the reign of the Emperor Tenjō. There are also info about it bearing the signature “Sanjō” on its tang, and is made by “Sanjō Kokaji Munechika” (三条小鍛冶宗近)¹ of the Sanjō craftsman group, are listed. This sword’s name being  “Mikazuki” is also stated here. The following line from the “Kyōhō Meibutsucho” (享保名物帳) hints on how this name came to be. The original Japanese is presented, followed by my transliteration.


TRANS: “The reason behind it getting the name “Mikazuki” is based on the client’s request, where, under specific instructions, the blade was struck repeatedly during the crafting process into a thin blade bearing the shape of a 3rd-day moon (crescent moon)”

While there is an “accepted” history, the list of owners of the Mikazuki Munechika is not definitively confirmed, as there seems to be varying sources. We’ll begin with the 1st theory, which begins with Hino Uchimitsu.


Hino Uchimitsu (日野 内光) was the 2nd son of  Tokudaiji Saneatsu, a senior court official in the Imperial Court during the Muromachi period. Born in 1489, he was a high-ranking noble who held different ranks in the Imperial court. It’s not stated how Uchimitsu acquired the Mikazuki, but most accepted sources say that its history starts with him.

Uchimitsu took part  in the conflicts that erupted between Hosokawa Takakuni and the loyal followers of Kozai Motomori, Hatano Motokiyo and Yanagimoto Kataharu. When Takakuni had Motomori commit suicide, the two brothers revolted against him, raising a force to attack his castles. Different influential individuals were called to assist from both sides, with Uchimitsu siding with the brothers.

In the 2nd month of 1527 Uchimitsu took part in one of the battles, which occurred within the region of Katsurakawara in Kyoto prefecture. He led his force and faced off against Hosokawa Takakuni’s army, wielding the Mikazuki. However, Uchimitsu was killed during the course of the battle. It is said that to this day, you can see a chip in the sword, being proof of him using this sword in battle.

The faith of Uchimitsu and the Mikazuki was not left unchecked. It is said that Hatake Bokuzan, a fellow companion and feudal lord from the East, had given this fallen warrior a funeral, and offered the Mikazuki to a temple called Kōyasan (高野山) located in Wakayama prefecture. Bokuzan did so as a means to wish him good fortune in the afterlife.

While it may be so that the Mikazuki was once kept in Kōyasan, there seems to be doubt as to who actually brought it there. You see, Bokuzan actually passed away in 1522, 5 years before Uchimitsu’s death in battle. Was there a miscalculation in the dates? Probably not. Is it possible that another member of the Hatake did this? Currently there is no evidence on other Hatake members being involved with this matter. What is accepted, however, is that this fine sword was later taken from Kōyasan by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the few successful rulers to unify Japan during its warring period.


From records found in the collection of  Hideyoshi’s wife, Kōdaiin (高台院)², is a written account about the Mikazuki. It is listed as a memento, as it appears she kept the Mikazuki, even after Hideyoshi’s death.  She even kept it after power of rule was taken by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early 1600s, who established the centuries-long Tokugawa Shogunate. Kōdaiin lived until the age 78, and passed away in 1624.

Artwork of Kodaiin during her period as a Buddhist nun.

In the same year of Kodaiin’s death, this memento was inherited by Tokugawa Hidetada, the third son of Ieyasu who became the 2nd shogun in 1605. From here on, the Mikazuki is recorded as a sword part of the Tokugawa family’s collection. Talk about it can be found in the “Onkoshimono Motocho” (御腰物元帳), a document written in 1868 about swords collected and owned by the many Tokugawa shoguns. There are other documents that give details of how it was passed down within the Tokugawa family as a family heirloom.

The Mikazuki would remain in the Tokugawa family for many generations, even after the Tokugawa Shogunate was dissolved. The last member of this illustrious family to hold onto it was Tokugawa Iesato, who was a prince/duke at the time. In 1929, Iesato brought attention to this old relic when he had it put up for display at the Japan Renown Treasure Exhibition (日本名宝展覧会).

With attention brought back to the Mikazuki, people seek out to learn more about it. One of these happened to be Honma Junji, a respected researcher on ancient swords, was given the chance to inspect it sometime between 1930 and 1931. He He then wrote about it in a publication called “Kenzan Tōwa” (薫山刀話), giving the sword high praise in regards to its craftsmanship. In time, the Mikazuki was given a grade as an antique, being categorized as an ancient national treasure.

In 1945, the Mikazuki will leave the centuries-long possession of the Tokugawa family, and be passed around a few times in the hands of avid antique collectors. In 1992, it would make its new home at the Japan National Museum, where it is part of its vast collections of ancient and modern works of art. This is where the Mikazuki can be found today.


The other supposed origin of the Mikazuki comes from the Chōkyō Meizukushi (長享銘尽), a document about particular swords that is estimated to have been written around 1488. In this, it is mentioned that a Yamanaka Yukimori (山中幸盛), a warrior from Sanin area of Central Japan, had initially possessed the Mikazuki. At this time, this sword had a mikazuki (crescent moon) motif, thus how it got its namesake.

Artwork of Yamanaka Yukimori from the ukiyoe series “One-Hundred Aspects of the Moon” (月百姿), entitled “Crescent Moon of Faith – Yukimori” (信仰の三日月 幸盛). By Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

The issue with this theory is in regards to when Yukimori was alive. Records show that he was born in 1545, which is almost 60 years after the Chōkyō Meizukushi was written. Unless this said document was updated to include his data, this is a discrepancy which can debunk this theory. With this being said, it is not impossible for this to be the case; as with anything that is a form of records, it is not unusual for documents to get added information over the years,  in order to keep it up-to-date for the times. Speaking of records, Yukimori is quite a famous figure, as there are many tales and paintings that hail him with praise & merit. In fact, he is glorified based on a particular courageous last stand in Harima Province’s Kozuki castle against the mighty force of the invading Mōri clan in 1578, where he worked hard in assisting in the revival of his benefactor, the once-elite Amago clan. Before his inevitable fall, it is said that Yukimori went to Kōyasan, prayed before the Mikazuki that was kept there as he put his faith in the strength of the sword, then proceeded to take it with him.

Was it truly the same “Mikazuki” in which this article is about? There is a possibility it is not, as it conflicts greatly with other official documents that state it was in the safekeeping of the Toyotomi family. On another note, “Mikazuki” is not an unusual title, so there is a high possibility that there were other swords that bore the same namesake, which could be the case for Yukimori.

Here’s some other key points regarding this version of the Mikazuki:

  • Measures at 2 shaku 2 sun 8 bu (about 60 cm)
  • It was nicknamed “Hangetsumaru” due to the unique hamon (pattern created along the blade) visible on it.
  • Part of its fittings included a handle wrap that had an elite family emblem called “kikukiri”
  • There are accounts of other swords that were owned by him, all about the size of a wakizashi. This includes one that had the length of 64 cm³, was crafted by Sukesada, a famous swordsmith, and had a record of it being kept in the possession of Namazue Sakyou-no-suke.
An image of the kikukiri emblem.

With this, along with some other info related to Yamanaka Yukimori, the consensus about this version of the Mikazuki is that it most likely is not the same as the one that had its start with Hino Uchimitsu, if this one actually did exist.


This article on Mikazuki comes to a close. A work of fine details and appealing design, the Mikazuki was not a weapon used on the battlefield, or much for combat for that matter. Instead, it was held as a trophy, and an item of status that significant individuals took pride in acquiring. Stay tuned for the next part of this series, which will feature the Juzumaru Tsunetsugu as the next sword from the Tenga Goken.

1) What is actually written is “Sanjō Kokaji”, but this is historically known to be tied to Munechika.

2) “Kōdaiin” is her Buddhist name, which was taken up after Hideyoshi passed away, and she established the temple Kōdaiji. Her other names prior to this included “Nene”, and “Toyotomi Yoshiko”.

3) In Japanese old measurements, 2 shaku 1 sun 2 bu

4) As a quick background reference, Sukesada is said to have come from Bizen no kuni (Bizen country), and learned to be a swordsmith under the Osafune. He made a name for himself as being very talented. However, there are many swords that have “Sukesada” engraved on the sword tang, indicating the name itself became a brand that others used. Due to this, it is tricky to credit him for all the swords that bear his signature.

5) This scene is often depicted as poetic, where Yukimori declares his faith to the moon in the sky. At this time, the phase of the moon is said to be that of a crescent moon. There are other artworks that show him doing so under the moon. However, it seems that him actually taking the Mikazuki Munechika from the temple at Kōyasan while performing this could have been an add-on to strengthen his connection with this sword.