To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the return of Okinawa, the special exhibition “Ryukyu”, which reveals the history and culture of Ryukyu with more than 700 exhibit items, has opened at the Tokyo National Museum. The exhibition runs from May 3rd to June 26th.
When World War II ended in 1945, Okinawa was placed under control of the U.S. and remained so for almost 30 years. The island’s culture is therefore heavily influenced by American culture. On May 5, 1972, Okinawa was reversed from U.S. rule to become a Japanese Prefecture again, however, it was not a smooth process because there are a lot of opinions on Okinawa. The “Ryukyu Independence Movement” aimed to have Okinawa independent from both America and Japan. In Tokyo, a group of radical students discontent with American military presence in Okinawa, rioted using Molotov cocktails and steel pipes, killing a police officer. In the Koza riot roughly 5,000 Okinawans clashed with roughly 700 American MPs. Approximately 60 Americans and 27 Okinawans were injured, 80 cars were burned, and several buildings on Kadena Air Base were destroyed or heavily damaged. There are no stats as regards the influence of politics on the development of postwar karate, but it must have been huge and many Okinawans wanted to become stronger and dojo and styles sprung up, taxi drivers learned karate and carried kobudo gear in their trunks, several dojo and styles however then also taught American soldiers, who in turn brought Okinawa Karate on the international stage, which is yet another interesting turn, isn’t it?
Today the official narrative however is that karate is THE martial art of peace, and maybe that refers to Okinawan karate as a martial art to end brawls with drunk Americans or something. Who knows. We will never know the secret origin of karate, but the special exhibition “Ryukyu” in Tokyo has a few items that are related to martial arts from the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom. An example is the sword called “Jiganemaru.”
The story goes back to the second half of the fourteenth century, when
“Meguro Mori, a regional leader (aji) from Miyako Island, established a praying ground (utaki), where people paid respect to the gods and ‘formed their hearts.’ He encouraged them to pursue agriculture as a source of food and clothing, and incidentally had them take lessons in the art of war, which indicates his authority. In those days, soldiers liked to fight without end, and if the enemy was defeated, they would burn down the village, entirely kill the men and women and snatch away their farmland.”
Like this, Meguro Mori established a ruling dynasty on Miyako Island. In 1500, his descendant Nakasone Genga, chieftain of Miyako Island, subdued the ‘Devil Tiger’ Oyake Akahachi of Yonaguni Island. Information about the specific circumstances is given in the “Ballad of Justice.”
- On occasion of this campaign were chosen,
- for the invasion of upper and lower Yaeyama,
- at the time of commencement of the hostilities,
- first the shrine maidens danced the butterfly dance and the dragonfly dance,
- the vanguard mowed down a hundred enemies and defeated them devastatingly,
- the rearguard mowed down a hundred enemies and defeated them devastatingly,
- they penetrated the villages of Yonaguni, to kill Yonaguni’s leader, the Devil Tiger.
- Nakasone Genga assumed his position, and took our famous sword named Jiganemaru,
- and early in the morning he called out loud for him, and the Devil Tiger was beheaded,
- and with good fortune of war, the island was brought to peace.
So that was that.
According to “The Origin of the Precious Sword Jiganemaru,” in 1522 Nakasone Genga presented the Jiganemaru to King Shō Shin and since then it was handed down as a family treasure within the royal family.
Now to the description, which I presented in my “Karate 1.0” (2013).
Jiganemaru is the designated title of this sword. It has an unsigned blade in black lacquer sheath and with short sword fittings. The length of the blade is 53.8 cm. The blade (tōshin) is a wakizashi without ridgeline and yokote. It has an A-shaped design of the blade spine (iori-mune 庵棟) and a curvature in sakizori 先反り style, i.e., with the deepest point of the curvature (sori) located in the front part of the blade, about halfway between the middle and the tip (kissaki).
The ground metal shows itame-hada 板目肌 grain, that is, a texture similar to that of tree rings. The temper pattern of the blade (hamon 刃文) is mixed between gunome 互の目, togariba 尖り刃, and mimigata 耳型, and with nie 沸 (martensite crystals in the temper line of the cutting edge shining like silver dust). The blade point’s temper line (bōshi 帽子) has a round omote, and its ura is curved towards the point. As carvings on a blade (horimono 彫物) there are two grooves (hi 樋), one each on the omote and the ura side. The blade is without a signature but has been estimated to be a production of the Nobukuni 信国 school from the Ōei era (1394-1428), when this school was mainly active in Kyōto.
The over-all length with fittings (koshirae 拵) is 73.6 cm. The scabbard (saya 鞘) is lacquered in black and is equipped so that it is worn with the cutting edge pointing upward (uchigatana koshirae 打刀拵え), as opposed to a long sword (tachi) worn with the edge pointing downward. The sword guard (tsuba 鍔) is of unique design.
Below is the the Jiganemaru at the special exhibition “Ryukyu” at the Tokyo National Museum.
© 2022, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.