Inscriptions of Iron Swords and Iron Blades (鉄剣・鉄刀銘文)

Inscriptions of iron swords and iron blades are letters or sentences inscribed on the iron swords or iron blades. In this context, a sword means a double-edged cutting instrument, and a blade refers to a single-edged cutting instrument. These are important historical materials to know information on the Kofun period (tumulus period) around the fifth century. Above all an inscription of iron sword unearthed from Inariyama-kofun Tumulus has a lot of letters on it.

Oshimei' (inscription of king bequeaths) iron sword unearthed from Inaridai No.1 Tumulus. Inaridai No.1 Tumulus is a round burial mound whose diameter is about 28 meters and one of the Inaridai Kofun Cluster which consists of twelve burial mounds located on the height of the northern shore of the lower Yoro-gawa River in Ichihara City, Chiba Prefecture. There are a central wooden coffin and a north wooden coffin in this tumulus, and the iron sword was excavated from the central one. In addition, three iron swords, one short metal body armor with rivets, three iron arrowheads, and one Tosu (small knife) were unearthed from the central wooden coffin. From the north wooden coffin, one long sword, one iron arrowhead, a pair of quiver fittings were unearthed.

The presumed inscription
It was inlaid with silver, and on the front side the Chinese characters of '王賜□□敬安' (king bequeaths *** own this with respect) were inscribed, and the back side, '此(廷)(刀)□□□' (this (sword) ***) were inscribed.

Characteristics of the inscription
The letters of '王賜' were inscribed with bigger strokes than the other letters, and the space between letters are wide. Also, the two letters of '王賜' were arranged above the letters on the back side. Such a way of arranging letters is called Taito (rising) method, which was used when a person showed his or her respect to a noble person.

An age
The iron sword does not have an era, but it seems to have been made in the middle of the fifth century from the shape of short metal body armor with rivets and iron arrowhead collected in the wooden coffin.

Contents of the inscription
It is a typical contents whose meaning is that the item is given as a token of the service to the king.

The 'king' is generally considered one of the five kings of Wa (ancient name of Japan).

By the middle of the fifth century, there had been a system in which a minor chief who was based in a part of the Boso Peninsula served a king of Wa in the Kinai District as a warrior, and the chief was granted an inscribed iron sword inlaid with silver due to his achievements.

The inscribed iron sword unearthed from Inariyama Kofun Tumulus
This is an iron sword which was excavated in the Inariyama Kofun Tumulus in Gyoda City, Saitama Prefecture, in 1968. After the work of preservation and repair conducted in September 1978, it was found out that the sword has inscription composed of 115 letters inlaid with gold.

The total length is 73.5 cm, and the width in the middle of the blade is 3.15 cm. Both sides of the iron sword has inscription of 115 letters; The front side has 57 letters, and the back side has 58 letters. The letters were inscribed on the iron sword with a graver, and there golden line was buried. It is conjectured that there was an excellent artisan.

Presumed inscription
In July, the year of Shingai, this is inscribed; Owake no Omi (subject); His ancestor's name was Ohohiko; His child's (name) was Takari no Sukune; The name of his child was Teyokariwake; The name of his child was Takahi(ha)shiwake; The name of his child was Tasakiwake; The name of his child was Hatehi (the front side).

The name of his child was Kasahi(ha)yo; The name of his child was Owake no Omi; I have served the king as a head of Jotojin (a guard who protected noble men) until today; When Wakatake(ki)ru(ro) King's temple was located in Shikinomiya, I served and supported him; So as a token of my service, this sword was made (the back side).

Kun reading
In July, the year of Shingai, this is inscribed. Owake no Omi (subject). His ancestor's name was Ohohiko. His child's (name) was Takari no Sukune. The name of his child was Teyokariwake. The name of his child was Takahi(ha)shiwake. The name of his child was Tasakiwake. The name of his child was Hatehi.
(The front side)

The name of his child was Kasahi(ha)yo. The name of his child was Owake no Omi. I have served the king as a head of Jotojin (a guard who protected noble men) until today. When Wakatake(ki)ru(ro) King's temple was located in Shikinomiya, I served and supported him; So as a token of my service, this sword was made.
(The back side)

Contents

Characteristics of this inscription
The number of letters, 115, is large not only in comparison with the examples in Japan but also with the ones in Korea and China. The other examples of inscription in the Kofun period which seem to have been made in Japan and has a lot of letters are an inscription of long sword (75 letters) unearthed from Eta Funayama Tumulus in Kumamoto Prefecture and an inscription of mirror (48 letters) owned by Sumida Hachimangu Shrine in Hashimoto City, Wakayama Prefecture. This inscription became a reliable standard in the history of ancient Japan, and it was a great help to decide the real dates of the other historical facts. The year of Shingai is 471, which is an established theory, but some people claim that it is 531. If the popular theory that the year of Shingai was 471 is true, Wakatakeru no Okimi (the Great King Wakatakeru) whom Owake served would have been Ohatsuse Wakatakeru no Mikoto, Ohatsuse Wakatakeru, Emperor Yuryaku, or Waobu whose name was mentioned in "Sojo" (Sung Shu) Wakokuden, therefore it is a reliable evidence for the title of Okimi to be used since the fifth century. There are divisions of opinion among the scholars on the question that Owake belonged to a powerful local clan or a central clan.

There is no conventional phrase or auspicious phrase except 'hyakuren.'
It is inscribed in July of the Shingai year' sounds like Chinese very much. It describes the eight generations of Owake's ancestor. A tradition of Owake family and the reason of making this iron sword are stated. Owake no Omi's father (Kasahayo) and grandfather (Hatehi) did not have kabane (hereditary title) such as Hiko, Sukune, and Wake. There is no example of bemin (people who belonged to Yamato dynasty) system. Owake no Omi. Uji (family name) and tomo (one of the court officials) had already existed. Names of people and place in Wakoku (Japan) at that time were written with pronunciations of Chinese characters. It suggests that there was a recorder who was familiar with Chinese beside Wakatakeru no Okimi.

The Chinese character, '中,' contained in '辛亥年七月中記' (in July of the Shingai year, it was inscribed) was often used in the ancient Chinese writings in Korea. For example, '二塔天寳十七年戊戌中立在之' ("葛項寺造塔記," 758).

According to the article dated 513 of History of Paekche in "Samguk Sagi" (History of the Three Kingdoms), the name of Japanese Hozumi no Omi Oshiyama was written as 'Oshiyamakimi.'
The article dated May 247 in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) states that 'Chikumanagahiko seen in Records of Paekche exactly refers to this,' and the article dated 262 tells that 'according to Records of Paekche, Sachihiko was sent to defeat this.'
The letters, '意' and '比垝' in the inscription of '意冨比垝' was quite similar to the way of using letters in Paekche ('垝' and '跪' are the same sound).

It is conjectured that '多沙鬼' in '多沙鬼獲居' was derived from '多沙城' in the article dated June 250 of "Nihonshoki." 多沙' is a place name of Mimana.
See also Ki (Castle)

An iron sword unearthed from the Eta Funayama Tumulus

In 1873, a stone coffin with side entrance was found in the large keyhole-shaped tomb mound, which has overall length of 61 meters, from the Eta Funayama Tumulus in Nagomimachi, Tamana County, Kumamoto Prefecture. As many as 92 splendid burial goods in all were found from inside. Among these, there was a long sword whose total length is 90.6 cm and length of a blade is 85.3 cm, although its hilt was broken and made shorter. On the back of the sword, there was an inscription inlaid with silver. The number of letters is about 75, and quiet a few inlays were peeled off. It is possible to conjecture a rough meaning, but we cannot quite understand it clearly.

Presumed Inscription
Under the reign of Wakatakeru no Okimi, there was a man who worked as a clerk; His name was Murite; During August, in the big iron pod, an imperial sword whose length is four shaku (unit of distance approximately equal to 30.3 cm) ****; It was tempered eighty times, and swung ninety times; **** The one who has this sword will live long, and his descendants will flourish, being blessed; He will never lose his power; The one who makes a sword is Itawa, and the one who engraves inscription is Choan.

Kun reading and contents
Under the reign of Wakatakeru no Okimi, there was a man who worked as a clerk; His name was Murite; During August, in the big iron pod, an imperial sword whose length is four shaku (unit of distance approximately equal to 30.3 cm) ****. It was tempered eighty times, and swung ninety times.
三寸上好の刊刀なり。
The one who has this sword will live long, and his descendants will flourish, being blessed. He will never lose his power. The one who makes a sword is Itawa, and the one who engraves inscription is Choan.

In the reign of Wakatakeru Okimi (Emperor Yuryaku), Murite was working for an office which managed documents and was called Tenso. This is an auspicious long sword which was carefully made in the big iron pot in August. The one who has this sword will live long, rule the country well, and his posterity thrives. It was Ita** (wa) who made this sword, and Choan wrote the inscription.

The meaning of inscription and others
It was once read as '治天下犭复□□□歯大王,' and an opinion that it refers to Tajihi no Mizuhawake no Mikoto (Emperor Hanzei) was dominant, but in 1978, when the inscribed iron sword inlaid with gold was excavated in Inariyama Kofun Tumulus, it came to be read as '治天下獲□□□鹵大王,' and an opinion that it means Wakatakeru no Okimi (Emperor Yuryaku) became dominant.

This inscription contains highly Japanese style of expression such as chitenka (under the rule), yasotabi (eighty times), totsuka (length of ten fists)
It uses a traditional technique of Chinese effectively and makes contrasts between okimi and oon, four shaku and one pod, totsuka and three sun (a sun = 3.03 cm). It does not have the era name. The iron sword inlaid with gold and the iron blade inlaid with silver were made, and those who were given each of them were buried respectively in Inariyama Kofun Tumulus in Kita Musashino and Eta Funayama Tumulus in Higo Province. It seems to correspond to the quoted part of Waobu's johyobun (memorial to the Emperor) which was collected in "Sojo" (Sung Shu) Wakokuden (To the east, Emishi's fifty-five provinces were conquered, and to the west, Shui's sixty-six provinces were conquered).

The iron blade unearthed from Okadayama No.1 Tumulus

In 1984, an inscription inlaid with gold on the iron blade was found in Okadayama No.1 Tumulus which was under conservation work in Okusa-cho, Matsue City, Shimane prefecture. When it was excavated during the Taisho era, it was in perfect condition, but later a half of the blade's body was lost, therefore only twelve letters of inscription from the bottom remained, and moreover there were only a few letters to be deciphered because of rust.

Presumed inscription
Only four letters of them, '各田了臣,' were certain.
各田了臣' is read as 'Nukatabe no Omi.'

Bemin system
Considering the place where this long sword was excavated, Nukatabe no Omi and Izumo no Omi belonged to the same family, and he seems to have been a supervisor of bemin in the area.
(See also bemin system)

The iron blade unearthed from Minodani No.2 Tumulus

In 1984, an iron blade was excavated in the Minodani No.2 Tumulus in Koyama, Yoka-cho, Yabu City, Hyogo Prefecture.

Presumed inscription
On the inside of the iron blade whose actual total length was about 68 cm, letters inlaid with copper, '戊辰年五月□,' (in May 608) were found. This is probably the year when this blade was made. It is conjectured that the '戊辰年' means the year of 608.

The Zhongping blade introduced from China

In 1962, an iron blade which was inlaid with gold and 110 cm long was found in the Todaijiyama Tumulus in Tenri City, Nara Prefecture. The presumed inscription is as follows.

On the day of Hinoeuma in May in the Zhongping era, a blade with this inscription was made. Because this is a well forged steel blade, you can agree with god's will in the heaven, and avoid disasters in the earth.'

It means as follows:
On the day of Hinoeuma in May in the Zhongping era, a blade with this inscription was made.'
Because this is a well forged steel blade, you can agree with god's will in the heaven, and avoid disasters in the earth.'

The meaning of inscription and others
Zhongping is a name of era during the reign of Emperor Ling from between 184 and 189. According to "Gishi" Wajinden (literally, an 'Account of the Wa' in "The History of the Wei Dynasty"), wars frequently broke out in Wakoku and there had been no leader for a long time, then Himiko was installed as a queen. Hinoeuma in May' means the midsummer, which is considered the best day to make fire from the sun when metal utensils such as swords and mirrors are made. It is inscribed regardless of the actual date of the Oriental zodiac. This is an auspicious and conventional phrase which was always used. The iron blade of Minodani in Japan also has an inscription of May. Todaijiyama Tumulus is a large keyhole-shaped tomb mound whose total length is 140 meters long, and was built around the latter half of the fourth century. A ring-shaped tsuka gashira (pommel) had been newly attached. This tsuka gashira is called Sanyokanto, and it seems to have been replaced right before burial. It was buried after about 200 long years. This is probably because the person who was given the tsuka gashira and his descendants made it heritage as a symbol of power.

A seven-pronged sword from Paekche

The imported seven-pronged sword
It is considered that the name of seven-pronged sword was derived from the shape of sword which looks like a halberd and has seven blades in total; From the right and left sides of the main body, three branch blades stick out respectively. On the front and back sides of the main body, 61 letters in all inlaid with gold were inscribed.

Tradition has it that the seven-pronged sword was offered from Paekche during the reign of Empress Jingu, and it was kept in the Isonokami-jingu Shrine in Tenri City, Nara Prefecture.

According to the article dated Hinoene of September in ca. 252 of "Nihonshoki," Chogo, the king of Paekche, met Nagahiko CHIKUMA, an envoy from Japan, and gave him one seven-pronged sword, one nanatsuko no kagami (a mirror with seven small decoration mirrors), and various other treasures, hoping to form a friendship.

In September 252, the king of Paekche, met Nagahiko CHIKUMA, an envoy from Japan, and gave him one seven-pronged sword, one nanatsuko no kagami (a mirror with seven small decoration mirrors), and various other treasures, hoping to form a friendship ("Nihonshoki," from the article dated September 252 during the reign of Empress Jingu).

This date is not reliable, but the date in Nihonshoki around this period is said to have moved up 120 years, and if it is corrected, the year becomes 372, which corresponds to the year of creation (369), therefore it is considered that the description in Nihonshoki refers to this sword, though there is no description in "Samguk Sagi," a history book of Korea. The sacred area such as Isonokami-jingu Shrine was originally an arsenal of the Imperial Court, and it treasured many weapons. The seven-pronged sword was one of them.

Its existence had been forgotten for more than thousand years, but it was found by Masatomo KAN (1824-97), and the letters inlaid with gold was polished out.

Inscription

(On the front side) 泰?四年?月十六日丙午正陽造百錬?七支刀?辟百兵宜供供(異体字、尸二大)王????作
(On the back side) 先世(異体字、ロ人)来未有此刀百済?世?奇生聖(異体字、音又は晋の上に点)故為(異体字、尸二大)王旨造???世

Interpretation
(On the front side) 泰?四年十?月十六日丙午正陽造百錬?七支刀?辟百兵宜供供侯王????作
(On the back side) 先世以来未有此刀百濟?世?奇生聖音故為倭王旨造???世

Presumed inscription and interpretation
(On the front side) In May, the middle of summer in 468, at noon on the hottest summer day of Hinoeuma, the steel seven-pronged sword which was forged 100 times was made; With this, all troubles caused by weapons will be avoided; May polite and modest Hou Wang (Holy Marquis) flourish, live long, and be brought the biggest luck and happiness. (On the back side) Since the previous generation, a sword like this (seven-pronged sword) have not existed; An heir of the King of Paekche mysteriously had imperial virtues by nature; Then it was made for the king of Wa for the first time; So it should be showed to the posterity; There is no Chinese character which corresponds to ** in the dictionary.

(On the front side) 'In May, the middle of summer in 468, at noon on the hottest summer day of Hinoeuma, the steel seven-pronged sword which was forged 100 times was made. With this, all troubles caused by weapons will be avoided.
May polite and modest Hou Wang (Holy Marquis) flourish, live long, and be brought the biggest luck and happiness.'

(On the back side) 'Since the previous generation, a sword like this (seven-pronged sword) have not existed. An heir of the King of Paekche mysteriously had imperial virtues by nature. Then it was made for the king of Wa for the first time.
So it should be showed to the posterity.'

Characteristics of inscription
The numbers of letters are 34 on the front side, and 27 on the back side, so 61 letters in total. Of them, 49 letters are quite readable to some extent, and four of them cannot be read at all, and the last eight letters can be read with a clue of the barely remaining strokes.

Because the meaning of inscription is getting clear to some extent, the front and back side can be distinguished. The front side has a date of creation, a set phrase (a conventional auspicious phrase) as to casting, and a name of the artisan who made the sword immediately. The back side states that it was made in Paekche in order to send the king of Wa. The purposes of inscribing the sentence are different between the front and back sides.

There is an opinion that Geunchogo, the king of Paekche (his prince, King Geungusu = King Kurusu) made it by 'order' of the king of Wa. According to the sentence, it is considered that both countries were on equal terms.

About the fourth year of Taishi (468)
The first era name is a part which you want to know most, but it is hard to decipher. Since the Meiji period, various opinions has been advanced and an established theory does not appear yet, but there are opinions that the fourth year of Tai** should be the fourth year of Taishi, or that it should be the year of 369. Various theories as to the reason why the king of Paekche sent the seven-pronged sword to the king of Wa are also still being constructed.

The opinion that the purpose of the present was a token of military alliance between Paekche and Wakoku.