The Tenka go ken or five celestial sabers
The Japanese saber, both a work of art and a formidable weapon, has never ceased throughout history to arouse curiosity and nourish a number of remarkable stories and legends. In Japan the katana is not only a weapon, it is an object of worship with divine connotations. Thus the saber is one of the sacred elements allowing to designate the emperor, who acquires through it the legitimacy to exercise. In addition, archaeological excavations made it possible to find a great deal of sabers in the temples and altars. Therefore these conditions led to a favorable environment for the appearance of formidable sabers and myths around them. The Tenka go ken, or the 5 celestial swords, are part of these legendary sabers.
The Tenka go ken
During the Muromachi era (1336-1573) the Ashikaga family, during the shogun era of Japan (military government), obtained 5 tachis which they considered to be absolutely of an inestimable value. Then, many legends will rise about these sabers, which are still considered today as being of exceptional quality. All of them forged before the middle of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), these sabers are tachis, so ancestors of katanas, generally more curved. Among them, the "Oni-maru Kunitsuna", by Awataguchi Kunitsuna, who would have killed a demon that haunted Regent Hojo Takiyori. Every night the demon would have appeared in the regent's bedroom, and one night the regent dreamed of an old man who then said to him "I am Kunitsuna's saber, someone touched me with dirty hands and now I cannot get out of my scabbard because I am too rusty. If you want to get ridden of this demon, you have to free me from this rust ”. Next morning, Takiyori carefully cleaned the saber and exposed it. The saber would have magically dropped down, pulled out of its scabbard, and struck the base of the nearest brazier, which was made of silver. Since then Takiyori would never have been haunted again. Then he named the saber "Onimaru". This legendary tachi then passed through the hands of the greatest men of Japan, Nitta Yoshisada, Ashikaga Takauji, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Tokugawa and finally the emperor Mutsuhito of the Meiji period.
Next comes the “Ōtenta-Mitsuyo” by Miike Mitsuyo. It was said that this tachi possessed magical powers, and it was during the lifetime of Hideyoshi that a legend rose about this saber. Maeda Toshiien, one of Nobunaga Oda's very strict generals, would have been submitted to a test of courage to get rid of a ghost in a hallway. Hideyoshi having heard of this test, he entrusted the saber to Toshiien, even if the two men was named respectively Saru ("monkey") and Inu ("dog") by Nobunaga Oda, relying on the belief that dog and monkey cannot stand each other. Actually, Hideyoshi was very easygoing and funny, while Toshiien was straight and stern. With this saber, Toshiien walked into the hall without hesitation. Nothing happened there. Maybe thanks to the supposed power of the saber, the demon fled, or maybe it was just an absurd story. Anyway, Toshiien's courage was noticed. (You have to imagine that at that time people believed in demons, and facing one of them was enormous proof of courage). Toshiien's fourth daughter subsequently became ill with an inexplicable fever. Hideyoshi then entrusted the Ōtenta-Mitsuyo to Toshiien to help him to drive back the evil forces. Later, it was said that all this was only a pretext so that the general would recover the saber. Another version of this story exists, so nothing sure about the reality of the facts. As for the previous tachi, this saber is in any case a technically excellent piece, also renowned for its perfectly made shape (sugata).
The "Dojigiri Yasutsuna" forged by Hoki Yasutsuna, would have been used by Minamoto Yorimitsu to kill a demon who harassed the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Ōeyama, north of Kyoto. The emperor having received complaints against a demon who was robbing the inhabitants, Yorimitsu would then have gone there with his four generals. They met in the mountains three old men disguised as deities, and they offered them three magical objects : a helmet, a rope, and a bottle of numbing wine. Arrived at the top of the mountain, a banquet in their honor took place. This banquet was ordered by Shutendōji, a brigand, who, by dint of massacres, would have become the famous demon that Yorimitsu had to take charge of. Meat and human blood were served to them during the meal, but not wishing to draw attention, they ate without showing anything. At the end of the meal they served Shutendōji and his men a cup of the magic wine. It wasn't long before they fell into a deep sleep, and the Emperor's men decimated the band of evil thugs with the legendary saber. When Shutendōji's head flew in the air, it stopped for a moment and swooped down on Yorimitsu to bite him. But the magical helmet protected him from this diabolical attack. The name of Dojigiri was then given to the saber (literally, "Dōji killer"). This saber has been classified as national treasure.
The "Mikazuki Munechika" (literally: "Munechika with crescent moon") forged by Sanjo Kunitsuna, would have been ordered to the blacksmith by the emperor. So Sanjo then went to the Fushimi altar in Kyoto, to pray and ask for help. An evil spirit would then have appeared, in the form of Kitsune (one of the youkais, or ghosts of the nature, this one being a fox's spirit with the look of a woman). The spirit of Inari (deity of cereals, foundries and trading) would have helped the blacksmith to create a blade of an exceptional beauty. The saber is now a national treasure, and its history is handed on by, among other things, the play "Kokaji" of the Japanese theater (Noh).
The "Juzu-maru Tsunetsugu" by Aoe Tsunetsugu, became famous because it was hold by the Buddhist high priest, Nichiren, who wore it wrapping a juzu (Buddhist pearl necklace) around the tsuka (grip) of the tachi. Nichiren was a nonviolent monk, but this saber is known to have been used for political purposes and for its divine connotation. We have no specific information to know how this tachi was forged, but as for all other Tenka go ken, or celestial sabers, it is of undeniably superior quality.