The Seven-Branched Sword (七支刀) Shichishitō/Nanatsusaya no Tachi, is a sword of continental manufacture believed to be identical with the artifact of that name, a gift of the king of Baekje that has been bestowed upon a Yamato ruler as a gift who is mentioned in the Nihon Shoki in the fifty-second year of the reign of the semi-mythical Empress Jingū. It is a 74.9 cm long iron sword with six branch-like protrusions along the central blade. The original sword has been conserved since antiquity in the Isonokami Shrine in Nara Prefecture, Japan and is not on public display. An inscription on the side of the blade is an important source for understanding the relationships between kingdoms of the Korean peninsula and Japan in that period.
The blade of the sword is 65.5 cm and the tang is 9.4 cm long. There is no hole on the tang to fasten the sword with a hilt. The sword is broken at the top of the tang. Analysis of the broken surface shows the material of the sword is forged mild steel. The sword was obviously made for a ceremonial purpose.
The sword has been stored in the Isonokami Shrine since ancient times. The inscription on the blade had been hidden by rust and was rediscovered in the 1870s by Masatomo Kan, a Shinto priest at the shrine. There is a two-sided inscription on the sword which is inlaid in gold. Hoshino first indicated the sword was mentioned in the old Japanese history book Nihon Shoki in 1892. Many scholars have engaged in study to determine the interpretation of the vague inscription. Murayama published the closeup pictures taken with X-ray in 1996.
Analysis and archeology have suggested that the sword's origins lie in Jin Dynasty China in 369. The sword's peculiar design - with the tip of the blade counting as the 'seventh' branch, is indicative of contemporary Korean tree-motifs. Other examples of this motif include the Baekje Crown and the Silla Crown. If the weapon had indeed been produced in Korea it would have represented one of the prime artistic accomplishments of Baekje swordsmithery.
Description in Nihon shoki
The sword is mentioned in the biography of Empress Jingū, a legendary Japanese empress in the ancient era. The following is the original Chinese text;
- 則獻七枝刀一口 七子鏡一面及種種重寶 仍啟曰 臣國以西有水 源出自谷那鐵山 其邈七日行之不及 當飲是水 便取是山鐵以永奉聖朝
- (52nd year, Autumn, 9th month 10th day. Kutyo and others came along with Chikuma Nagahiko) and presented a seven-branched sword and a seven-little-one-mirror, with various other objects of great value. They addressed the Empress, saying :-"West of thy servants' country there is a river-source which issues from Mount Cholsan in Kong-na. It is distant seven days' journey. It need not be approached, but one should drink of this water, and so having gotten the iron of this mountain, wait upon the sage Court for all ages."
Inscription on the sword
The inscription states:
In original Chinese characters:
- First Side: 泰■四年十(一)月十六日丙午正陽造百錬(銕)七支刀(出)辟百兵宜供供候王■■■■ (作 or 祥)
- Second Side: 先世以來未有此刀百濟王世(子)奇生聖音故爲倭王旨造傳示後世
Characters in parentheses are ambiguous. Characters represented with black blocks are entirely unreadable.
- First Side: "At noon on the sixteenth day of the eleventh month [May], fourth year of ■, the sword was made of 100 times hardened steel. Using the sword repels 100 enemy soldiers [Appropriate for the polite duke king] It is sent [bestowed] to the king. (Manufactured by or good fortune to...) [ ]"
- Second Side: "Never before has there been such a blade. The crown prince of Baekje's king, who lives under august sounds, had this sword made for King of Wa in the hope that it might be passed on to later generations."
Interpretation of the inscription
2nd Letter on the first side, and when the sword was made: The first four letters are generally decoded as "4th year of Taiwa (the Chinese era of the Jin Dynasty)", but since the second letter is ambiguous. Taiwa 4 corresponds to year 369 CE. Kim Sok Hyong, a North Korean scholar proposed a theory that the character refers to a local era name of Baekje, the theory is challenged since no other archaeological discovery reveals the existence of Baekje's unique era name. Hong Sung-Hwa, a scholar of Korea University, says "十(一)月十六日(the sixteenth day of the eleventh month)" is in 408, because if the 6th, November is 日干支(日干支 is a day by the sexagenary cycle) of 丙午 in 408, the year is the 4 years by King Jun-ji(腆支王) in Baek-je. So we can estimate that Baek-je has era name autonomously(Goguryeo and Silla had their era name). In 409, Wei's envoy visited Baek-je, and King Jun-ji extended hospitality to him, so that sword was formed by 408.
Middle of the first side: The letters show the sword was made of steel and can repel the enemy. The following letters are the most controversial part of the inscription. Kim notes that the sword uses the term "候王" translated as "enfeoffed lord," and claimed Wa king was subservient to the Baekje ruler. The majority of the Japanese scholars do not agree with Kim's theory. They point out the meaning of the term "候王" was varied in the different periods. After the Han Dynasty, the term was used fluently and always just as an honorific.
End of the first side: Although four of the five last letters are undecodable, the last letter indicates that the previous letters were either the name of author or a prayer phrase such as "永年大吉祥"(Have Great Fortunes Forever"). In both cases, the phrase should generally indicate the end of inscription, and not synchronized with the fact that inscription is continued to the other side. There is also a theory that the second side is written by different person, or at different time.
11th and 13th letter on the second side, and who presented the sword: 11th to 13th letters seem to be decodable to "王世子"(Crown Prince of King), and some scholars regard that it was presented from the Crown Prince of Baekje, eventually ascended as King Geungusu. However, as it includes ambiguous letters, it is not entirely clear who of Baekje presented the sword.
17th letter on the second side: The letter is regarded to be either "音"(Sound) or "晉"(Jin Dynasty). Former decoding indicates that phrase "奇生聖音" has a Buddhism or Taoism nuance, that presenter has "lived under august(holy) sounds". Other scholars indicates that the phrase means "born coincidentally on august (holy) Jin Dynasty".
18th to 22nd letter on the second side, and the presentee: The phrase, "爲倭王旨造", is translated in various ways through different interpretations of the 22nd letter "旨".
- "旨" as a personal name: Regarding the letter as a personal name. Thus translates the phrase as following. "For Shi, the King of Wa, made (the sword)".
- "旨" as "order": Translates "for the order of King of Wa, made (the sword)".
- "旨" as "deliberately": Translates "for King of Wa, deliberately made (the sword)".
- "旨" as "first": Interpreting the letter as abbreviation of "嘗". Translates "for the first time, made (the sword) for King of Wa".
Taking it a personal name leads to the Baekje-centric idea that Baekje's presenter boldly writes the name of the King of Wa, and thus regards him lower. By Taking it "order" leads to the Japan-centric idea that Baekje presented the sword because the King of Wa ordered him to do so. Therefore, the interpretation tend to be controversial. Ueda Masaaki (quoted by Saeki, 1977) is rather an exception among Japanese historians because he “has maintained that the Seven-branched sword was ‘bestowed’ on the Wa ruler by the king of Baekche.” Ueda “based his interpretation on the argument that the term ‘koo’ [howang] appearing in the inscription denotes a ruler in vassalage to the Paekche king and that the inscription is written in the commanding tone of a superior addressing an inferior, exemplified by the sentence reading ‘Hand down [this sword] to [your] posterity." However, Saeki (1977) argues that one can not interpret the inscription to mean either “to bestow” the sword on the King in vassalage or “to respectfully present” to the emperor, as many Japanese scholars have maintained since the Meiji period. Saeki seems to be inclined to take Hirano’s argument that the inscription simply indicates the fact there was a respectful and sincere relationship between the rulers of Baekche and Wa.
Yet another theory claimed by Kōsaku Hamada of Kyushu University theorizes that the original seven-branched sword was created by Eastern Jin in 369 (泰和四年) for a vassal lord with the first inscription. In 372, King Geunchogo of Baekje sent an embassy to arrive at the court of Eastern Jin in 372, and then a Jin envoy was sent to the Paekche court, granting the title of “General Stabilizing the East and Governor of Le-lang" (鎭東將軍). The sword was given to the king around this time. The king of Baekje ordered the creation of a replica of the sword with the second inscription and sent it to Wa for an alliance as peers under Eastern Jin. Thus no vassalage relationships are involved between Baekje and Wa. He claims that this explains the commanding tone of the first inscription and the respect paid to Jin (owes his life to august Jin) in the second inscription.
While the inscription of the sword is controversial and is used by many nationalists to support their own agendas, the sword does prove, at the very least, that there were very close ties between the Baekje and the Wa, and the opening of the friendship relations between two countries probably date to the year 372.
In connection with the date of making, Hong Sung-Hwa, a scholar of Korea University, says in 396-409, Baek-je came under attack by Goguryeo, so Baek-je needed to alliance Wei, King Jun-ji of Baek-je gave King of Wei the sword.
In popular culture
- In the manga and anime series Angel Sanctuary, the main character Setsuna attains a magical diamond pendant which he can transform into a Seven-Branched sword at will.
- In the manga and anime series Bleach, the Shikai of the character Momo Hinamori takes the form of a three (four counting the tip) branched sword named Tobiume.
- In the latter chapters of the manga Ga-Rei, the reincarnated Isayama Yomi wields a seven-branched sword (previously her weapon was a katana, the Shishi-O).
- In Xenoblade Chronicles, both the Mechonis and Egil wield a sword similar in appearance to the Seven-Branched Sword.
- The Kirin Thundersword is a great sword that can be crafted in the PSP game Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. It is shaped like the Seven-Branched Sword.
- The Shichishito is the weapon of the final boss of Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, Mei-oh.
- A seven branched sword appears in the video games Samurai Warriors, Samurai Warriors 2 and Warriors Orochi by Koei. It also goes by other names such as seven spirits. It is wielded by the famous Japanese warlord, Uesugi Kenshin.
- A red seven-branched sword called "Kaleidoscope" appears in the Soulcalibur II, Soulcalibur III and Soulcalibur IV video games as an alternate weapon for Isabella "Ivy" Valentine. It appears as a whip sword, and each branch can separated from the rest connected with just a magical cord/energy. Siegfried in Soul Blade also has a green version of the sword called Seven Branch Blade.
- In the Xbox game Ninja Gaiden, there is a big Seven-Branched Sword called the Dark Dragon Blade. It's a big sword with red and black blade and a golden hilt.
- In the game Dark Cloud for the PlayStation 2, the Seven-Branch Sword is an upgradable choice from the Dusack sword.
- In the Xbox 360/PS3 game Eternal Sonata, it's the best sword for Allegretto.
- Takes the form of a weapon named "Nanatsusayanotachi" in the MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI.
- A seven branched sword named Seven Strike can be obtained in the game Ōkami. A nine branched sword is used by the boss Ninetails, as well as other bosses who imitate her attacks.
- In the game Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, the main character Hector can create a seven-branched sword called the 7-Bladed Sword, that has the unique ability to steal health from enemies with successful strikes, healing Hector. It is a necessity to create the game's strongest (and hardest-to-make) one-handed sword, the Laser Sword.
- In the NES game Demon Sword, the protagonist uses a weapon very similar to the Seven-Branched Sword called the Demon Sword.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, the seven-branched sword shows up in cases 2 and 5, "The Stolen Turnabout" and "Bridge to the Turnabout" respectively as an important plot device. It is referred to as the Shichishito.
- In the Game Boy game Final Fantasy Legend II, the "Seven Sword" weapon is a reference to this sword.
- In the 3DS game Fire Emblem: Awakening, there is a seven-branched sword called Amatsu.
- In the Kirby series, Meta Knight wields a sword named Galaxia, which has a similar design to the Seven Branched Sword.
- In the Shin Megami Tensei series, the demon/persona Susano-o is sometimes depicted with a seven-branched sword, similar in appearance to this one.
- In the game Daibanchou: Big Bang Age, the main antagonist Kamui wields a golden sword which appears similar to the Seven-Branched Sword.
- In South Korea, this sword is frequently displayed in replicas and is known as the Chiljido.
- In the Korean manhwa Legend, seven of the main characters form the blades of a seven-bladed sword.
- A seven-branched sword was added to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game in the Ultimate Combat supplement.
- In Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, Dogold, the Deboth Knight of Anger, wields a seven-branched sword. It resembles a lightning bolt, as Dogold is linked to lightning in many ways.
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