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Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories

Relating to Swords'

Nelly Naumann and Roy Andrew Miller

0. During tiie 2"'^ century B.C. bronze weapons, especially

swords, spearheads, and halberds, produced either in the vicinity

of northeastern China, in the Liaoning region, or in Korea, were

brought to Japan for the first time. Chiefly found in northern

Kyüshü (Fukuoka and Saga Prefectures) as grave-goods in jar-

burials, these weapons of foreign provenience must have been

tokens of the social importance of their former possessors. Copies

of these imported artifacts believed to be local "adaptations" of

older Chinese models were soon manufactured in Japan too, but

not without further alterations in their shape; most conspicuous

was the broadening of the blade, which in the end was advanced

even to the extent of inutility. This shows that by this time the

function of these weapons must have changed; and indeed these

broad blades are no longer found as grave-goods, but are instead

buried as hoards in prominent places outside the settlements. The

biggest hoard hitherto detected consists of 358 bronze swords

buried on the slope of a hill in Köjindani, Shimane Prefecture.

As to the aim or function of these hoards, whether political,

economical, or religious, nothing definitive can yet be said.

Iron artifacts appear to have found their way into Japan at

about the same time as these bronze weapons. Short, two-edged

iron swords are known from the middle of the Yayoi period (ca.

300 B. C.-300 A. D.), if only in small numbers. Here too, local

manufacturing soon set in using iron ore imported from Korea.

Thus, from the beginning of the Tumulus period (ca. 300-

' Although both authors are jointly responsible for the entire paper, the former has been the principal author of the contribution as a whole, and has especially undertaken those sections that deal with texts, mythology, and archaeology, while the latter has been particularly concerned with those sections that deal with lin¬

guistic questions.


700 A. D.) two-edged iron swords were in full use, and now the

one-edged iron sword also made its appearance. Both are found

in the same tombs, but gradually the number of one-edged swords

increases, and toward the end of the Tumulus period one-edged

swords outnumber the two-edged ones.

0.1 The modern Japanese language uses the term tsurugi for a

two-edged sword, tachi for a long, one-edged saber, and katana

for a one-edged sword. The first two of these words are specialists'

terminology, and may in effect be regarded as learned borrowings

into NJ of now-obsolete OJ terms (OJ turugi, OJ tati, resp.)

through the intermediary of literary sources; only the third term,

katana, is a living word in the modern language.^ The specialists'

use of the terms tsurugi and tachi is more or less in accordance

with the entry in the Wamyö {ruiju) shö, a Chinese-Japanese lex¬

icon of the early Heian period, which asserts that a one-edged

sword is called tati, while a two-edged one is a turugi? The oldest

written records, however, the Kojiki (712) and the Nihongi (or

Nihonshoki, 720), and also genuine documents of the S"' century"

make no such distinction: they use both words indiscriminately

for both kinds of swords. In the poems of the Man'yöshü, on the

other hand, we meet mostly with the compound turugitati and

only with a few instances of tati alone; the single term turugi\s

met with only once as part of a place name: turuglnö ike

(M 3289). Thus we may well ask what these words themselves can

teach us, and what their context, as well as what their history, i.e.

their etymology, may eventually reveal.

0.2 The oldest written records also contain stories, mostly

mythical or legendary, in which swords figure that are designated

by proper names. Behind these stories and behind the mostly

somewhat enigmatic names of the swords themselves lie concepts

that also deserve to be studied. The elucidation of these concepts

as well as of the etymology of the proper names of these famous

2 See the Excursus at the end of the present paper for the etymology of Icalana.

' Cf. Shohon shüsei Wamyö ruju shö p.254: ed. Kariya V: 39b-40b; p. 705: ed.

Masamune Atslio Xlll: 14b. While the "Japanese name" for the one-edged sword is given in phonogram writing as tali, for the two-edged one only the Chinese graph s'j chien a two-edged sword' is inserted.

' Tsuchihashi 1981: 144b cites the Tödaiji inventory list of offerings where several tsurugi are to be found, one of them expressis verbis characterized as one-edged, another as two-edged.


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 375

or fabulous swords may well shed light on the religious beliefs of

Early Japan, and also on history itself.

Taking all this into consideration, our task will be to follow up

the linguistic implications, the etymology, i.e. the history, of the

designations and proper names given to swords, with an inves¬

tigation of the "context" in which the sword appears in early

Japan, whether mythical, legendary, historical, or poetical.

1. Interestingly enough, the two oldest extant sword inscrip¬

tions in Japan,^ supposed to date from the 5"^ century A. D., both

use the Chinese graph V tao 'a knife; a sword; a razor' for their

own designation, even though the sword from the Sakitama Ina-

riyama tumulus is a two-edged sword, while the one from the

Eta Funayama tumulus is one-edged. The Japanese reading-tradi¬

tion for T) is tati, but the orthography for tati may also be ^ 77

ta-tao, Tts 7] t'ai-tao 'a big sword', or ,t| v heng-tao 'a cross-


OJ turugi is the traditional gloss for the Chinese graph s'J chien

'a two-edged sword'. Like OJ tati, the word that has become NJ

tsurugi also appears in the oldest extant texts written with Chinese

graphs used as phonograms, and there it becomes clear that orig¬

inally there must have been two different linguistic forms, OJ

turuki alongside OJ turugi, both used in the Kojiki as well as in

the Nihongi.

1.1 Let us first look at the Nihongi where both forms occur in

the prose text. There the phonetic gloss for 'M ^ tJ is given as

'1^ It SUF ffl'fi kusanaglnö turugi (NG, NKBT 67: 122/

123), i.e. the name of the famous sword lying behind the one that

still serves today as one of the Japanese imperial regalia (see

further § 2.2.2). To the important stories centering on this sword

we shall return later. It should be mentioned, however, that the

Kojiki has the Chinese graphs n (KK, NKBT 1 :88) added to

the sword name kusanagi where the Nihongi has turugi There is

a second instance where for '^'1 the orthography % turuki is

given (NG, NKBT 67: 193). But here the context does not tell us

anything of interest.

1.2.1 In the Kojiki the two different linguistic forms

turukl/turugl appear in two different poems. The following poem

' For a discussion of these sword inscriptions see Murayama/Miller 1979; see esp. p.434 note 28 for their use ofthe Chinese graph TJ .


which uses the form turuki is ascribed to the legendary hero Ya-

mato-taiceru who is said to have sung it on the verge of his death:

4 turuki.nö tati # '^L li-iz n'e ^'^

5 sönö tati Fa ya t ^ ^j^; 'A f<c

(KK, NKBTl: 222/223; Tsuchihasi 1981: 144-47, No.33;

Philippi 1969: 432, No. 34).

Philippi (1969: 249) translates:

(1) Next to the maiden's

(2) Sleeping place

(3) I left

(4) The sabre, the sword -

(5) Alas, that sword!

We notice that the same sword - the kusanagi-sv/ord mentioned

above - is called a tati in line 5, but turuki.nö tati in line 4, turuki

here evidently showing what kind of a tati, namely a turuki, is

meant The JBKD (424b) points out that, as in this instance,

turugi is seldom found alone, but rather in composition as, e.g.,

in turugitati, or komaturugl (a sword from Koma [= Koguryö]').

Thus tati seems to have been used as a general term for swords,

and turugi for a subdivision, a special kind of sword, although

Tsuchihashi (1981: 144b) shows some reticence in regard to this


Taking into consideration the fact that tati appears to be a

deverbal noun to tat- 'to cut, sever', the definition of tati as a

cutting instrument in general does not seem out of pla, c. The verb

OJ tat- 'to cut, sever' appears to have a convincing etymology that

is strongly suggestive of continental connections, indeed perhaps

continental origins. It has been compared (Martin 1966: 229,

no. 59) with MKor. cälü- (Nam 1972: 413 a) > NKor. calu- 'cut

off, chop' (Martin et al. 1967: 1376b); and these Korean forms

further are to be compared (Ramstedt 1949: 24) with such Tungus

verbs as 01c. cälü-, cäli- 'cut off, chop', Na. cal'i- 'id.', as well as

with other Tungus forms in secondary -o-, such as Neg. coli'- and

Ma. coli-, comli- 'id.' (TMS 2.405 a), where the -a-/-o- 'Ablaut'

variation (itself a morphological phenomenon well attested in all

1 wotöme.nö 2 tökö.nö be.ni

3 waga okisi

i'f nl ^')? 1^

t t(T


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 377

Stages ofthe history of Japanese) may most probably be the sec¬

ondary and relatively recent consequence of an earlier reflex of

the -m- (< *-lm-l) attested in Manchu (cf. also the deverbal noun

Ma. coliku 'chopping knife, cleaver').

Implicit in these comparisons is the neo-grammarian hypothesis

that a single consonantal phoneme in Proto-Altaic may be recon¬

structed that will account for the correspondence of Kor. -/-::J

-t-. Martin (1966: 210 no. 12) wrote *-/- for this phoneme. While

the selection of written symbols for all linguistic reconstructions

is to some extent a matter of aesthetic choice, in this particular

case it must nevertheless be pointed out that Martin's *-/- is not

a felicitous symbol, if only because it tends to obscure the struc¬

tural patterns of the proposed phonology. This same Kor. -/-::J

-t- correspondence is usefully referred to the wider Altaic histori¬

cal-linguistic horizon by Starostin (1991: 74-75), where he re¬

constructs Proto-Altaic *-r'- (our *-r2-) for a number of words

displaying Tk. -z-::Mo. -r-::Tg. -r-::Kor. -/-::J There are sev¬

eral unsolved purely linguistic problems remaining in the

Starostin formulation (e.g., he does not recognize that for *-rj-

Japanese actually has two different reflexes, -t r-, which ap¬

pear in an alternation conditioned by original suprasegmentals);

but for all that, his reconstruction represents a considerable ad¬

vance over Martin (1966), and for our present purposes it serves

excellently to reassure us of the validity of the correspondence J

-/-::Kor. -/- in the forms cited.

1.2.2 The other Kojiki poem that contains the form turugi is,

said to be a song of the Kuzu of Yoshino in praise of Prince

Homuda (Öjin Tennö):

1 Fomuda.nö

2 FT.nö miko

3 oFosazaki 4 oFosazaki

5 Fakaseru tati

6 mötö turugi

7 suwe Fuyu

8 Fuyuki.nö

9 sukara.ga sitaki.nö

10 saya saya

-t /i <>■

y if- ^ r|e

ft. 4x

A- 1 f

4' % 'l^ J^^ d.i.

'Jn % r.ü

f- % Jp

1. ^

/tl * 61

t)P 1 ¥ /-^ ^.c

Mi ik^


(KK, NKBTl: 246/247; Tsuchihashi 1981: 209-213, No. 47;

Philippi 1969: 434, No. 48)

Philippi (1969: 282) translates:

(2) The sun prince

(1) Of Pomuda (3) Opo-sazaki

(4) Opo-sazaki -

(5) The sword which you wear

(6) At the hilt is a saber, (7) But the tip is wondrous,

(9) Like a small shrub by the straight trunk

(8) Of a winter tree -

(10) - saya saya -

Our own (highly tentative) translation of lines 5-10 of the poem

reads: "... the sword he wears/the hilt (supports?)/the tip

(swings?)/[like?] at the winter-tree's/bare trunk the shrub/[rus-

tling] saya saya".

This poem contains many uncertainties and difficulties, and

any translation hinges first of all on the interpretation of lines 6

and 7. There is the evident parallelism of mötö turugi and suwe

Fuyu, and there are in addition several cases of word-play: saya

also means 'sheath' and thus points to tati as well as to turugi

'sword', and Fuyu of line 7 corresponds to Fuyu 'winter' in Fu-

yuki (line 8). But what does this Fuyu mean? Philippi (1969: 282

n.3) in remarking on the difficulty of these two lines lists all the

usual interpretations of Fuyu (his puyu): 'spiritual working' (ac¬

cording to Takeda); or a verb like Furu (his puru) meaning 'to

shake'; or, still "another possible translation" of Fuyu, 'to freeze'.

The JBKD (643 c) declaring Fuyu "not clear" points to the same

"possibilities" without giving preference to any one.

The parallelism of the two lines, 6 and 7, requires that turugi

and Fuyu correspond to each other, so that both should be either

nouns or verbs. Tsuchihashi (1981: 211) favors the latter possi¬

bility, explaining Fuyu as a form in -y- of Furu 'to shake' with a

special meaning connected with the concept of tama vital force':

the shaking of the tama or vital force as a magical practice re¬

stores, enlivens, strengthens its vitality.'' Thus, for Tsuchihashi

' Tsuchihashi's idea of Fuyu = Furu is intimately connected with tama, and

this in turn necessarily involves an endre constellation of related problems only


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 379

the shaking or swinging of the sword point is not to be taken

literally, instead it is the symbolic expression of the movement of

the strong vital forces of the prince. Whether we accept this inter¬

pretation or not, we should note that his next step is to explain,

with the help of a hypothesis of word-formation by contraction,

turugi too as a deverbal formation: turugi < turuki < turi-Faki

{Fak- 'to wear').

To substantiate this "etymology-by-contraction", Tsuchihashi

first lists the several extant examples of phonogram writing of


1) KK poem 33 ±'>'i 2) KK poem 47 v* |l 3) NG (a)i'^^ f^" il

4) NG (b) Ji. % 5) Izumo fudoki %^ % £ ( a ^ ^ )

Taking these into consideration he comes to the conclusion that

I of ex. 4 is in the Nihongi used for unvoiced ki, that of ex. 5

too is unvoiced ki, that ^\ of ex.1 and '11 of ex.3 are used for

unvoiced ki as well as for voiced gi, but that in the Kojiki J'^ is

used for unvoiced kl Thus it is only the |f of ex.2 that indeed is

used for voiced gl The difficulty this voiced form presents he

removes by the assumption that ^ too might be taken as repre-

some of which we may touch upon here. The OJ collocation mi-tama.no Fuyu is

initially of the most concern. The JBKD (704b) lists the term and cites as refer¬

ences three passages in the Nihongi, but none of them is convincing. There is a

"reading" for the first passage cited according to a certain Nihongi manuscript, which cannot be earlier than the Kamakura period, while the other two passages with different kanji orthography have no "reading" at all, hence this mitama.no

Fuyu is not much more than a modern interpretation. One passage is Suinin 99.

year (NKBT 67: 280/281), written >itjl. It is in the poem by Tajima Mori, which Aston (1956: 1.187) translated "Thus, trusting in the spirits of the Emperors", without any further ado. The third and last passage is in Keikö 40. year (NKBT 67:

302/303), where it occurs twice in the speech of Yamato-takeru, once written

si L /t\ , and once 'SL . Aston (1956: 1.204) translated these "trusting in the might of the Imperial spirit" and "trusting in the spirits of the Gods of Heaven and Earth". The JBKD additionally cites the Myögishö which has xf.

mitama.no fuyu. The NKDJ (18: 584a), on the other hand, gives as its eariiest reference for such a term the Nihongi kyö'en waka with a poem ofthe year Tengyö (Tenkei) 6 (= 943): kuni muke shi/hoko no saki yori/tsutahe kuru/mitama.no fuyu [written with phonograms] ha/kefu so ureshiki "directed towards the land/from

the point of the spear/being transmitted/the mitama.no fuyu (wavering of the

spirit)/how glad I feel today" - easy to translate but difficult to comprehend. And as its second reference the NKDJ gives one text tradidon (the Mi-kannagi-bon) of the Nihongi shi-ki with the same passage that the JBKD lists at the beginning (or perhaps it is the same text?). Thus this "reading" mi-tama.no fuyu seems highly suspect and in no way genuine, i.e. valid evidence for OJ.


senting unvoiced ku Tlie now establisiied original turuki he in

turn explains as a contraction of turi-Faki 'to wear (a sword)

hanging down'. We would normally expect that turi-Faki would

be contracted to become turaki, but Tsuchihashi further argues

that there are other examples that show that a may be changed

into u, either spontaneously or by assimilation: kgbututi -

kubututi; kargno - karuno; turg - turu; etc. Thus turuki.nö tati

was, in his opinion, originally turiFakunö tati, an expression of

the same structure as kakihaki.no wotachi ^* ''/a, i_ j, ifl 'the small

hang-up sword' in Man'yöshü-pocm 1809 (NKBT 5: 418/419; the

expression ^f- % T] kakihaki.no tachi is also found in the Tödaiji

inventory list). The development turuki < turiFaki < turiFakunö

tati would correspond with the development of miFakasi 'sword

(= something that is worn at one's body)' out of miFakasi.nö tati

'a sword worn at the body' (Tsuchihashi 1981: 144-145).

1.2.3 Any attempt at suggesting an etymology of OJ turuki/

turugi must for the present at least begin with the frank admission

that we are far from a satisfactory understanding of the many

etymological elements and lexical-semantic changes that most

likely have entered into the history of this word. But by the same

token, this does not mean that we are totally in the dark about its

ultimate origins, nor that we lack a number of more-or-less convin¬

cing arguments that do more than merely suggest continental, i.e.

extra-Japanese linguistic connections for this OJ term.

Initially, it should be pointed out that our knowledge of Ja¬

panese historical linguistics, in particular the set of regular voic¬

ing and unvoicing alternations in the OJ consonantism that are

usually categorized as "Lyman's Law" (Miller 1984; 1985),

throws a certain amount of light upon the otherwise puzzling var¬

iation in the texts between the -A:rand -^r alternants of this word.

Typically, we find no mention of this well-known and obviously

relevant phonological phenomenon anywhere in the kokugogaku

literature as exemplified by Tsuchihashi's speculations and "ety¬

mology-by-contraction" summarized above; but ignoring histori¬

cal linguistics is the hall-mark of most similar speculative scholar¬

ship in Japan.

Of the two forms, turuki and turugi, it is turuki thdX we should

regularly expect to find according to the stipulations of "Lyman's

Law". After the voiced -r- in turu-, a voiceless -k- in the suffix

would be regular and normal; in this position, the form with -g-

would be exceptional and unexpected ("irregular"). (And even


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 381

though Tsuchihashi does not advance his argument in terms of

"Lyman's Law" or indeed any other historical linguistic criteria,

it may well have been his Sprachgefühl for OJ, growing out of his

acknowledged familiarity with the OJ text corpus, that led him to

postulate the "regular" turuki as the "original" form for the pur¬

poses of the remainder of his discussion.)

"Lyman's Law" does not enable us to identify the older or "more

original" of the two forms in absolute terms. But it does make it

possible for us to categorize turuki as "regular" and turugi as "ir¬

regular" ; and other considerations being equal, it would not be im¬

possible to argue that there is a higher probability that the "irregu¬

lar" turugi is the older of the two, in the sense of being an aberrant

form that originally deviated from the normal OJ phonological pa¬

radigm, while the "regular" turuki is the newer, resulting from the

subsequent imposition of that paradigm upon the earlier aberrant

form. It is of course the underlying reason for this phonological

aberration or deviation (a loanword?) that we would most like to

know; but that secret is for the present at least not revealed to us.

Otherwise, the vocalization of the suffix -ki/-gi makes it clear

that the morpheme involved is not OJ ki' 'tree'; unfortunately, it

does not make it clear what instead it is. The posthumous sugges¬

tion of Haguenauer (1976: 35) that this is a borrowing from Chin.

ch'i 'instrument; tool' is not to be taken seriously, and is indeed

unworthy of the memory of the great French Japanologue.

Haguenauer's other etymological attempts at explaining

turuki/turugi 6: 34-35) are studded with fantastic ghost-word

"citations" of Tungus and Korean words that cannot be verified.

This means that it will be necessary for us to undertake an entirely

new survey of the available sources in order to propose an ety¬

mology for OJ turuki/turugi, not only for the final -ki/-gi hui the

turu- as well, and ideally, for the word as a whole.

A word of caution is in order in this connection. In order to

propose an etymology for any word by means of the comparative

method, it is necessary to know the meaning of the word in ques¬

tion. It is only when we already know the meaning of word X in

language A that we are able to compare it with words X2, X3, Xn

...in language B, C, D, etc. This is because the comparative

method works by placing in juxtaposition words of "similar mean¬

ing and similar form". But in a certain and important sense, the

meaning of both tum- and -ki/-gi in turuki/turugi is precisely

what we do not know.


This last statement also requires some small amount of explana¬

tion and amplification. We do of course, on one level, "know what

turuki/turugi means" : obviously, it means a kind of sword'. The

early Chinese glosses, not to mention the modern language, es¬

tablish that much. But what we do not know - and this problem

involves yet another, second level - is the meaning (or meanings)

of the constituent elements that go to make up this word - the

meaning, e.g., of the tu- or of the -^ror of the turu-, etc. With a

"transparent" compound of the order of katana (see Excursus),

we at least have substantial clues at our disposal for suggesting

the identity of the constituent morphemes, kata- and -na. But this

is precisely the kind of clue we lack with the decidedly far-from-

"transparent" word (or perhaps compound?) turuki/turugi We

know that it means 'a kind of sword'; but why does it mean that?

The true question of the why of the meaning of any word can

only be answered by historical etymologies assembled according

to the canons of the comparative method.

A somewhat skewed but nevertheless instructive parallel to the

problem that we shall encounter in the following attempt to study

the etymology of turuki/turugi may be provided by a brief con¬

sideration of the etymology of NE sword; the two cases, mutatis

mutandis, throw a certain amount of light on one another. On one

level, the same first level of meaning alluded to above, we of

course "know what sword means", and thanks to this fact we are

able immediately and with no difficulty to compare NE sword

with, e.g., MHG and OHG swert, OE sweord, and a host of

equally obvious cognates, similar in sound and sense, until even¬

tually and by this process of comparison we are able to recover

("reconstruct") the now-lost Germanic original *swerda- of which

all these attested words are later changed forms. Etymology on

this level of meaning is satisfying, secure and sound; we feel,

correctly enough, that it really tells us "where the word came


The parallel exercise with OJ turuki/turugi would involve the

comparison of all recorded modern dialect forms and earlier his¬

torical forms attested in written records. But this would not help

us very much, since none of these available forms differs from any

of the others except in suprasegmental pitch-accent, so that the

OJ turuki/turugi of our eighth-century written records is in effect

as far back as we can go within Japanese itself in the direction of

the history of this word. And, as we have seen, that at best leaves


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 383

an important question about tlie form itself moot, while at the

same time it does not notably advance our understanding of why

this word means 'a kind of sword'.

For that, in both Germanic and Japanese, we must advance to

the other, second level referred to above. For NE sword, after we

have recovered Gmc. *swerda-, we are at liberty to look to the

other non-Germanic Indo-European languages. We will not find

words in those languages that are of the general shape of *swerda-

and at the same time "mean sword". Instead, we find a scattering

of words that seem to have some general formal resemblance to

the desired form, and whose meanings may, especially with the

addition of some imagination on our part, appear to relate to the

function of a sword as an instrument for inflicting suppurating

wounds. Lexical candidates that have been suggested include

Avestan Jt*ara- 'mit einer Waffe zugefügte Wunde', ChSl. chyra

'Gebrechlichkeit, Krankheit', Olr. serb 'bitter, scharf ', and Skt.

svr- 'quälen, verletzen'. None of these proposed cognates is im¬

possible on either phonological or semantic grounds; but at the

same time, whatever light these words may shed upon "the mean¬

ing of sword" is not only on another level but also rests upon a

far less secure basis than does the earlier comparison entirely

within Germanic. Throughout our survey of the available non-Ja¬

panese lexical materials, it is important to keep in mind that since

we are here operating on this second level of meaning, any con¬

clusion based upon even the best comparative etymological mate¬

rial that may be discovered will never be more than a careful

guess. It will not really ever explain for us what we do not already

know, i.e. what turuki/turugi meant in OJ.

Nevertheless, and even in the absence of this all-important et¬

ymological clue of meaning, a speculative search for prototypes

may be conducted, as below, by considering words as possible

etymological candidates on the basis of the form and function

of the item itself Parallel to turning to the other Indo-European

languages cited in connection with NE sword, we shall in the case

of Japanese turn to the other Altaic languages, particularly to

their Tungus branch, where lexical candidates for this comparison

appear to be particularly well represented. Of course, we cannot

be absolutely certain that OJ turuki/turugi etymologically re¬

flected the form and/or function of the item thus designated. But

if indeed it did, then at the very least the following Altaic forms

are plausible candidates:


(1) In Tungus, Ev. turu 'column, pillar, post; mast; shamanist

tree; perch, pole (for display of shamanist cult objects)', turu- 'to

prop something up'; Neg. toro 'perch, pole, staff (relig.); site of

sacrifice'; Oroc. tü 'perch, pole, staff (shamanist)'; Ulc.

türa—türü 'column', toro 'perch, etc. (shamanist)', Ma. tura

'column; prop, support' (borrowed as Yak. turu 'shamanist tree') ;

cognate with WMo. tura 'fortress, stronghold', and OTk. tur- 'to

stand, stay' (TMS 2.221 a-b). The fuller range of this proposed

Altaic etymon, *tur- (verb) 'stand, arise', *tura (noun) 'structural

support; fortification' is exhibited in Poppe (1960: 14, 79, 123; cf

Street 1974: 28, 37) to which the more detailed Tungus data cited

above (and not available to Poppe [I960]) should be added.

Poppe's citations of "Kor. tari 'Pfosten im Haus, Stützpfeiler'"

(1960: 79) and "Kor. tori 'Dachsparren, Tragbalken'" (1960: 14)

are somewhat problematic; the second is NKor. toli 'a beam upon

which the rafters of a house rest' (Martin et al., 1967: 465 a); but

the first is not so immediately to be identified (and apparently is

not to be taken as MKor. tali [Nam 1972; 135b], NKor. tali

'bridge'). Curiously enough, neither of these Korean-Altaic com¬

parisons by Poppe appears to originate in Ramstedt (1949), which

is unexpected. Additional cognates are available in VEWT 500,

which exhibits both the verbal and deverbal noun reflexes of this

presumably Altaic root in the Turkic branch of Altaic.

This etymological constellation, particularly in view of the

documented religious, resp. shamanist connotations of many of

the Tungus forms, would seem entirely plausible as a genetic

source for OJ turu- in the words at issue, particularly as possibly

reflecting the sociological-religious symbolism of the object.

(2) Most recently Starostin (1991: 288 no.278) has attempted

to reconstruct for Proto-Altaic a root that he writes as *cualV. This

reconstruction is especially important because it is one of the

relatively few of Starostin's proposed Proto-Altaic forms that is

supported by lexical evidence (cognates) from the entire Altaic

linguistic domain, i.e. the three so-called "Inner" language fami¬

lies of Turkic, Mongolian and Tungus plus both Korean and Ja¬


For the meaning of this reconstructed root Starostin is less

than clear. We do not understand why (p. 288) he glosses his re¬

construction as 'a kind of larch plant'. From the semantic evi¬

dence of the bulk of his cognates it is clear that the Altaic proto-

form had reference to any straight stalk or stem, typically without



Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 385

foliage. Among the forms Starostin cites we may note OTk. tai.

Yak. talaq 'willow' (cf. also VEWT 457 b); WMo. doluyana,

Kaim. äfo/ä«a 'hawthorn'; Tg. Neg.Jdlta, Ud.jalikta, Na.jalaqta,

jarikta. Lam. jalikta 'hawthorn' (TMS 1.246 b); MKor. culki

'stalk, stem without foliage' (attested in a MKor. source unavail¬

able to us), NKor. culki, culgoli, colkali 'stalk, stem, trunk, cane,

haulm', and finally "OJ turu 'rod, twig'".' This last lexical entry

(1991: 271) is oddly enough the only part of Starostin's ety¬

mology that causes particular problems. The OJ form as cited is

not attested; perhaps Starostin intended NJ tsuru 'climbing (of

a plant or vine)' or its variant NJ tsura 'id.'. But whatever he may

have had in mind, the problem is not an important one for our

present purposes at least, and in actual fact we do not have to

look far for a more convincing Japanese cognate with which to

fill out this etymology. It is immediately at hand in our OJ


Furthermore, within the entire lexical repertory of the

Starostin etymology, it is obviously MKor., NKor. culki that

brings us most closely to within striking distance of OJ

turuki/turugi, so far as both phonetic configuration and semantic

description of the form of the object is concerned: the distance in

meaning separating 'sword' and 'stalk, stem' is hardly a major

obstacle. As usual in these studies, we wish we knew more ofthe

history of the Korean word(s). The Korean suffix -\-ki~ + V usu¬

ally derives deverbal nouns; unfortunately our available Korean

lexical sources register no verb that might have served in this

formation. But it is also possible that Kor. culki is a denominal

noun in onto the noun NKor. cui 'string, rope, cord, line',

cf. OJ turu a cord, a line', OJ tura 'an ordered alignment or

arrangement', OJ tur- 'catch fish (on a line)'. All in all, a semantic

association of Proto-Altaic *cualV, especially as this root is re¬

flected in the secondary formation documented in Kor. culki, with

'straight, upright (sc. as a stalk or stem, resp., as a line or cord)'

seems secure enough; and such a sense would hardly have been

out of place as a designation for a sword. Indeed, so striking is

the phonological parallel between MKor. culki and OJ

' Note also that like most of the data in Starostin (1991), a book that lacks even the hint of an index, one must search long and hard for the relevant passages.

In the case of his *cualV, various entries, in addition to p. 288, will be found on pp.14, 187, 224, 242, 257 and 271!



turuki/turugi that one is even tempted to regard the OJ term as a

loanword from the (to us still unknown) Old Korean prototype

underlying the former.

(3) Isolated within three Tungus languages only are additional

words that may eventually also throw light upon the etymology of

OJ turuki/turugi i e. Ev. tiri, Lam. tin'. Ma. turu 'belt, strap;

girdle' (TMS 2.187 b). Unfortunately nothing more is known of

the history of these words or of their ultimate Altaic connections

(if any). For the present it may only be remarked that their limited

distribution within the Tungus linguistic domain might well point

to all three languages cited having received the forms as loans (but

if so, from where?).^ The sense of these words reminds us of

course of attempts (see supra) to relate OJ tumkl/turugl to OJ

tur- 'to hang, suspend', a verb that itself has frequently been

suspected of being cognate with OJ turu 'a cord, a line'. The

semantic and phonological correlations of these words, and their

obvious overlap with the forms involved in (2) supra, can hardly

all be fortuitous; but for the present it is difficult to say more.

(4) Less impressive, because it presently lacks cognates else¬

where in Altaic, but nevertheless still worth serious future etymo¬

logical consideration, is the verb NKor. toli- 'cuts (out) round,

gouges (out a wound with a knife)' (Martin et al., 1967: 465 a-b).

Again, the etymological connection, if one is eventually estab¬

lished, would be related to function. Unfortunately nothing ap¬

pears to be known of the history of this NKor. word; in particular,

we would like to know what historical affinity, if any, it bears to

NKor. calu- 'cut off, chop' and its Tungusic kin cited above.

Each of the four etymological assemblages sketched above has

its own strong points as well as its problems; and it is impossible

to settle upon any single one as definitely superior in plausibility,

mainly because of the semantic-factor limitations already ex¬

plained. For all that, however, it is neither impossible nor without

utility to attempt to evaluate them in terms relative to one another.

Of the four, (2) is all-in-all the most promising, mostly since it

is the only one that phonologically and morphologically accounts

' A fortuitous but for all that usefully representative example in which the attestation of a word for 'sword' in only a limited number of the Tungus languages correlates with its having been borrowed from outside Altaic is provided by Oroc.

lauca, Olc. laua(n-), Orok. iavtain-)- lauta(n-) 'sword', borrowed from Gilyak lavzas 'cutlass' (TMS 1.495 b).


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 387

for the entire linguistic form in question, i.e. the -ki/gi as well as

the turu-. It also is more than satisfactory on the semantic level

as well. Its implied metaphoric reference to the sword as a 'stalk'

or 'stem' or 'rod' surely raises no serious questions' - far fewer,

indeed, than does the received I. E. etymology for 'sword' as 'in-

flictor of suppurating wounds'! Since it is only in Korean that

etymology (2) completely accounts for both the turu- and the

-ki/-gi, this etymology also implies particularly close (or in

chronological terms, proximate) relationship between the words

in question in OJ and Old Korean, perhaps even a relationship

of borrowing from Korean to Japanese, rather than a genetic con¬

nection; but this too hardly detracts from the value of the ety¬


Etymology (1) is flawed in that it does not account for the

-ki/-gi; otherwise it has, as already remarked, much to recom¬

mend it. Especially to be noted is the obvious semantic bridge that

may easily be postulated to link the 'stalk, stem, rod' of (2) with

the prop, support, column' senses of (1). Indeed, it would not be

going too far to say that semantically (even if not formally), (1) is

only an appendage of (2), and that each of these two etymological

assemblages reinforces the other.

Viewed in this light, etymolgy (3) appears to be a semantic (or

metaphoric) "mirror image" of (1) and (2). The former two appar¬

ently refer to the form of the sword as a stalk or pole standing

upright, an object conceptualized as a column or as a pole or as

providing support, while (3) seems to view the sword in exactly

the opposite fashion, as something suspended downwards, e.g.,

from the waist, with semantic-metaphoric adumbrations of

'straight; in a line or row'. But with this we have once more

returned to the semantic realm of (2), and hence by implication

also to that of (1), so that in a manner of speaking it is possible

to view each of these first three etymological assemblages as rep¬

resenting nothing more than three different aspects of a single

original etymon. Unfortunately, (4), which again focuses on func¬

tion rather than form, is too fragmentary to justify further com¬


' It has only to be remembered that sharp pointed sticks which are supposed

to have served as spear-like weapons have been found already in Torihama, an

Early Jömon site (Fukui Pref.; cf. Aikens and Higuchi 1982: 127).


In this manner, a good deal may be suggested, if not finally

actually settled, about the history of OJ turuki/turugi hy compari¬

son with putative cognate forms in the other Altaic languages;

nevertheless, it is important to stress yet once more that since the

meaning of OJ turuki/turugi remains unknown, in the sense ex¬

plained above, a final and thoroughly convincing etymology also

and by that same token remains impossible. All that may be done

is, as here, to note prospectively promising etymological candi¬


1.3 These two Kojiki-poems connected with the sword offer no

context at all with any special background or meaning so far as

we can understand them. But what may be said about the

Man 'yöshü -poems'?

1.3.1 There are in all four Man'yöshü -poems in which the term

tati appears (M 199, 2906, 4347, 4456), but these poems too offer

no context that might elucidate any concept concerning the sword.

Thus we must instead study the compound turugitati. This com¬

pound is used either in a literal sense or as a makurakotoba; three

times the term is written with Chinese characters used as phono¬

grams, but in all other instances we find the usual semantogram

orthography. The reading tradition for this semantogram ortho¬

graphy is turugitati, but two out of the three different graphs used

for the phonogram writing of the last syllable of turuki/turugi ■^X

(M 804) and it (M 3485) are used in the Man'yöshü for unvoiced

kl as well as for voiced gl; it is again only |f (M 4467) which is

unambiguously voiced gl

The Man'yöshü-poems use the term turugitati mostly in a stereo¬

typed way, showing the sword in the context of daily life : it is hung

up, clad, worn at the hips or on the body (M 478, 604, 804, 2635,

4094, 4164), and it is unsheathed (M 3240). M 3227 alludes to the

offering of swords otherwise known from the records of the Kojiki

and Nihongi An unhappy lover compares his feelings with trea¬

ding on the sharp edges of a sword - may he even die in doing so

(M 2498, 2636); and in M 4467 0tomo.no Yakamochi asserts that

like a sword that has to be polished, the good old family name has

been held clean - playing with the homonymy of na 'name' and

-na 'edge', and of saya 'sheath' and sayakeku 'clean, clear'.

It is uncertain whether in turugitati togisi kökörö.wo 'the heart

polished like a sword' (M 3326) turugitati is used simply for com¬

parison or as a makurakotoba, and the same holds true for

turugitati as a makurakotoba suggesting closeness: turugitatim'l.ni


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 389

soFu 'near the body like a sword' (M 194, 217, 2637, 3485); but

combined with na 'name' or na 'you; l' as homonyms of -na

'blade, edge', turugitati as a makurakotoba is only brought in

because of this homonymy and conveys no meaning in the context

of the poem: 1. turugitati na.nö osikeku-mo 'sorry for the

name/blade of a sword' (M 616, 2499, 2984); 2. turugitati na.ga

kökörö 'sword blade/your (my) heart' (M 1741). The same holds

true for M 2983 where instead of turugitati we find Koma-turugi,

'a Korean [Koguryo] sword'.

OJ na 'name' (NJ na.mae 'id.') is still apparently without an

etymology, but the other two members of this involved triple-

semantic conceit {na 'you; l' and -na 'blade, edge') are most

easily explained by direct reference to Korean, cf. MKor. na

(Nam 1972: 85 b), NKor. na '2; self, ego', NKor. no 'you (to a

child or inferior)' (Martin et al., 1967: 284b, 329b), and MKor.

.näl.h-, NKor. nal 'blade'. It is important to note that the MKor.

form is also attested (Nam 1972: 95b-96a) as glossing Chinese if

feng 'a sharp point; tip of a lance or bayonet', and Chineselt

mang 'a sharp point', as well as Chinese i'i e 'edge; point .

1.3.2 There is only one Man'yöshü-poem, M 3833, that uses

turugitati in an unusual and significant context:

1 (hu) tora.«/ (ch'eng) nori Tt, -i^

2 (ku wu) furuya. )vo (yüeh) koete ii ^ ^ uO

3 (ch'ing yüan) aobuchi.«/ 'M

4 (chiao-lung ch'ü chiang lai) M iL

mizuchi torikomu

5 (chien'" tao) tsurugitachi. moga 4? 7] ^ ^

(NKBT7: 142/143)

A tentative translation might be:

1 Mounting a tiger

2 and thus crossing the old house

3 in the blue abyss

4 to catch the water-dragon :

5 oh but had I such a sword!

On the surface this poem seems easy to understand, but actually

there are several interesting concepts involved. There is the anti-

'° ^fi seems to be a variant of > ^'J


thesis of the tiger and the dragon, a decidedly Chinese idea which

finds expression e.g. in the 'Blue Dragon' as the animal standing

for the east, for spring and for new life, and the 'White Tiger'

symbolizing the west, autumn and death. That these concepts

were known among the upper classes in Japan in the V"' century

at the latest is shown, e.g., by the wall paintings in the Takamat-

suzuka tomb built toward the end of this period." The 'Animals

of the Four Quarters' as they appear on the walls of this tomb (the

'Red Bird' belonging to the south was destroyed when the south

wall of the chamber was broken into by grave robbers) are painted

in the same manner as was customary in Chinese tombs from the

Han Dynasty on, and also in Korean tombs (Koguryo, Paekche).

Another Man 'yöshü -poem speaks of the tiger as a 'god' and con¬

nects it with Korea (M 3885). Indeed, while there were no indi¬

genous large Felidae in Japan, the tiger not only roamed about

the Korean mountains but was held by the Koreans to be a man¬

ifestation of the mountain god; and knowledge of this idea may

well have been brought to Japan by early Korean immigrants.

The water-dragon, on the other hand, is a purely mythical

beast, and thus in its case we have to reckon also with the possi¬

bility of a genuine Japanese concept more or less similar to the

Chinese one. The original text of this poem uses the Chinese

graphs chiao-lung as semantograms. The 1^: chiao was a

snake-like creature living at the bottom of rivers, a being rather

hostile and malevolent towards men. The lung , on the other

hand, was the 'real' dragon who lives at the bottom of lakes and

rivers only during winter, while in spring, with the first thunder,

he ascends to heaven causing the rains to fall. Thus he is a well-

meaning, friendly being bringing good luck, and as he is the giver

of the fertile rains he is prayed to when a drought is impending,

or when, to the contrary, too heavy rains threaten to drown every¬

thing. The chiao cannot ascend to heaven and provides neither

rain nor fertility (cf Eberhard 1968: 378). These two originally

different concepts, that of the chiao, the ill-meaning snake-like

'water-dragon', and that of the lung, the luck-bringing 'real

dragon', were conflated with one another quite early, as even the

compound chiao-lung proves. But what concepts were connected

with OJ mituti, the word that evidently translated chiao-lung? It

" Cf Takamatsuzuka hekigakan. Kaisetsu. Asukamura 1980.



Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 391

is only the Wamyöshü, however, that gives the form mituti, and

there is no consensus in regard to the etymology of this word.

Traditional Japanese scholarship would find in this form a suf¬

fix consisting ofa morpheme -ti 'spirit, etc' that is often invoked

in order to provide totally Japanese etymologies for difficult, resp.

obscure early words and names. But in the case of at least one

such difficult form, OJ worö.ti 'serpent' (a word to which we will

later come back), this analysis will not hold, since it is hardly

possible to separate worö.ti from Tg. Ev. irgici 'wolf', lit. 'with

tail, the tailed one'. OJ worö 'tail (of a mountain bird)', attested

in M 3468, a poem in the non-standard Azuma dialect OJ, and

standard OJ wo 'animal or bird's tail' have an Altaic etymology:

pTg. *xürgü, Ev. irgi, Ork. xudu, etc. ::OJ worö, wo 'tail'. In this

connection OJ worö.ti is doubly important, both for its -ti suffix,

which has, as above, significant Tungusic parallels, but also for

its fuller representation of the original morpheme (cf. Miller

1987: 45, no (25), with the details of the etymology). So in this

word at least the was hardly the ubiquitous -ti 'spirit, etc' of

the modern Japanese lexical sources and secondary literature. The

same secondary literature also wavers between a pronunciation as

OJ mituti, as in the Wamyöshö (cf. JBKD 709b) and another as

OJ miduti (e.g., NKBT7: 143); in terms of "Lyman's Law" (see

supra) the variant as miduti is the expected ("normal") one, and

probably to be preferred when not contradicted by explicit phono¬

gram evidence. Thus miduti could be interpreted as a 'water-be¬

ing, the one from the water'.

It is possible that a passage in the Nihongi (Nintoku 67"' year,

NKBT 67: 414/415) using the Chinese graphs A -tX ta-ch'iu'a hig

young dragon' refers to miduti, and here the beasts are clearly

hostile, causing the death of many people by their poison. In

regard to the Chinese chiao Eberhard (loc.cit.) remarks that the

"best description seems to be that a chiao looks like a snake with

a tiger head, is several fathoms long, lives in brooks and rivers,

and bellows like a bull; when it sees a human being it traps him

with its stinking saliva, then pulls him into the water and sucks

his blood from his armpits ... Most commonly then, the chiao are

close to the snakes, and snakes are connected with metal. Snakes

occur as money and as metal from which weapons are made ...

Therefore, metal was let down in the water as protection against

the chiao which are themselves metal." We encounter this inter¬

esting connection between snakes and metal, or snakes and


swords, in Japanese mythology and folklore as well, and it is quite

evident that this tradition is of foreign origin in Japan (cf.

Naumann 1971: 221 ff.). But this also makes it clear that the

sword, being made from iron or from bronze, is the proper

weapon for fighting the malevolent and dangerous water-dragon,

while the tiger as the traditional antagonistic animal with respect

to the dragon would be the proper mount for such an adventure.

The poem, while thus conveying a cluster of ideas originating

in China, also contains an allusion that leads us into Japanese

matters. Line 2 speaks of Furuya, an 'old house' that shall be

crossed. The question has been raised whether Furuya could itself

be a place-name, or whether the form consists of ya 'house' added

to a place-name Furu. But as soon as the place-name Furu is

mentioned in connection with a sword one cannot but think of

Iso-no kami Furu, one of the oldest shrines in Yamato, mentioned

as Iso.no kami Furu in several Man'yöshü poems (e.g. M 422,

1019, 1353 etc.). The Nihongi records that "Inishiki no Mikoto,

while dwelling in the palace at Kahakami of Udo in Chinu, made

a thousand swords. Therefore those swords were called the

Kahakami set. [Gloss: Another name was the Naked Compan¬

ions.] They were deposited in the shrine of Iso no kami. After this

the Emperor gave orders to Inishiki no Mikoto, and made him to

have charge of the divine treasures of the shrine of Iso no kami"

(Aston 1956: 1,183; cf. NKBT 67: 276/277). The same occur¬

rence is also related in the Kojiki (NKBT 1: 188/189; cf. Philippi

1969: 211). As we will see later, there are other famous swords

said to have been stored in this shrine; the shrine is mentioned in

the Kojiki and in the Nihongi as a recipient of swords as offer¬

ings; and to this day it keeps as a treasure the so-called Seven-

Branched Sword presented to the Yamato ruler as a gift from the

king of Paekche around the year 370. A "pond of Iso.no kami" is,

moreover, mentioned in the Nihongi (NKBT 68: 343; cf. Aston

1956: 11,265), which may or may not have to be taken into con¬

sideration in regard to the 'blue abyss'.

The poem M 3833 thus merely touches upon the outer fringes

of a whole complex of ideas, some of which had, at that time,

been brought to Japan only quite recently, while others lead back

to much older connections with the continent. This will become

clearer as we now revert to the stories handed down in the Kojiki

and Nihongi.

2. The stories we now turn to are either mythical or legendary.


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 393

They are in many ways interlocked, and the swords, or the names

of the swords they feature, show up in different situations. Thus,

for the beginning, we must go back to the First Parents of the

Japanese mythology.

2.1 When the mother-goddess Izanami gave birth to the fire-

god she was burnt and died. Thereupon here husband Izanagi was

wroth, and he drew his sword and slew the fire-god and cut his

body into pieces. These pieces as well as the blood dripping from

the sword all transformed themselves into gods. The number and

the names of the gods thus coming into existence differ in the

various accounts as given in the Kojiki (NKBT 1: 60/61-62/63;

Philippi 1969: 59-60) and three variants of the Nihongi (variants

VI, VII and VIII, NKBT 67: 91-92/93, 96/97-98/99; Aston

1956: 1,22-23, 28-29). Apart from this we can discern two ten¬

dencies: var. VIII of the Nihongi seeks to give an etiological ex¬

planation for why there is 'fire' within all the herbs, trees, and

pebbles - it is the splashed blood of the fire-god adhering to all

of them. In the same var. VIII, and also in the Kojiki, the pieces

of the cut-up body of the god all change into mountain-deities.

This could also be an etiological explanation hinting at volcanoes,

if only the names of these mountain-deities would support this

supposition, but unfortunately they do noL'^ But here, a second

tendency becomes visible: an attempt at creating numerical units

of symbolic significance. In the just-mentioned var. VIII of the

Nihongi it is the number 'five'": the fire-god is cut into five parts

which change into five mountain-deities; in var. VI and var. VII

he is cut into three parts changing into deities, while the Kojiki

favors the number 'eight'''': though Izanagi cut off only the head

" A short discussion and refutadon of the interpretadon of this myth as an

explanation of volcanism favored by Matsumura Takeo and Matsumae Takeshi

is to be found in Obayashi 1981: 13-15.

" The number 'five' represents the total arrived at by the addition of the four cardinal points and the center. In Chinese philosophical speculation 'five' is, in accordance with this scheme, the basic number for the arrangement ofthe primary elements, and thus also for a host of other categories. In Japanese mythology and historical legend 'five' is the preferred number in connecdon with politically rel¬

evant groupings.

" In Japanese mythology the number 'eight' represents a totality, the whole.

Here too the Chinese model may not be overlooked. Cf. Naumann and Miller

1990: 24ff, 43 ff.; Naumann 1971: 199ff. The significance ofthe number 'three' needs no further comment.


of the god, eight mountain-deities come into existence in his

body; three come into existence from the blood adhering to the

tip of the sword, three from the blood adhering to the sword-

guard, two from the blood adhering to the hilt, altogether again

eight deities. Tn var. VI of the Nihongi the blood dripping from

three parts of the sword, hilt-ring, point, and head, changes into

three deities each, but the blood which dripped from the edge of

the sword becomes the 500 rocks which are in the bed of the

Heavenly Yasu-River.'^ In var. VII, however, the blood which

gushed out and stained the 500 rocks in the midst of this Heavenly

River becomes the deities Iwasaku and Nesaku, their children

Iwatsutsu.no wo and Iwatsutsu.no me, and the child of the latter

two named Futsu-nushi. The names of these deities appear also

in var. VI, and three of them, Iwasaku, Nesaku, and Iwatsutsu.no

wo, in the Kojiki as well. Together with Mikahayahi and Hihaya-

hi, who according to the Kojiki and var. VI of the Nihongi also

came into existence from the blood of the fire-god, they will later

be mentioned again as the ancestors of Futsu-nushi and

Takemikazuchi respectively. (In the Kojiki version, however,

Takemikazuchi comes into existence from the blood adhering to

the sword-guard.) But, as is true of most of the other deities

named in the several variants, they remain nothing but more or

less obscure, empty names, and as such they owe their existence

mainly to speculation. Thus it is no wonder that speculation also

prevails in the attempt to "explain" this myth.'* We will later have

occasion to come back to this.

Apart from the "ancestors" just mentioned, only six out of the

total of 22 gods named are either further mentioned within the

myths or worshipped in a shrine. They are the gods Kuraokami

and Takaokami, both rain-providing gods worshipped in the Nibu

Kawakami and the Kibune shrines; and there is the god Öyama-

tsumi, a mountain-god and at the same time a god of fate who

fixed the length of human life. He reminds us of the Korean

mountain-deity who, appearing in the shape of the tiger, is also

a god of fate. Thus it seems rather consistent that the legend

For the Heavenly Yasu-River', ame.no yasu.no kaFa, as part of the heavenly geography see Naumann [1994?].

" For an example of this kind see Obayashi 1981: 12, 15 sqq. In a highly

speculative manner he takes the names of some of the deities to represent the

process of forging an iron sword.


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 395

connected with the principal shrine of the god Öyamatsumi in the

province of lyo tells us that during the time of Nintoku Tennö

this god came over from the Old Korean kingdom of Paekche and

went to Mishima in the province of Tsu, whence he moved to lyo

(SDJ I: 260, 261). There is furthermore the god Ikazuchi whose

name means 'thunder' and who may be a relative of the thunder-

gods Ho.no Ikazuchi and Wake-ikazuchi connected with the

Kamo shrine." But Ikazuchi may also be connected to or perhaps

even identical with the next god we must mention, Takemikazu¬

chi, whose name is also written ii'iSp 'f and thus explained as OJ

take-mi-ikaduti > takemlkaduti. However this may be, the Kojiki

gives Takefutsu and Toyofutsu as two "other names" for this god;

and these names connect him also with the next and last god we

must mention, Futsu-nushi. Takemikazuchi is worshipped in the

Kashima shrine, Futsu-nushi in the Katori shrine, and both of

them later in Kasuga as clan gods of the Fujiwara. As we shall

see later, both these gods are intimately connected with the sword.

Last but not least we must mention the name of the sword

Izanagi used for slaying the fire-god, and thus creating all these

gods. It is, according to the Kojiki, OJ ame.nö woFabari or itu.nö

woFabari. The Nihongi, however, gives it no name.

2.1.1 We encounter this name again in the Kojiki at an impor¬

tant junction in Japanese mythology, but here it is a god who is

called Ame.no wohabari or Itu.no wohabari. When the god

Takaki (= Takamimusubi) and the sun-goddess Amaterasu wish

the land to be pacified before they send down their offspring to

rule it, their first attempts fail. Now the gods propose to send

either this Ame.no wohabari or his son Takemikazuchi, and

Ame.no wohabari consents to send his son. Together with the god

Ame.no toribune he descends to the beach of Inasa in Izumo, and

there "they unsheathed the swords ten hands long and stood them

upside down upon the crest of the waves; then, sitting cross-

legged atop the point of the swords", they inquire of the god

Okuninushi whether he will surrender and cede the land he rules

to the heavenly offspring. Okuninushi directs them to his sons,

the first of whom surrenders, while the second one proposes a test

of strength and asks for the arm of Takemikazuchi. But when he

grasped the arm, Takemikazuchi changed it first into an icicle and

" For the Kamo shrine and its gods see Naumann 1988: 188-193.


then into a sword blade, so that he could not hold it. But when

Talcemikazuchi took the arm of Ökuninushi's son, he crushed it.

Thus this son too had to surrender, and Ökuninushi followed the

advice of his sons. Their mission completed, Takemikazuchi and

his companion returned to heaven (NKBTl: 118/119-122/123;

cf. Philippi 1969: 129-134).

The main text of the Nihongi relates more or less the same

story, and differs only in some small though important details. It

is Takamimusubi alone who manages the whole enterprise, and

after the first disappointments he intends to commission Futsu-

nushi with the subjection of Ökuninushi. But here Takemikazuchi

comes forth and asks to be sent too. The two of them then descend

and put their swords upside down on the ground and sit cross-

legged on their points, asking Ökuninushi to surrender. Here

Ökuninushi has only one son, accordingly there is no test of

strength (NKBT 67: 138/139; cf. Aston 1956: 1,67-69).

We notice that Futsu-nushi has not only taken the place of

Ame.no Toribune, an otherwise insignificant god, but that he

precedes Takemikazuchi. The genealogy of Takemikazuchi given

in the Nihongi is divergent from the one in the Kojiki: his father

is Hihayahi, the grandfather Mikahayahi, and the great-grand¬

father is Itsu.no wobashiri who is thought to correspond to Itsu.no

wohabari, his father in the Kojiki version mentioned above.

In var. I of the Nihongi Amaterasu commissions Takemikazuchi

and Futsu-nushi (NKBT 67: 146/147; Aston 1956: 1,76), in

var. II the "Heavenly Deity" sends Futsu-nushi and Takemikazu¬

chi, both without further elaborating the story as in the main text

and in the Kojiki, but with var. II giving further details concerning

the worship of these gods (NKBT 67: 149-150/151; Aston 1956:


The significance of the cross-legged sitting of the two gods on

the points of their swords escapes us - anything that can be said

is purely speculative. All that is clear is that it is a superhuman

feat, probably to be understood as something extraordinary even

" This at least is the equation at which the SDJ (1, 133 a) arrives after having brought together all the variants of this myth and that of slaying the fire-god which mention the names. But, the SDJ argues further, ifltsu.no wohabari and Itsu.no wobashiri are only two different names for one and the same god, then the same

must hold true for Takemikazuchi and Futsu-nushi as well; the two different

names again cannot but designate one and the same god.


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 397

for the gods, and as such giving the impression of superiority. Or

in this collocation do we find a semantic reflection of the tentative

etymology stated above [§1.2.3 (1)] in which turu- may have been

'support, column, pillar'? It will suffice, for the time being, to

note the intimate connection of the gods with the sword that is

documented by this feat. In connection with the "changing of his

arm into an icicle" and then into a "sword blade", late OJ turara

'icicle' may point in the direction of the other tentative etymology

sketched above [§ 1.2.3 (2)]." But before we return to this we will

take cognizance of still another story relating to the god


2.1.2 This story too is connected with an important point in

Japanese legendary history. When Kamu Yamato Iwarebiko, bet¬

ter known as 'Jimmu Tennö', was fighting in the mountains of

Kumano on his way to conquer Yamato, a large bear was seen

moving around and then disappeared, and Iwarebiko and his

troops all lost consciousness. At this time Takakuraji of Kumano

brought a sword to where Iwarebiko was lying and presented it.

Iwarebiko woke up, his troops all woke up, and all the unruly

deities in the Kumano mountains were cut down spontaneously.

When asked about it the man who had brought this sword said

that he had dreamt that Amaterasu and Takaki had ordered

Takemikazuchi to descend and help Iwarekibo defeat his ene¬

mies. But Takemikazuchi thought it sufficient to send his sword;

thus the sword was dropped down through the roof into the store¬

house of this Takakuraji and he was told in his dream to go in

the morning and take it and present it. And behold, there was the

sword as announced in the dream! This is the story as told in the

Kojiki, and here the sword also has a personal name, or rather

" Unfortunately, further pursuit of this etymological hint is impossible because

we do not know what OJ word underlies the Chinese text of the Kojiki at this

point in the narradve. The text (ed. NKBTl: 120) has Chin, i K li ping, lit.

'standing, erect ice'. This compound has traditionally been "read" in Japan as tachihi (thus, the ed. in NKBTl: 121), i.e. OJ *latiFi (tat- 'to stand erect', Fi 'ice'). But this compound is a lexical ghostword, otherwise unattested in Old Japanese as in the later language, and surely was coined to calque this particular passage. (Interesdngly enough, the usual lexical sources go on to explain this ghost-form as meaning not 'icicle' proper, i.e. a hanging mass of ice, but instead as a stalagmite-like column of ice pushing its way up out of the suddenly frozen earth.) The possibility that the attested late OJ turara 'icicle' underlies the Chinese li ping ofthe text seems never to have been considered.


more than one. It is called saziFutu[.nö]kami, with the other

names mIkaFutu[.nö]kami and Futu[.nö]müama, and this

"sword dwells in the shrine of Iso.no kami" (NKBT 1: 150/151-

152-153; Philippi 1969: 167-168). The Nihongi speaks of a "poi¬

sonous vapor" causing the exhaustion of the army. The sword that

is sent down by Takemikazuchi the god himself calls Futsu.no

mi-tama, and it is found standing with the point upwards when

Takakuraji enters his storehouse. (NKBT 67: 194/195; Aston

1956: 1,115).

2.1.3 In order to understand the meaning and the significance

of these stories which are connected with the sword in different

ways we must consider several points that at first may seem ir¬

relevant yet in the end will prove important. Japanese myths are

of a highly involved character. What now appears as a smooth

homogeneous story often consists of different layers of different

ages and different origins, some corrupted and distorted, but all

aptly linked, adjusted, and garnished with additions either of a

speculative character or else directed by political intentions.

We have already pointed to the tendency to etiological explana¬

tion in the story of the Slaying of the Fire-god; but the deepest

layer of this story is more than just an explanation. As a true myth

it gives the reason for the fact that there is fire in pebbles, trees,

and herbs. The mythical deeds done in primeval times effect all

the essentials of this world and of human life. Thus, as this myth¬

ical deed has brought fire into the objects named, it continues to

be effective to this day; it is irreversible. Fire is one of the essential

elements in human life; therefore we can assume that this layer

of the myth goes back to a very early age. But then it is possible

that the sword, a relatively new achievement, may not be the

original weapon but a later substitute. This might be the result of

a natural development, but it might also be a deliberately effected

alteration, an alteration in connection with other, specific addi¬

tions to this myth, in this case, the addition of certain gods also

associated with the sword. The inherent logic or coherence of the

original myth provides no necessity for any such addition, but

there must be reasons given in the story itself and/or outside it

that made the addition desirable and possible.

To slay and kill is the trade of the warrior. Thus the story of the

slaying of the fire-god was an appropriate place at which to in¬

troduce two gods that appeared on another, politically important

occasion in a warrior-like attitude. For the immediate reasons for


Old Japanese Sword Names and Stories Relating to Swords 399

introducing these gods we will have to look for individuals espe¬

cially interested in them and influential enough to effect their

introduction. The appearance of the gods Takemikazuchi and

Futsu-nushi at the essential turning point within the political

myth, that is in connection with the ceding of the land to the

Heavenly Grandson, shows their political bond with the Yamato

court, while a glance at the shrines of the two gods and their

connections reveals their close relationship with the Nakatomi

clan and its later offspring, the Fujiwara. During the second half

of the 7"', and also during the S"' century, the Nakatomi were at

the zenith of their influence. Like the other clans around the

ruling house they were keen on their privileges and prerogatives,

but to insist on these they needed a precedent, if possible in

history, or even better, also in myth.

As already mentioned, we cannot otherwise trace the interesting

motif of sitting cross-legged on the point of a sword. Yet when we

leave out Takemikazuchi's magical changing of his arm into an

icicle and then into a sword and thereby defeating the second son

of Ökuninushi (an episode found only in the Kojiki), it is only

this imposing posture (if not their own peaceful mind) that in¬

duces Ökuninushi and his other son to surrender - there is no

battle, we hear only that afterward "the two gods put to death all

the rebellious spirits and deities" (Aston 1956: 1,69). Again,

when Takemikazuchi is asked by the sun-goddess to assist Iware¬

biko who is on the way to conquer Yamato (the next important

point in establishing the Yamato court), he only sends down his

sword, and it is solely by the magic force of this sword that his

enemies, the "unruly deities", are vanquished; again, there is no


The Hitachi-kuni fudoki not only gives proof of the relation

between the Nakatomi clan and the "Great Heavenly God of

Kashima" with special reference to the year 649, but it also cor¬

roborates the story of his coming down from heaven when the

Heavenly Grandson was about to descend. It furthermore tells of

the offering of a great number of weapons by the Yamato king

Mimaki (Sujin Tennö), and how the god promised through an

oracle to bestow on the king the sovereignty over all provinces,

big and small, as a reward for his offices; again, it was a Naka¬

tomi who explained this oracle {Hitachi-kuni fudoki, NKBT 2:

64/65-66/67). This is no historical fact, of course, but it never¬

theless shows the importance of the god and his shrine for the



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