6 Most Expensive Japanese Swords in The World
Determining the most expensive Japanese sword can be challenging and subjective due to the private nature of many auctions and sales, especially for items that are culturally significant. Then, there is the unknown price of historically significant swords that are in museums around the world.
This article explores the most expensive Japanese swords from various angles.
Value of Japanese Swords
Since listing Japanese swords with specific prices is challenging due to the private nature of sales and auctions, this section delves into valuable Japanese swords and some of the examples available.
Out of all the swordsmiths throughout Japanese history, Goro Nyudo Masamune is undoubtedly the most revered, having forged some of the most renowned swords and tutored some of the greatest Japanese swordsmiths.
Out of all his creations, the Honjo Masamune is said to be the most famous Japanese sword and often touted as the greatest katana ever made. After World War II, the Tokugawa family handed over the sword to the U.S. Military in an effort to abide by American decree and it has never been seen since. With its history and significance, the Honjo Masamune is priceless.
Other notable pieces includes the:
Once missing, it was recovered in 2014 and is now displayed at the Kyoto National Museum.
Made in the 14th century, this sword is now labeled an “important cultural property” and held in the Tokugawa Art Museum.
Classed as a Japanese national treasure, “Hocho” translating to “kitchen knife” is the only known example left by Masamune. It is held in the Tokugawa Art Museum.
Featuring a traditional tanto design, the differences are distinct between the Fudo and Hocho Masamune. It is also held in the Tokugawa Art Museum.
Unlike the other examples above, this tanto blade is not inscribed but its characteristics make it highly likely that it was made by Masamune.
Sengo Muramasa was a famous swordsmith who lived during the Muromachi period. His creations were favored by the Tokugawa family due to their exquisite sharpness.
Since misfortunes that happen in the Tokugawa clan are often related to Muramasa’s creations, many believed that his pieces are cursed swords with demonic powers.
Muramasa was said to be violent and unbalanced, verging on madness which supposedly passed into his blades. Therefore, his swords were believed to hunger for blood, causing its wielder to commit murder or suicide.
Believed to be a curse bringer against the shogunate, his blades became a symbol of the anti-Tokugawa movement.
For the reasons above, Muramasa’s blades are highly sought after for their craftsmanship, mystique, and significance in history. It is estimated that his pieces may reach millions of dollars if it comes to the market.
National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties
In Japan, swords that are designated as national treasures or important cultural properties or blades linked to historical events or figures can also be exceptionally valuable. Specific prices are rare as transactions are often private, but speculated to be in the millions.
Pieces that are well documented and in good condition are worth even more. The value of some of these swords which are donated to museums might be hinted through insurance values or fundraising campaigns organized to acquire it through funds.
Some authentic Japanese swords that are sold may have public auction house records and can range anywhere from $5,000 to hundreds of thousands, depending on the sword’s age, maker, historical significance, and more. For example, Edo Period swords or earlier can easily reach six-figures at auctions.
Besides the swords listed above, here are some significant Japanese swords:
1. Okanehira – Estimated $1.83 million
The Okanehira meaning Great Kanehira is a historical katana from the Heian Period, 12th century. Prized by Ikeda Terumasa, one of Nobunaga’s leading generals, this blade is one of the few remaining katana of its type.
It is named after its maker, Kanehira of Bizen. Measuring about 35 inches (89cm) long, the blade is said to have a Momoyama Period mounting which was lost after a war. Labeled as a National Treasure, It is currently held in Tokyo National Museum.
2. Yamatorige – estimated $5 million
Yamatorige or Sanchōmō is a tachi sword forged during the 13th century, Kamakura period. Currently labeled as the National Treasure of Japan, it was once wielded by Uesugi Kagekatsu, a powerful Sengoku period warlord who was also the successor of Uesugi Kenshin, the “God of War”.
In 2020, Setouchi City bought Yamatorige from a private collector for about $5 million. It is currently housed in the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum.
Japanese Samurai Swords with Specific Prices
Taira Masakado was the first samurai of Japan as he was the first to lead an uprising, becoming a demigod to the locals. With time, the samurai code of honor or Bushido was symbolized by the sword. Therefore, it is no surprise that these weapons are valuable and highly sought after.
While many valuable Japanese swords do not have a price as mentioned above, there are also some with price tags that have been made public. The following Japanese swords are some of the most expensive samurai swords that have been sold or appraised.
1. 16th Century Samurai Tachi – $100 Million
In 2021, World Art News reported on a rare 16th century samurai tachi worth $100 million. This exquisite masterpiece once belonged to Fukushima Masanori, a powerful warlord of the late Sengoku to early Edo period
Known as one of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake and having fought many campaigns including the Battle of Chungju in 1592, Masanori is often featured as a heroic samurai warrior in Japanese media.
Besides being a work of art, this tachi is highly valuable as many of them were shortened into katanas when close combat became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. For this reason, an authentic tachi in mint condition is a rarity. It is currently one of Tamoikin Art Fund’s most valuable assets.
Featured in various magazines in the USA, Europe, and Asia, this tachi appraised at over $105 million is not only the most expensive samurai sword with a known value, it is also the most expensive sword in the world, outranking Tipu Sultan’s Bedchamber Sword that sold for $17.5million.
2. Yamaubagiri Kunihiro – estimated $2.03 million
Kunihiro was not only a swordsmith, but also a samurai serving the Itō family. This sword was a copy of a Chōgi blade forged under the orders of Nagao Akinaga. The signature translates as, “made by Kunihiro from Hyūga, Kyūshu – on a lucky day on the second month Tenshō 18 , year of the tiger – Taira Akinaga”.
After the death of Nagao, Kunihiro’s copy went to Ishihara Jinzaemon, a remaining vassal of the Hōjō. He was on the way to sell the blade with his pregnant wife when she started having contractions. They stopped at a small hut where an old woman lived and he set off for medicine.
As Jinzaemon returned, he saw the old woman eating the newborn baby. He drew his blade and killed the witch. After this incident, the blade was named Yamaubagiri, “yamauba” or “yamanba” meaning “mountain crone”.
Today, this blade is privately owned in Tokyo.
3. Kamakura Katana – $418,000
In 1992, part of Dr. Walter Ames Compton’s sword collection was sold. One of them had a Kamakura blade from the 13th century which sold for $418,000 to a private collector, making it the most expensive katana sold on the market.
Highly prized for its craftsmanship and quality, the Kamakura period was a time when the samurai class rose to power, resulting in the prevalence of swords. Historians believe that it came from the Taima school where many thin blades were produced.
Besides being one of the oldest katana swords discovered in good condition, the Kamakura katana is considered to be one of the finest examples of Japanese swordmaking.
4. Soshu Katana – $69,000
This Soshu school katana from the 14th century Nanbokucho period sold for about $69,000, evidenced by the signature in gold inlay. Forged by Hasebe Kunishige from Yamashiro province, he is believed to be one of Masamune’s pupils and considered to be one of the best swordsmiths in Japanese history.
This Japanese katana blade has a broad shape with an extended kissaki (blade tip), large gunome midare hamon with some choji, and plentiful jifu and tobiyaki that is associated with the Hasebe School.