One of the greatest mysteries of the post-World War II era is what happened to the Honjo Masamune – the greatest Japanese sword ever made.
Forged by the legendary swordsmith Masamune in the 13th century, the Honjo Masamune is regarded as a National Treasure in Japan for its artistry, history and strength. This singular samurai sword was considered so special it was the official weapon passed between the shoguns, the military rulers of Japan. The Japanese Excalibur, if you will. A blade for conquerors.
A far cry from the samurai sword imitations crass Westerners kept on their mantle pieces, bought from gift chain outlets to let a faux air of Japanese militarism and culture to their garish living rooms.
The Honjo Masamune belonged to the ruling shoguns for centuries. Handed down through the generations, it was still in the possession of the Tokugawa family when Japan surrendered in 1945 at the end of World War II.
Determined to rid the newly surrendered nation of all weapons – including edged ones – General MacArthur demanded that all samurai swords be handed in to the new occupying power to be melted down and destroyed. Many of these were ordinary swords that had no special purpose or history, merely mass produced for Japanese soldiers to wear into battle. Blades without names.
Yet others had survived for centuries, baptised on the battlefields of ancient Japan. They were more than mere weapons: they were sacred heirlooms that had belonged to families for generations. As much works of art as weapons of war, they represented a precious, vanished world of honor. And the mighty Honjo Masamune was the best of them.
Many Japanese objected to surrendering these special swords to their barbarian conquerors. But the Emperor had ordered the nation to surrender and Japan’s citizens were honor-bound to hand in these priceless treasures. And so the Tokugawas, determined to endure the unendurable at the command of the Emperor, handed in more than a dozen of the family’s swords – including the priceless Honjo Masamune – to a Tokyo police station.
The Americans later repealed their edict, recognising the genuine cultural significance of certain legendary blades, but by then it was too late. According to the available information, the Honjo Masamune and other swords were collected by a US cavalry sergeant called Coldy Bimore from the Tokyo police station and then promptly vanished. No record has ever been found of the GI, which led some to believe that the Japanese police recorded the soldier’s name wrong.
The official history is that the sword was never seen again: that Bimore, whoever he was, kept the sword as a war souvenir, and that it languishes in some dusty attic or basement somewhere in the United States.
But the official history is wrong. The Honjo Masamune has been found … and it lies in the hands of Japan’s enemies.
Many decades after World War II, an agent of that foreign power was stunned to discover that the sacred blade was being sold in a garage sale in the American south-west. An aficionado of Japanese swords, he recognised the weapon from drawings and etchings made centuries ago. Scarcely believing his luck – and the astonishing ignorance of the sellers – he purchased the sword for a middling price rather than the untold millions it warranted, shook his head again at the ignorance of Westerners, and took the blade home to his house.
He permitted himself a precious day with the Honjo Masamune, marvelling at its beauty and sharpness, wielding it in his dojo: even holding it up by the light of the moon to see if, according to legend, it shone in moonlight. He swung it again and again until he collapsed to the ground, exhausted.
Reluctantly, for he had already fallen in love with the sword by now, he arranged for the Honjo Masamune to be delivered to his homeland. Then the agent left America forever, lest the Japanese discover his purchase and his identity.
The Japanese continued their frantic efforts to find the Honjo Masamune, unaware that was being passed around by the military elite of one of its enemies. Even today they search for it still. But to no avail.
Now the blade has a new owner. And he has brought the Honjo Masamune back to American soil … to christen it in American blood.
The prequel to The Spartan: Blowback, The Spartan, is out now on Amazon.
Image above … an example of Masamune’s work.