Higekiri (髭切)

Higekiri is a sword which MINAMOTO no Mitsunaka is said to have had made in the Heian period, handed down, together with another sword, Hizamaru, through successive generations of the Minamoto clan. It is kept at Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine. It is a designated Important Cultural Property. The length of its blade is about 81cm.

In Tsurugi no maki (chapter named "Tsurugi" (sword)) of Heike Monogatari (The Tales of the Taira family), it says that the swordsmith was 'a craftsman of iron from Tang (China) living in a place called Deyama in Mikasa Gori, Chikuzen Province,' but the full details are unknown. The name, which means beard cutter, comes from a story that when it was tried out on a criminal, it passed right through the neck and cut off his beard.

When the sword had passed to MINAMOTO no Yorimitsu, it is said to have been used by his retainer, WATANABE no Tsuna, to cut off the arm of an Oni (ogre) on the Ichijomodori-bashi Bridge, and its name was changed to Onikiri (Oni Cutter).

After this incident, the sword's name was repeatedly changed. While in the possession of MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi, it roared at night like a shishi lion and its name was changed to Shishinoko (Lion's Child). When MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi gave Hoemaru (also called Hizamaru), Shishinoko's kyodaigatana (a sword made by the same person), to his son-in-law, Kyoshin, the chief priest of the Kumano-jinja Shrines, Kogarasu, made as a replacement for Hoemaru, was originally about 6 mm shorter than Shishinoko. But one day, the two swords, unsheathed and placed against a shoji sliding paper door, fell without being touched, and Kyoshin, wondering why they were now the same length, examined them and found that the menuki (sword handle ornaments) of Kogarasu had been cut by about 6 mm. Believing this had been done by Shishinoko, he renamed it Tomogiri (literally "friend cutter").

MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo, although possessing Tomogiri, the sword inherited by generations of the Minamoto clan, kept losing battles and, blaming it on Hachiman, the God of War (and guardian of the clan), mourned, 'will the sword's power still be missing at the end of the world.'
Then Hachiman appeared to him, saying, 'it is due to the name Tomogiri. If you change the name back to Higekiri, it will regain its power,' so MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo immediately changed its name Higekiri. Higekiri, having regained its power, was handed down to MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, who led the Minamoto clan to victory.

It is said that Hizamaru, Higekiri's kyodaigatana, was handed down to MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune, and then to MINAMOTO no Yoritomo after Yoshitsune's defeat in battle and subsequent suicide. Later, with the downfall of the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), the sword was obtained by Yoshisada NITTA and then, following his suicide, was passed down along a tortuous route to the Mogami clan.

Note: The description of Higekiri is contained in the Tsurugi no maki in Heike Monogatari. Since the Tsurugi no maki is generally believed to be not based on fact, the description of Higekiri should not be taken as historical fact.

[Original Japanese]