Japaneses seem to have a very special attitude towards history and their protagonists, and when it comes to the female audience it is easy for things to go in an unexpected direction-- As reki-jo is not such a recent phenomenon as people like to think, it's not wrong to say that this peculiar subculture started to show its grit in the last decade, following the success of videogames like Sengoku Basara, where the guys populating the past centuries were portrayed as pretty charming fellows.
So, when facing a new frolicking target, DMM showed no mercy in offering to the female audience a bishounen counterpart of Kantai Collection, which was catered to military and history male otaku-- And this is how the katana-joshi were born.
Obviously the in-game line-up for the available swords include famous blades belonging to Nobunaga, and this is where I'd like to start.
Here are their profiles:
Souza Samonji (宗三左文字)
Due to that, I am also known as Yoshimoto Samonji.
After that, I changed hands between Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Hideyori, Tokugawa Ieyasu and the Tokugawa lineage, treated as the prized sword of conquerors and sovereigns.
Why everyone is so fixated on me, I wonder..."
Forged on 1335 by Saemonzaburo (aka Samonji), a student of Masamune, it's an uchigatana and its blade is currently 54.5 cm long.
Its name, "Souza" (宗三) comes from his original owner, Miyoshi Masanaga ("Souza" was his priest name), who presented it to Takeda Nobutora.
It was then part of Jōkei´in's dowry when she married Imagawa Yoshimoto.
It's said that Yoshimoto loved dearly Jokei'in, and when she died, he kept the beautiful Samonji as a memento, never parting with it: in fact, during the battle of Okehazama, Yoshimoto was wearing that very sword, that caused the wounds of his killers, Mori Yoshikatsu and Hattori Kazutada.
Nobunaga made sure to take the notorious weapon as spoil of war: he shortened it, following the actual trend with swords, and added the famous inscription: "On the 19th day of the fifth month of Eiroku three through the killing of Yoshimoto this sword came into the possession of Oda Owari-no-Kami Nobunaga (永禄三年五月十九日・ 義元討補刻彼所持刀・織田尾張守信長)".
According to legend, the sword survived the Honnoji accident as one of Nobunaga's concubine managed to escape with it, giving the sword to her father, a priest of the Matsuo Jinja (松尾神社) in Kyoto; later on the sword was claimed by Hideyoshi and passed on to the rulers of Japan until the Tokugawa lineage donated it to the Kenkun Jinja (建勲神社), where it is enshrined.
In the game, Souza has a very charming personality, making him look as a victim, a captive warrior (he's usually described as "a bird in a golden cage") yet imbued of some kind of wicked sensuality.
Both his marking and shortening are remembered as traumatic experiences, so, as it has an overall low opinion on Nobunaga, dubbed "Demon King", sometimes he's caught talking about him as his lover... Or at least the internet told me so.
Yagen Toshirou (薬研藤四郎)
In spite of my name, unlike my brothers I was raised on the battlefield.
Though I don't know much about refined things, when it comes to the battlefield you can rely on me.
Well, let's get along, General."
Forged by Master Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, it's a tanto and its blade is 25,1 cm long.
Its name, "Yagen" (薬研), literally means a mortar for medical purposes; it refers to the legend of refusing to cut the belly of his owner, Hatakeyama Masanaga, despite being so sharp to cut through a yagen made of stone.
After Masanaga, it was owned by Matsunaga Hisahide who presented it to Nobunaga, and later on it went down the Toyotomi hands... What happened after Hideyori is unknown; some sources states that it was ultimately retrieved by the Tokugawa, others that it was lost during a fire, as its actual location is unknown.
It wasn't lost during the fall of Azuchi, tough, as it's reported that on the brink of the Honnoji Incident, Maki Samanosuke made sure to run away with Yagen, a "Kunitoshi sword" (probably Aizen Kunitoshi) and other treasures, salvaging them.
In the game, following the steps of so many important generals influenced Yagen, who's depicted as the most masculine and chivalrious among the swords of the Oda-gumi, despite his small size and cute appearance, so much that the Japanese fandom is used to refer to him as Aniue, "Older Brother".
Mature and loyal, Yagen seems to share a good relationship with Nobunaga, as he admires strong personalities that inspire him.
Heshikiri Hasebe (へし切長谷部)
My previous lord, you see, could not forgive the mistake of his tea servant, and I was thus named when he executed the hiding servant with only the weight of the blade.
He's that kind of man. Oda Nobunaga, that is..."
Forged on 1312 by Kunishige, another student of Masamune, it's an uchigatana and its blade is 64.8 cm long.
Its name, "Heshikiri" (へし切) is rendered as "The Heavy Cutter", as it's said that Nobunaga just needed to let the blade fall on the cupboard under which Kannei was hiding to kill him, just by the weight of the sword.
Nobunaga presented this legendary sword to Kuroda Yoshitaka (better known as Kuroda Kabei by now, I guess) as a compensation for the troubles involving Araki's betrayal; Nobunaga believed that Yoshitaka conspired with Araki and ordered for Yoshitaka's son, Nagamasa to be executed. Realizing his error per time, the young Nagamasa (that back then was named Kichibei) was spared and Heshikiri became part of the possessions of the Kuroda clan.
Also this blade was shortened later on, and an inscription dedicated to its maker and owner was added: "Hasebe Kunishige Hon´a, Kuroda Chikuzen-no-Kami (長谷部国重 本阿 黒田筑前守)".
This blade is actually preserved in the Fukuoka City Museum.
In the game, also Heshikiri seems to have a bad opinion about Nobunaga and his flicky personality and random cruelty, yet, at the same time, he's described as a loyal weapon who follows orders dutifully-- His characterization makes an interesting contrast to Souza's passive-aggressive bitterness.
Fudou Yukimitsu (不動行光)
He loved me so much that he would sing, pat his legs, and brag about me whenever he got drunk.
Isn't it something special..?"
Forged during the Kamakura Period by Tousaburou Yukimitsu, it's a tanto and its blade is 25,4 cm long.
Its name, "Fudou" (不動), refers to the Fudou Myouou of Japanese Buddhism, whose name, together with his followers, was carved into the blade of the short sword.
Deeply loved by Nobunaga, it was presented to Ranmaru to compliment the boy's honesty.
The idea of Nobunaga's passion for this sword is suggested in an episode where Nobunaga, once drunk, clapping his knees, sang "Fudō Yukimitsu, Tsukumogami, and Gorōza: all are mine!".
As the actual whereabouts of the sword are unknown, but it's usually referred as destroyed during the Honnoji Incident, it's also said that the original piece is preserved by the Ishii Clan of Shizuoka prefecture.
One of the most recent additions to the game, Fudou is pretty much the Nobunaga fanboy of the crew, and among his painful memories is that of being unable to prove itself useful on Nobunaga's fated day.
He doesn't get along with the other swords of the "Oda-gumi", probably because of their contrasting feelings for Nobunaga.
Fudou is depicted as being a lover of amazake and pretty much always in a drunken stupor, on which fans love to speculate concerning his master's end.
It's interesting to note how the blades are well characterized, making the collection and interaction even more intriguing... Rather than some mere pretty faces, the game offers what appeals the female audience, as deep character interactions, which is also what makes Japanese history so interesting to nowadays reki-jo.
As you can imagine, this brought to the yard all kind of merchandising, from keychains dedicated to the game characters, swords and tsuba to even crazier items, like the collants decorated with the prints of the swords or "katana scissors"--!
But besides the crazy stuff, this new wave of fan-feticism also implemented tourism and interesting events.
For example, this summer in Kyoto started the Kyoto Touken Goshuin Meguri, a stamp rally dedicated to collection of the legendary swords by visiting dedicated temples.
There are also shikishi available for collection and special omamori featuring the protective vibes-- And the influence of "Touken Ranbu" is pretty blatant (besides all the various merchandising, Irene noticed how the colors of the papers are a reference to the designs of the game):
Also, many museums started to show off their swords more frequently: it's the case of the Fukuoka City Museum, that registered a boom of visitors this year, and the above mentioned Kenkun Jinja, that offered the precious Samonji for a tour dedicated to the Sengoku Jidai:
As I said, the love of Japaneses for their swords is no mystery and definitely no recent stuff.
Speaking of popular media, a first attempt to the theme could be spotted in the release of artbooks like "Moeru Nihonto Taizen" (萌える日本刀大全), that on 2009 was entertaining already the general otaku with pretty girls playing with the famous nihonto, and this trend is still safe and sound, as showed by the recent "Moeru! Nihonto Jikan" (萌える！日本刀事典), published on 2015 and in-line with the tendency dictated by the canons of "Touken Ranbu"-- Here you can see two illustrations of Nobunaga's swords coming from the above mentioned books, they are Heshikiri and Samonji:
In fact, a few months after the release of "Touken Ranbu", DMM released another nihonto-themed videogame catered to boys, featuring the swords in the appearance of cute girls for all tastes, "Shinken!!".
A little more fantasy-ed and random than its more celebrated counterpart, even here the swords of Nobunaga are granted their spotlight, to the point that a Samonji blade is available as starter sword.
Here you can see how Souza and Heshikiri appear in this version:
My feelings about the whole deal are contrasting; as I'm really grateful for the exposure dedicated to historical artifacts and informations, I'm also worried about the inevitable "Sengoku Basara Effect"-- People getting in love with stuff because of their fictional depictions, making a mess of actual sources and references to the chagrin of us average students...
Sources and references:
Touken Ranbu Stage Play
Oda Nobunaga’s Swords: The Perfect Choice for the Next Touken Ranbu Stage
JAPANESE SWORD LEGENDS: The Yoshimoto-Samonji
Yagen Toushirou Explanatory Note
JAPANESE SWORD LEGENDS: The Hekishiri-Hasebe
Touken Ranbu Wikia
Kenkun Jinja @ Twitter
Fukuoka Museum’s famed 14th-century Sword finds renewed Fans thanks to Online Game
Sengoku Period - A Century of Dreams