Legendary blade is a an official natural treasure, and presented in a uniquely beautiful way.

The Five Swords Under Heaven might sound like the reward you get for completing a late-game optional side quest in Final Fantasy, but it’s an actual designated set of the most beautiful and culturally prized swords to have ever been created in Japan. A while back, we saw one of the five, Mikazuki (“Crescent Moon”) at Tokyo’s National Museum, and this week we had the opportunity to gaze upon another: Dojigiri.

As you can guess, chances to see the Five Swords Under Heaven don’t happen every day. One is straight-up owned by the Japanese Imperial Family, and three, including Dojigiri, are officially designated national treasures of the country. So when we found out that Dojigiri was being displayed as part of an exhibition being held at Kasuga Shrine in Nara (which also recently displayed the famed Brother Katana set), we didn’t hesitate to hop on the Shinkansen and check it out.

▼ Dojigiri

Dojigiri is so old that it’s hard to say exactly how old it is, but some estimate its age at over 1,000 years. What we do know is that the sword was struck by famous swordsmith Yasutsuna, who lived in Hoki, a part of Japan in present-day Tottori Prefecture, during the Heian Period.

If you’ve got a bit of knowledge about Japanese swords, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of them have names with “giri” or “kiri” in them. Both come from the word kiru, literally “cut,” which can also be used to mean “kill” or “slay.” In the case of Dojigiri, it’s said that the sword was used by Minamoto no Yorimitsu, a samurai warlord, to slay Shuten-doji, an oni (demon) who, along with his minions, terrorized the capital city of Kyoto.

▼ Shuten-doji, after having been relieved of his head by Dojigiri

While seeing one of the Five Swords Under Heaven is always an unforgettable experience for history buffs, the way Kasuga Shrine’s museum is displaying Dojigiri is particularly special. Rather than place the blade in a display case along one of the walls, Dojigiri is housed in a standing case in the center of the room, enabling visitors to see it from a variety of angles.

▼ Including this perspective, ostensibly the one Shuten-doji saw the sword from as it came for his head.

As a matter of fact, if no one happens to be standing on the other side of the case from you, the reflection in the glass can allow you to view both surfaces of the blade at the same time.

▼ Even Dojigiri’s shadow looks awesome.

As we’ve talked about before, some of the most intriguing aesthetic aspects of a Japanese sword reveal themselves when you take a look at the flat of the blade. For starters, there’s the hamon, the tempering line, which can be as straight as the surface of a windless lake, or undulate like the waves of a roiling sea.

Dojigiri’s hamon is especially expressive, roaming over enough of the blade that different sections almost look like they’re from different swords.

But what’s arguably the most impressive thing about Dojigiri’s appearance is the amount of utsuri (“reflection”) it has. In katana parlance, utsuri refers to the amount of reflective shine in the flat of the blade between the hamon and unsharpened interior edge. A number of factors influence the amount of utsuri, including the quality of the metal used, and the amount of time the material is heated and quenched for. While Yasutsuna’s specific smithing technique has been lost to the ages, the result is a dazzling usturi far beyond what you’ll see in just about any other Japanese sword.

Dojigiri will be on display, and shining brightly, until March 1.

Event information
The World of the Oldest Japanese Swords / 最古の日本刀の世界
Venue: Kasugataisha Museum / 春日大社国宝殿
Address: Nara-ken, Nara-shi, Kasuganocho 160
Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission 1,000 yen (US$9)
Exhibition until March 1

Photos ©SoraNews24
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Casey hasn’t quite achieved national treasure status, but you can follow him on Twitter anyway.

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