National

Setouchi sets ¥500 million goal to bring renowned Japanese sword back ‘home’

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

The city of Setouchi in Okayama Prefecture, which once flourished as a major producer of swords, said Tuesday it will use crowdfunding as part of an attempt to raise a total of ¥500 million from in and outside the country to bring back “home” a renowned sword called Yamatorige.

The sword, whose name literally translates as mountain bird plumage, measures 79.5 centimeters in length and weighs 1.06 kilograms. The antique sword was made in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) by a smith from the Ichimonji school in an area called Bizen-Osafune — what is now Setouchi — and was owned by Uesugi Kenshin, one of the country’s most famous warlords.

“This sword has a special meaning for our region, for Okayama and the whole country, and we want to draw more interest in bladesmithing culture,” Setouchi Mayor Akinari Takehisa told a news conference in Tokyo.

The city is concerned that the national treasure, which is currently held by a private collector at a museum in the city of Okayama run by the prefecture, may be sold to owners outside the prefecture or even to another country.

To secure funds matching the request of the private collector, who lives in Okayama, the city will start accepting donations from individuals under the furusato nōzei (hometown tax donation system) for three months starting Nov. 1, as well as contributions from people overseas via a crowdfunding website for two months.

In return, contributors will receive various items related to the famous blade, such as paper knives, tapestries and T-shirts. People who donate about ¥28.8 million could receive a replica of Yamatorige worth ¥8.6 million, the city said.

Takehisa believes that returning the sword to the place of its origin could also help restore the city’s profile as a center of bladesmithing culture and support efforts to pass down swordsmithing skills and knowledge in the city, where only seven smiths are left. It also hopes that the item will also attract tourists and reinvigorate the economy.

“We want to spread this amazing culture throughout the world through documentation, videos and items we’re going to offer in return for donations,” the mayor said.

In addition to praising the sword’s value, Paul Martin, a British expert on Japanese swords, said at the news conference that he hopes this project will enable people outside Japan to learn about the wider context of the sword, its creation and its significance.