Touken Ranbu is a massively popular online game in which the characters are all personified Japanese swords. It has been adapted into a two-season anime, as well as a theater play and a musical. The swords of Touken Ranbu are related to famous figures in Japanese history, and fans who are interested in history visit museums all over Japan where the swords are exhibited !
Although the anime mainly depicts each character’s personality, in this article I will write about the swords themselves and some of the historical facts behind them.
An unprecedented swords exhibition will be held in Kitano Tenmangū, Kyoto.
What are the differences between Tantou, Tachi, and Wakizashi?
Since there are so many characters in Touken Ranbu, many fans must find it hard to match their names with their faces. I have to confess that I struggled to memorize their names, even though I’ve been a fan since the original online game.
The characters of Touken Ranbu are referred to as Touken Danshi and are categorized by their sword types: Tantou, Wakizashi, Uchigatana, Tachi, Ootachi, Yari, and Naginata. The differences between them are in their appearance and length. The swords held by Touken Danshi are the actual swords that correspond to those names.
It’s easy to distinguish the spear-like Yari and Naginata from the others, as each of them have a unique shape. Tantou is a short sword used for self-defense and as an ornament for ceremonies. Wakizashi was used when Tachi or Uchigatana were damaged during a sword fight.
Tachi and Uchigatana look quite similar at first glance, though they were used for different purposes. Tachi was generally used during cavalry battles, therefore it has its cutting edge on its lower side in order to avoid self-harm and disturbance to their actions. Cavalry battles often happened during the Sengoku period in Japan, so the swords of the period, such as Kuninaga Tsurumaru, Mikazuki Munechika, and Shishiou, are categorized in the Tachi type.
On the other hand, Uchigatana was used for battles fought on foot. You must’ve seen samurai and Shinsengumi members holding this type of sword many times. They wear the Uchigatana edge-up as opposed to the Tachi, because it makes it easy to use with only one action when an enemy comes up in front of you. The sword which belonged to the Shinsengumi members, such as Isamu Kondo’s Nagasone Kotetsu, Toshizo Hijikata’s Izuminokami Kanesada and Souji Okita’s Kashuu Kiyomitsu, and Yamatonokami Yasusada are all categorized in the Uchigatana category.
Tachi swords are typically 90cm long and were a bit awkward to use during that period, as their average height was only around 150cm. It’s said that only samurai who had confidence in their arm strength used them, though most samurai needed assistance from the speed of their horses when they used Tachi in a battle.
What about the Sanjou and Rai swordsmith schools?
You may not have heard about swordsmith schools in the anime series, but in the game, they are classified as a subcategory. Some swords share the same partial name, like Kasen Kanesada and Izuminokami Kanesada, and this part (Kanesada in this case) is the name of school. Each swordsmith school shared the same characters, techniques, and area. This means Touken Danshi who are in the same school category came from the same birthplace.
For example, take the Sanjou school, to which Mikazuki Munechika and Kogitsunemaru belong. It was founded by Sanjou Kokaji Munechika, a swordsmith in the Heian period of Japan, and is the oldest swordsmith school in record. Apart from the two I’ve mentioned above, Imatsurugi, Ishikirimaru, and Iwatooshi are all members of the Sanjou school.
There are many other schools including Rai and Kotetsu. Some schools have Touken Danshi brothers within a school, like the Samonji and Awataguchi schools.
Why are there so many brothers in the Awataguchi school?
There is no episode of the Touken Ranbu anime without the brothers of the Awataguchi schools. The episode in which the eldest brother Ichigo Hitofuri finally appears pleased me because of the happy smiles of the younger brothers. Incidentally, do you know why there are many brothers in the Awataguchi school?
Awataguchi was one of the swordsmith schools actively working during the Kamakura period. They excelled in Tantou making, therefore most of its brothers are in this category. The reason why there are so many brothers in the school isn’t mentioned in the anime. However, Atsushi Toushirou said in the online game that it’s because they were regarded as a lucky charm, so every feudal lord wanted to have one. The actual swords made by Awataguchi school were often presented to the royals and famous samurai, therefore they have been carefully kept in museums until now.
Regrettably, some of the swords made by Awataguchi school were burned during battle. Namazuo Toushirou and Ichigo Hitofuri were burned during one of the most famous battle of Japanese history, the Summer Campaign of the Siege of Osaka. Honebami Toushirou was burned during the Great Fire in Edo. All three swords were found and later re-forged.
Why are some of the Touken Danshi good friends?
Touken Danshi who belong in the same school naturally become good friends. However, some of them become close even though they belong to different sword types and schools.
Izuminokami Kanesada and Horikawa Kunihiro are a good example of this. Horikawa Kunihiro attached himself to Izuminokami Kanesada, calling him ‘Kane-san’ in the anime. The reason for their closeness is the fact that they both belonged to Hijikata Toshizo in the Shinsengumi. Although it’s unknown whether Horikawa Kunihiro was made by the Horikawa school, Horikawa himself stated confidently that his owner was Hijikata and he was a pal of Izuminokami.
Tsurumaru Kuninaga and Shokudaikiri are often seen chatting with Ookurikara. What they have in common is that they all belonged to the Date clan, a powerful warlord family during the Sengoku period. Tsurumaru was a celebrated sword, therefore passed between many warlords, including the Date clan. Shokudaikiri and Ookurikara both belonged to the legendary warlord, Masamune Date.
The Present Touken Danshi in Japan
There are frequent exhibitions of swords in Japan. It’s reported that the number of visitors to museums have been on the rise because of the popularity of Touken Ranbu.
However, some swords which the Touken Danshi were modeled after are still missing due to the Sword Abolishment Edict, which was established in 1876 and banned people from carrying swords in public. Hotarumaru is one of them and went missing during the disruption caused by the edict. Recently, there is a movement toward the restoration of the sword.
Japanese History Through Famous Swords
Samurai swords are an essential part of Japanese history. Each Touken Danshi, who lived during the stormy periods of Sengoku and stayed beside samurai, offers plentiful legends and anecdotes. If you have an interest in Japanese history, look up the history of the swords and you’ll find fascinating stories about them.