Budo World

The Ideology of Tōken (swords)


1. Introduction

To this point we have discussed the role of the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi in ancient mythology. Shaped by these myths and legends, the image of the sword has long been a part of the minds and hearts of the Japanese people, and continues even now to be at the base of their spiritual culture whether they realise it or not.

Within the Japanese concepts of the tōken, and with a similar distinction, there is another sword of equal standing. That is Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi. In line with Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, I believe that these two swords are the two main sacred swords of Japan. As discussed previously, this sword was crucial for the magical beliefs in Tsukahara Bokuden’s Shintō-ryū. The sacredness of Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi is also explicated in mythology, and I will analyse this from here. (Depending on the text or myth, some names may have been recorded differently. However, these have not been specified in great detail here.)

2. The Tale of the Fire God

In the Shintō-ryū, the tsurugi was used as a tool in magical practices. The reason the tsurugi took on this role of a magical implement was due to the belief that it was the sword of the kami Takemikazuchi.

Discussion regarding Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi cannot be conducted without mention of Takemikazuchi. Worshiped today as a deity in the Kashima Shrine, he was the kami of war, tōken, and thunder. Originally, he was perceived as principally kami of tōken. Let us begin our examination from here.

The birth of Takemikazuchi is recorded in the myth of the “God of Fire” (the slaying of the God of Fire). In this myth, the Izanagi and Izanami created the land and gave birth to various other kami. However, when giving birth to the kami of fire, Izanami burned to death. Angry at the death of his wife, Izanagi used the Totsuka-no-Tsurugi to kill the new-born kami, which resulted in the creation of eight other kami, one of which was Takemikazuchi.

The kami who were born from this event were associated with things like fire, rock, and water. From here, the relationship of these elements in the process of making swords by melting steel with fire, forging it over rock and cooling it with water is often referred to, and can be identifiable in this myth. In any case, the kami that appear in this story are referred to in the Kojiki as “the eight collective kami who were spawned from the sword”, the sword that killed the fire kami. This is why Takemikazuchi is known as the kami for tōken.

3. The Relinquishment of the Land

Takemikazuchi plays a particularly important part in the myth of the “relinquishment of the land” (kuni-yuzuri). As previously discussed, there is a tendency for Japanese mythology to develop stories with a focus on the heavens and the earth. The heavens are referred to as Takamagahara (the celestial world) and is the realm of the kami; and the mortal world is referred to as Ashihara-no-Nakatsu-Kuni. (In mythological times, there were kami who were active in the mortal realm. These kami were called “kunitsu kami” or gods of the land, and were separate from the amatsu kami or heavenly deities in Takamagahara.)

Amaterasu Ōmikami decided to send her own offspring to the terrestrial realm in order to rule. This is the aforementioned tale of Tenson Kōrin. However, in order to be able to descend to Ashihara-no-Nakatsu-Kuni, there had to be a state of control in the earthly realm beforehand. That is, there was a need for a preliminary step, and herein lays the tale of the “relinquishment of the land”.

Ashihara-no-Nakatsu-Kuni was initially governed by Ōkuni-nushi (deity of magic and medicine later viewed as equivalent to Daikokuten and celebrated at Izumo Grand Shrine). However, at the decree of Amaterasu Ōmikami, Takemikuzuchi was to go and negotiate the abdication of the land from Ōkuni-nushi. Negotiation was an understatement of intent as Takemikazuchi forced the issue.

In the story, Takemikazuchi appears as the child of the kami Ame-no-ohabari. In the myth of the slaying of the kami of fire, this was the name given to the sword Izanagi used to kill the fire deity. As ancient beliefs in Japan were animistic and anything could be referred to as a kami, this sword became the kami Ame no Ohabari, and Takemikazuchi was his child, which is how he became the kami of tōken.

Sent from the heavens to earth, Takemikazuchi first drew Totsuka-no-Tsurugi (ten-fist long sword), pointed its tip in the air, sat cross-legged on it its tip, and coerced Ōkuni-nushi to give up his control. This description of the story also portrays Takemikazuchi as the kami of tōken. Resisting the abdication, Takeminakata, a child of Ōkuni-nushi, challenges Takemikazuchi to a battle (a contest of strength).

Takeminakata grabs the hand of Takemikazuchi, at which point this hand turns into a sword. Shocked, Takeminakata reels back to which Takemikazuchi then takes hold of the hand of Takeminakata and throws him across the floor. The contest was won.  

Here Ōkuni-nushi agrees to relinquish the terrestrial realm, and the myth is concluded. Importantly in this story, Takemikazuchi was portrayed as a sword himself, and this became a crucial point in the abdication of the land. It was Takemikazuchi, the deity of token, who was sent from the heavens to rule on the earth.

4. Emperor Jimmu’s Journey to the East

Kusanagi-no-tsurugi was explained in the tale of Yamato Takeru’s “Journey to the East”, and there is a similar account given for the relationship between the Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi and Takemikazuchi. This is the tale of the Emperor Jimmu’s journey to the east, and is an important narrative when considering Japanese concepts of tōken.

The so-called first emperor of Japan, Jimmu, left the island Kyushu to fight his rivals in the east. Stopping en route in Kumano, he meets the wrath of a spiteful deity and faces seeming death as his entire army falls. Jimmu was confronted with the desperate situation of being unable to unite the country when a man named Takakuraji offered him a tsurugi sword. At this point Jimmu regained his true spirit, his army was revived, and even more mysteriously, the spiteful deity was defeated without even a swing of the sword. This is a critical point. Emperor Jimmu’s exploits were surely thanks to this sword’s divine power, the sword known as Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi.

From here the discussion becomes somewhat complex. Regarding how Takakuraji came to have this sword, it is said that he obtained it in a dream. Below is an outline of the content of that dream. At this point Amaterasu Ōmikami emerges in the story. Upon looking down from the heavens Jimmu’s predicament on earth, Takemikazuchi is urged to go and assist. However, he does no go himself. The issue of boundaries between the heavens and the earth becoming clearly defined, and the distance becoming further apart has already been discussed; however, this tale of Jimmu’s journey to the east occurs right at a transition period between the mythical age and historical era. Therefore, as the co-existence of the kami and humans became divided, in contrast to the myth about the “relinquishment of the land, it was more a case of Takemikazuchi not being able to go rather than him not wanting to. As such, with the sentiment “send the sword that was used to subjugate the terrestrial realm once before”, Takemikazuchi sent the sword in place of himself. It was the same sword that was used in the tale of the myth of the “relinquishment of the land”, and as Takakuraji awoke from his dream, the sword was actually there. It was the Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi, and was then presented to Jimmu.

This is the crux of the tale Jimmu’s journey to the east. According to this legend, to say that Jimmu was able to unite the country owing to Takemimazuchi and the Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi and thus become the first emperor of Japan is no exaggeration. In the year of his ascendance, Jimmu decided that Takemimazuchi would be worshiped in Kashima in the eastern provinces by way of appreciation. This place is now Kashima Shrine, and enshrined there is the (second generation) Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi as a national treasure.


In the spiritual world where kami and humans did not co-exist, it was the tsurugi sword that linked each realm – or more specifically it was the Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi. This can also be said of the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi.  Linking the heavens and the earth, this is the reason these sacred swords are still revered today with their image firmly set in ancient mythology. This is the starting point of the Japanese concepts of the tōken.