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Sword fan-favorite blade 'Yamanbagiri Kunihiro' to be exhibited in east Japan

"Yamanbagiri Kunihiro," which will be displayed for the first time in five years, is seen in this photo provided by the Ashikaga Municipal Government.

ASHIKAGA, Tochigi -- "Yamanbagiri Kunihiro," a sword believed to have been crafted by a renowned swordsmith, will be displayed for the first time in five years at a special exhibition celebrating this eastern Japan city's 100th anniversary.

    The sword, designated an important cultural property by the national government, will be displayed in an exhibition introducing Nagao-clan related cultural assets. The clan ruled what is now the Tochigi Prefecture city of Ashikaga as local governors and feudal lords from the Muromachi (1336-1573) through the Sengoku (warring states) period (1467-mid 16th to early 17th century). The event will be held next year from Feb. 11 to March 27 at the Ashikaga Museum of Art in the city.

    Yamanbagiri Kunihiro is also a popular character in online game "Touken Ranbu," in which Japanese swords are depicted as male characters. The game led to the rise of "token joshi," or "sword girls," interested in the historical weapons. More than 30,000 people including Touken Ranbu fans called "saniwa" visited the museum in 2017 for the sword's first display in 20 years.

    Nagao Kagehito, a senior vassal of the Uesugi clan, become the local governor of the Ashikaga manor in 1466, and the Nagao clan eventually became feudal lords for several generations. Nagao Akinaga fought on the Hojo clan side as a warlord, but lost the Ashikaga territory in defeat to warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 1590 attack on Odawara, a part of what is now Kanagawa Prefecture.

    "Enko Sokugetsu-zu," which will be displayed during a special exhibition, is seen in this photo provided by the Ashikaga Municipal Government.

    While the Nagao clan ruled Ashikaga for roughly 120 years, successive lords focused on protecting and encouraging education, such as by relocating the Ashikaga School to its current location. Nagao Norinaga and others became known as good warriors as well as cultured scholars who enjoyed painting and "waka" poetry. Some say Ashikaga's cultural environment was nurtured in the Nagao clan's rule.

    Yamanbagiri Kunihiro, the upcoming exhibition's centerpiece, is a famous sword said to have been created for Akinaga by master craftsman Horikawa Kunihiro during his stay in Ashikaga. The sword is also said to be a copy of one crafted by swordsmith Chogi of the Bizen Osafune school, which Akinaga received from warlord Hojo Ujimasa.

    Also on display are artist Kano Koi's "Enko Sokugetsu-zu," which shows a monkey trying to catch the moon reflected on the water's surface, and Fushimi-ban Moku-katsuji woodcut characters that Ashikaga School's ninth principal Sanyo received from warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu.

    The Ashikaga Municipal Government said, "We will trace the origins of this city rich in history and culture on its 100th anniversary. We would like to introduce various arts loved by the Nagao clan, as well as the culture of education passed down to the Ashikaga School."

    As measures to prevent coronavirus infections, a new admission reservation system is expected to be introduced, with the timing of its introduction to be decided soon.

    (Japanese original by Yuzuru Ota, Ashikaga Local Bureau)

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