The Story of the Inariyama Sword

By Museum of the Sakitama Ancient Burial Mounds

The Inariyama Sword (known in Japanese as kinsakumei tekken; roughly, "gold-inscription iron-sword") was excavated from the burial chamber of the Inariyama Kofun, the oldest giant burial mound in the Saitama Kofun Cluster. This sword, made of iron and 73.5 cm long, has 115 characters written in gold inlay on its sides. This is the longest inscription that has been found on a sword from the Kofun Period, and it is an important historical resource in understanding ancient Japanese kingdoms. Because of the sword's incredible value, it was designated a Japanese national treasure in 1983.

Gold-inlaid Iron Sword (Inariyama Iron Sword) (5th Century) by UnknownMuseum of the Sakitama Ancient Burial Mounds

The Big Picture: The Gold Inscription

The inscription on the sword mentions the sword's creator, Wowake no Shin; his pride in serving his king (the ruler of Japan at the time) and assisting the government; and how he carved the sword's inscription as a record.

Zoom In: The Sword's Birth

The date of the sword's forging is recorded in the inscription as "the shingai year." This corresponds to the xinhai year in the 60-year cycle used in Chinese historical records at the time. Because the shingai year occurred once every 60 years, the exact date of the forging is unknown, but is thought to be 471 C.E.

Zoom In: The Sword's Creator

The inscribed name of the sword's creator is read "Wowake no Shin." "Wowake" is written using three characters, which was common for names at that time. Researchers therefore believe that "Wowake" was the creator's given name and the suffix "no Shin," written using a single character meaning "servant," was added to show humility. The characters used for "Wowake" can also be read as "Owakeko."

Zoom In: Captain of the Guard

The occupation of the sword's creator is written with four characters that roughly mean "staff-sword-person-head" in modern Japanese. In ancient writings from this time period, the character used today as "person" is thought to indicate someone who served an important role to a ruler. The "staff-sword-person" combination is therefore thought to mean "a military official (who directly serves the ruler)." The final character, meaning "neck" or "head," indicates someone in charge. Thus, the four characters together are thought to mean "captain of the guard."

Zoom In: King Wakatakeru

The name of the ruler Wowake served is read as "Wakatakeru Ōkimi," or King Wakatakeru. This is thought to be the same person referred to as Ōhatsuse-wakatakeru (another name of Emperor Yūryaku) in the Nihon Shoki (a Japanese historical record, 8th century C.E.) and as King Bu, one of the Five Kings of Wa (Japan) in the Book of Song (a Chinese historical record, late 5th century C.E.).

Credits: Story

The Saitama Prefectural Museum of the Sakitama Ancient Burial Mounds

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