great fire of meireki

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March 2nd 1657: Great Fire of Meireki

On this day in 1657, a fire ravaged the Japanese capital city of Edo, which is now Tokyo. The fire burned for three days, destroying two thirds of the city and claiming 100,000 lives. Edo Castle, a mighty testament to Edo’s rising prosperity and home of the shogun, was lost to the flames. The event is sometimes called the Furisode Fire, in reference to a legend about the cause of the fire. A furisode is the best kimono for an unmarried woman, and, as legend has it, the fire was ignited by the ceremonial burning of a supposedly cursed kimono which had been owned by several young women who had died soon after receiving the item. Edo was particularly susceptible to fire, as the buildings were made mostly of wood and paper and stood very close together. The buildings were also very dry due to a recent drought, providing prime conditions for a fire to spread. The fire forever changed the face of Edo, with new firebreaks installed, streets widened, and plaster roofs becoming the norm.

Mikazuki, Honebami, Ichigo and Namazuo’s Timeline

- 989: Mikazuki was crafted by Sanjou Munechika and become Ashikaga’s treasured family sword.

- 1259: Ichigo, Namazuo, and Honebami were crafted by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu.

- 1336: One of the literature said that Honebami was stayed with Ashikaga family for 229 years (Ashikaga Takauji lived from 1305 to 1359).

- 1565: Eiroku Incident (the most dramatic version of the history said that Honebami was used by Ashikaga Yoshiteru’s retainer to protect his master but he was killed by Matsunaga Hisahide. After that, he took Honebami with him. Meanwhile Mikazuki was used by Yoshiteru in his last battle and was defeated. After Yoshiteru’s death, Miyoshi Yoshitsugu took Mikazuki with him and later offered the sword to Toyotomi Hideyoshi).

- 1584: Namazuo became Toyotomi’s sword.

- 1589: Honebami became Toyotomi’s sword (passed by Ootomo Clan).

- 1590: Ichigo became Toyotomi’s sword (passed by Mori Terumoto).

- 1615: Summer Siege of Osaka. Honebami was used in the battle when the castle was burned. Both Ichigo and Namazuo were badly damaged.  Tokugawa Ieyasu had them retempered by Echizen Yasutsugu.

- 1616: Tokugawa Ieyasu passed away. Ichigo+Namazuo were passed to the Owari Branch of Tokugawa stationed at Nagoya. Honebami remained in the Tokugawa shogun family at Edo.

- 1624: Nene passed away. Mikazuki was passed to Tokugawa shogun family at Edo (Tokugawa Hidetada).

- 1657: The Great fire of Meireki. Honebami was burned. Tokugawa Hidetada had Honebami retempered by Echizen Yasutsugu.

- 1863: Ichigo was passed to Emperor Koumei and became part of the Imperial Collection.

- 1887: Honebami was given to Toyokuni Shrine in Kyoto (where Toyotomi Hideyoshi is enshrined).

Notes:

  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s sword collection beside Ichigo are Honebami, Souza and Aoe (so you can consider that Mikazuki x Honebami/Souza/Aoe is spousal sword too?).
  • Honebami mentioned Hideyoshi’s name when the fieldwork is done. Probably it’s because he was at Toyokuni Shrine where his previous master is enshrined.
  • Mikazuki and Honebami were together for a very long time (just as Mikazuki has mentioned at their recollection). First, they were together at Ashikaga family around 229 years. Second, they were together at Toyotomi family for 27 years (1589 to 1616 where Honebami was passed to Tokugawa). Third, they were together at Tokugawa shogun family at Edo for 263 years (since Nene’s death at 1624 until Honebami was passed to Toyokuni Shrine at 1887).
  • 229 + 27 + 263 = 519 years (more than half millennium).
  • Ichigo and Namazuo were together at Toyotomi + Tokugawa Owari at Nagoya for 273 years (from 1590 where Ichigo was given to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and meet Namazuo there to 1863 where he was passed to Emperor Koumei).
  • (273 years is… more than a quarter of a millennium. and it’s still 153 years since Ichigo became Imperial Sword.)
Namazuo & Honebami Toushirou

Namazuo and Honebami are both crafted by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu in the 13th century(Kamakura period), originally as naginatas(薙刀) for calvary warfare. However as battle tactics shifted, foot soldiers(足軽) became more widely deployed since the Ounin war(1467), and the naginata was deemed too cumbersome for wielding through the dense formations, spears were more favourable. The use of naginatas declined especially after the introduction of firearms in the Sengoku warring period(1543). Thus both of them were altered from naginatas into smaller tachi or wakizashi to better fit the demand probably during this period.

They met for the first time since they were crafted in the possession of Toyotomi Hideyoshi(1537-1598), together with their brother Ichigo Hitofuri, until his death, and were passed to his son Hideyori. Both Namazuo and Ichigo were badly burned in the Summer Siege of Osaka(1615) where Tokugawa attacked the Toyotomi Clan to purge the last threat to the stability of his shogunate and the Osaka Castle where they resided was burned down during the battle. Namazuo and Ichigo were so damaged that they had to be reforged by Echizen Yasutsuku by order of Ieyasu who was concerned with salvaging the treasures left behind by the Toyotomi Clan. Honebami was miraculously unscathed during the fire and was retrieved from the ruins of the castle. They stayed on as Ieyasu’s swords until his death in 1616 and parted ways since, Honebami remained in the shogun family of Tokugawa while Ichigo and Namazuo were passed to the Owari branch of Tokugawa stationed at Nagoya. In 1657, Honebami did not escape the fate befell his brothers this time as he was badly burned during the Great Fire of Meireki that destroyed much of the Edo capital, and had to be reforged.

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