By Morio Kodama / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMITO — Buoyed by the popularity of an online game about samurai and personified swords, museums across the country that exhibit swords are seeing more and more visitors — particularly women.
The Tokugawa Museum in Mito is taking advantage of the online game boom by launching a project to forge copies of two swords that were damaged in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.
The swords — Shokudaikirimitsutada, and the long sword Konotegashiwa — are part of the museum’s collection of historical materials from the Mito-Tokugawa family, descendants of the 11th son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun during the Edo period (1603-1867).
Shokudaikirimitsutada was a gift from the Date family. Legend has it that famous warlord Date Masamune used the sword when he cut down a retainer and a candle holder together, as suggested by its name, which includes shokudai (candle holder), according to the museum.
Konotegashiwa, on the other hand, is a treasure of the Mito-Tokugawa family because it was worn by Ieyasu during the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.
The swords used to be kept at a storehouse in the Mito-Tokugawa family’s house in Tokyo, but they did not draw attention for long, partly because they were burned in the 1923 earthquake.
The turning point came after the game “Touken Ranbu-ONLINE-” was launched in January 2015. A character inspired by Shokudaikirimitsutada became very popular, prompting his female fans to call the museum asking about the whereabouts of the sword.
However, the tag inscribed with the sword’s name was lost in the fire. Museum curators examined the size of its mekugi nail holes on the blade to attach the sheath, and compared them with figures recorded in the list of swords compiled by the eighth head of the Mito-Tokugawa family during the late Edo period, enabling the curators to confirm the authenticity of the burned sword.
In April 2015, the museum officially announced its findings. When put on view, Shokudaikirimitsutada drew up to about 1,000 visitors a day from home and abroad.
Joining forces with cafes
The popularity inspired the museum to launch a project to forge copies of the two swords through donations.
During the annual plum flower festival in Mito from February to March this year, the museum worked with cafes in the city center, with the cafes offering special items to attract fans of the online game. Part of the profits were donated to the project.
Among the eateries is Pro Cafe, which is still offering a special blend coffee sprinkled with gold powder as a collaborative item for fans of the sword game, at the request of the museum. The special blend, which comes with a small gift, was greatly talked about on social media and drew more than 2,500 visitors by early April.
The cafe is now considered another “pilgrimage” site for fans in addition to the museum, and some visitors have left illustrations of the character representing Shokudaikirimitsutada at the eatery. Others visited the cafe dressed as the character around Halloween.
“This coffee goes well with the image of Shokudaikirimitsutada,” said dental hygienist Mizuki Kuroyanagi, 26, who visited the cafe from Nishio, Aichi Prefecture, after seeing a tweet about the place. “I enjoyed [visiting Mito], as I could also see the sword at The Tokugawa Museum.”
Haruka Miyao, 22, a company employee in Mito, said she often goes to the cafe. “I come here every week. I want to help the sword-making project as much as I can.”