Photo/Illutration The sword known as “Sanchomo,” designated as a national treasure, is shown in October in Setouchi, Okayama Prefecture. (Toru Amemiya)

SETOUCHI, Okayama Prefecture--A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to obtain the long blade once wielded by one of Japan's most powerful warlords was a battle in itself, but the end now appears in sight for Mayor Akinari Takehisa.

The sword that captured Takehisa's imagination was owned by Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578).

Takehisa entered Setouchi city's bid after the owner of the sword, which has been deposited with the Okayama Prefectural Museum in Okayama city’s Kita Ward, announced plans to sell it.

Takehisa wants to ensure the weapon will remain in the Bizen region, where it was forged. Bizen is the old name for the southeastern part of Okayama Prefecture, which includes Setouchi city.

In 2016, the city of Joetsu in Niigata Prefecture tried to purchase the sword, announcing the bid with much media fanfare, only for the owner to ultimately reject it. Kenshin was born and raised in the area now called Joetsu.

In April 2018, Setouchi city announced it planned to purchase the weapon, nicknamed  “Sanchomo,” and began soliciting contributions through the “furusato nozei” (hometown tax payment) programs for individuals and companies and crowdfunding.

The sword, designated as a national treasure dating to the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), was valued at 500 million yen ($4.6 million) or more by a committee of experts assembled by the city.

The city set its fund-raising goal at 513.09 million yen, which included cash to buy the blade and cover associated costs concerning renovations of a sword museum in the city, which is expected to house the sword.

On Jan. 27, Setouchi city announced at a news conference it had topped the target needed to purchase the sword and said it hoped to ink a tentative contract in February with its owner. 

Pending city assembly approval, it then intends to purchase the weapon.

The 79.5-centimeter-long blade, designated as national treasure in 1952, weighs 1.06 kilograms and has a 3.4-cm curvature. It is said to have been forged in the Bizen region.  

The sword's original name and details on the forging process remain a mystery, but one theory is that it later acquired the name San-cho-mo (mountain bird plumage), due to the complex elegant pattern on the blade that resembles dancing feathers.

The blade's design indicates it was forged by a craftsman belonging to the Fukuoka Ichimonji school, famous for its exquisite Bizen swords.

Takehisa said at the news conference that the city had raised more than 800 million yen in donations as of Jan. 26 from more than 14,000 individuals and companies in and outside Japan, far exceeding the sum needed to buy the treasure and send gifts to donors.

Contributions began surging late last year, Takehisa said, partly due to a special display of Sanchomo at the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum in Setouchi in October that garnered widespread attention.

Takehisa also credited the success of the fund-raising campaign to a flood of donations from “touken joshi,” the term for female fans of Japanese swords inspired by a sword-themed video game, in addition to large-lot donations from companies in and outside the prefecture.

Contributions from women surged after the Sanchomo sword featured late last year in the Touken Ranbu Online game, in which historical swords magically transform into good-looking dudes.

“I really appreciate the flood of touken joshi donations,” the mayor said.

With the cash to buy the blade now in hand, the municipality is expected to reach a provisional agreement with its owner before the assembly’s February regular session starts on Feb. 19.

Setouchi city will then submit a bill for an official contract to the regular session to get final approval on the deal.

The city said it will decide how the national treasure will be displayed by the end of this fiscal year.


Setouchi city’s mission to acquire the blade has not been without setbacks, however.

It initially planned to raise no less than 1.1 billion yen by the end of January 2019, but torrential rains in summer 2018 that caused severe flooding in western Japan delayed the start of soliciting donations by three months. 

Though the deadline to end fund-raising was extended until March 2019, the city only managed to collect 229 million yen in donations after deducting costs to conduct the campaign.

In February that year, realizing there would be a massive shortfall, Takehisa suggested spending more than 400 million yen from the municipality’s reserve fund for fiscal adjustment to get hold of Sanchomo. But city residents objected to the use of their tax money for the project.

Critics panned the plan as a carelessly drawn example of a public-investment project and insisted the city should scrap the idea of buying the sword since it missed its fund-raising target.

The sword's owner was prepared to wait until the city was able to procure the necessary sum for purchase.

Takehisa extended the city's fund-raising campaign for another year until the end of March 2020.

As of Feb. 16, the city had received 838.98 million yen from more than 15,000 individuals and companies in and outside Japan.

The donation campaign will continue through March, and excess contributions will be used to upgrade the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum's parking lot and for other projects, city officials said.