Kwan Yu

Kwan Yu, the Chinese god of war, was born in Shantung province c.161 AD. He enlisted in the Imperial army in his early 20s and quickly became a general of great renown, trusted by the Emperor. He was of great stature and strength and is often depicted with a fierce expression and ruddy complexion. He died c.219 AD and has remained, both in China and Japan, as a model of military prowess and virtues. He achieved official divine status c.1100 and, in 1594, the full rank of a deity-Kwan Dai, the god-king - a rank equal to that of Confucius. Kwan Yu is a Taoist symbol of integrity and loyalty and people pray to him for assistance. He is the patron saint of Chinese martial arts practitioners and his birthday is celebrated on 15 June. The weapon usually associated with Kwan Yu is the Kwan Dao, which is often erroneously described as a 'massive sword'. In fact, it is a pole weapon with a blade of very distinctive shape, and closely related to the Naginata. In the recurring theme in Japanese prints and sword furnishings (tsuba, kashira) he is invariably depicted with his bodyguard and companion, Chow Chong, who stands near him holding the Kwan Dao.

I have yet to investigate the manner and period in which Kwan Yu's influence and popularity came to Japan.

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