The name honebami ('bone-gnawing') comes from a story about a man playing with this sword and pretending to cut his friend. The blade cut through the bones of the unfortunate man and killed him. There were many other strange accidents with this blade.
Originally it was a naginata belonging to the Otomo clan of Northern Kyushu. They originated in Otomo village of Sōshū province and were loyal supporters of Minamoto. Minamoto Yoritomo, the first Kamakura Shogun, sent Otomo Yoshinao to Bungo province to rule and since that time Otomo remained in Bungo. The blade was shaped into a katana (naginata naoshi) at the time when Otomo owned it.
Later when Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1359) went to Kyushu, Otomo pledged their loyalty and gave Honebami Tōshirō to Takauji. It was handed down in the Ashikaga Shogunate for generations and eventually it was given to Taga Bungo no Kami, a retainer of the Shogunate.
On Eiroku 8 (1565) Miyoshi Sakyo Daiu and Matsunaga Danjo conspired against the 13th Ashikaga Shogun (Toshiteru) and succeeded in killing him. Taga Bungo no Kami fought against the conspirators and was killed by Matsunaga. Matsunaga took the blade and was said to have greatly treasured it.
Otomo Sorin was informed about the incident and contacted Matsunaga asking to return the blade which once belonged to the Otomo. He sent Mori Hyobu Yasuzane with 3000 ryo of gold and other gifts and, reluctantly, Matsunaga gave the blade back to Otomo.
Otomo Sorin presented Honebami Tōshirō to Toyotomi Hideyoshi upon Sorin's visit to Osaka castle on Tenshō 17 (1589). Hideyoshi then gave it to Hideyori, who then passed it to Kimura Nagato no Kami. Kimura carried it to his last battle of the Toyotomi against Tokugawa forces, the winter battle of Osaka. He died in combat and the blade was lost, later to be supposedly found by a farmer from Awa province together with Yagen Tōshirō in the castle moat.
The merchant who found the blade brought it to Hon'ami Kōshitsu (Kotoku, according to Tokugawa Jikki). It was held there for a while and then taken to Jino castle and shown to Ieyasu. He was pleased with the blade but it was too heavy to carry, so it was sent to Fushimi castle and shown to Lord Hidetada who paid 1000 silver coins for it.
The blade was damaged during the Great Fire of Meireki (1657) and then re-tempered by Echizen Yasutsugu.
It remained with the Tokugawa until Meiji 20 (1887) when they gave it to Toyokuni shrine in Kyoto (also known as Hokoku shrine) where Toyotomi Hideyoshi is enshrined.