KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #17 – Rai (来) School 3

We continue with Kunitoshi by entering his Rai phase.


Rai Kunitoshi Phase

As mentioned in the first part, Kunitoshi decided at a certain point in time to sign with the prefix “Rai.” I wrote that this might have been connected to his father’s death, i.e. in 1297 according to the Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen, but I was going through known date signatures again and learned that there are actually two earlier ones known that are already signed with “Rai,” that is a tantô dated Shôô two (正応, 1289) and a tachi dated Shôô three (1290). So maybe this was the time Kuniyuki retired and handed over the forge to him or Kuniyuki actually did not die in 1297, as stated in the anyway partially doubtful Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen, but in 1289. Anyway, I have edited the first part in this respect to make it work by itself and without the second part. So let’s start with the overlapping phase when Kunitoshi started to leave behind his magnificent tachi and started to follow the then trend to again somewhat more elegant blades with a more unobtrusive hamon. I am saying “started to” on purpose because we have to be careful. The aforementioned tachi dated Shôô three (1290) (see picture 7) is already pretty unobtrusive in terms of its hamon and also shows a noticeably more elegant sugata. It is very similar to the late Niji blade shown in picture of of the last part and was made only twelve years after the magnificent and flamboyant dated work from 1278 (picture 2 in the last part). In short, he made such unobtrusive blades early on in his Rai phase and apart from that, he went back once in a while to a more flamboyant jiba in his latest years, although combining that deki with an elegant and slender sugata (more on this later). So it is not black and white and just styles A and B with a little transitional period. It is complicated, I know.


Picture 7: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊) – “Shôô sannen sangatsu hi” (正応三年三月日, “a day in the third month Shôô three [1290]”), nagasa 79.4 cm

The kodachi shown in picture 8 is dated to his early Rai phase and is as you can see pretty flamboyant. It has a somewhat narrow mihaba, a koshizori, shows funbari, and ends in a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and nie-utsuri and the hamon is, as mentioned, a flamboyant mix of chôji, ko-chôji, and ko-gunome in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ashi, , fine kinsuji, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is rather tight and despite of showing some prominent chôji elements with large yakigashira at the base, the ha itself doesn’t feature that many ups and downs. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and shows some hakikake.


Picture 8: jûyô, kodachi, mei “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊), nagasa 59.8 cm, sori 1.6 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The mei of the kodachi shows characteristic features that dates it to the early Rai phase and which I will introduce at the end of this chapter. It is interesting that there seems to be a lack of dated works from his 60s and that they increase again in number from Shôwa two (正和, 1313) onwards, i.e. when he was 73 years old (or 74 if you follow the Japanese way of counting years). So let me finally introduce the famous blade that he signed with the supplement “at the age of 75” (see picture 9). It is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai and signed in kakukudashi manner “Rai Kunitoshi Shôwa yonnen jûgatsu nijûsannichi ?? sai nanajûgo” (来国俊正和二二年 十月廿三日◯◯歳七十五, “Rai Kunitoshi, 23rd day of the tenth month Shôwa four [1315], ??, at the age of 75”). It has a normal to slender and tapering mihaba, a deep toriizori with funbari, and ends in a chû-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with ji-nie, a nie-utsuri, and some Rai-hada. The hamon is a straightforward chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki with a rather tight and very bright nioiguchi that only features a few hataraki like ashi and . The bôshi is sugu and shows a long running back ko-maru-kaeri.


Picture 9: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 78.2 cm, sori 2.1 cm, preserved in the Tokugawa Museum

Now I want to introduce a blade (see picture 10) that so to speak displays a style which is most representative for Rai Kunitoshi, or that comes to mind first when thinking of this smith. It is a jûyô-bunkazai tachi dated “Gen’ô gannen hachigatsu hi” (元応元年八月日, “a day in the eighth month Gen’ô one [1319]”), once again in kakikudashi manner. It has an elegant sugata with a toriizori, a little funbari, and a chû-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame that stands a little out in places and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chô that becomes a little wider along the monouchi and that undulates a little towards the base. The ha is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-gunome, sunagashi, muneyaki, and ashi which slant here and there. The nioiguchi is rather subdued and the bôshi is sugu with a long running back ko-maru-kaeri. As indicated, the interpretation in suguha-chô with ashi slanting towards the tang, muneyaki, and a kaeri that runs back in a long fashion is typical for Kunitoshi and the Rai School in general. As he was already 79 years old at the time this blade was made, it is assumed that we are facing here a daimei, most likely of Kunimitsu.


Picture 10: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊), date see text above, nagasa 74.1 cm, sori 2.3 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The latest known date signature of Kunitoshi is from Genkô one (元享, 1321) and is found on the tachi shown in picture 11. He was already 81 years old at that time, therefore it is verly likely that this blade too was made by one of his students, probably Kunimitsu again. It is the work that I meant earlier with him returning once in a while to a more flamboyant jiba, but combined with a very elegant tachi-sugata. The blade is slender, tapers noticeably, has a toriizori, and a smallish ko-kissaki. The kitae is a very fine ko-itame with ji-nie, fine chikei, some jifu and antai, and a midare-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chô that is mixed with chôji, ko-chôji, ko-gunome, muneyaki, densely arranged ashi and , and fine kinsuji and sunagashi. The midare elements and the ashi slant in places (i.e. appear as Kyô-saka-ashi), the nioiguchi is bright, and the bôshi is sugu with a wide ko-maru-kaeri. This is once more a blade that is difficult to kantei. The sugata is highly elegant and might remind of late Heian and early Kamakura at a glance and with the midare-utsuri and the outstanding quality, one might think of Ko-Bizen masters like Masatsune (正恒) or Tomonari (友成). But their sugata would be different as they made blades with a pronounced koshizori that bends down towards the tip. The jigane says Rai and the ha Kuniyuki but the sugata is the important again why it can’t be him. He too did make such classical sugata with a smaller kissaki but usually in combination with a classical jiba. His more flamboyant jiba is usually found on more magnificent tachi that anticipate the strong mid-Kamakura sugata of Kunitoshi’s Niji phase. Apart from that, we would expect to see some karimata here and there on a Kuniyuki blade. Key here to nail it down to Rai Kunitoshi is the utsuri that appears as midare but with darker antai areas, a peculiarity that is sometimes seen at Kunitoshi in his later phase and at Ryôkai. But at Ryôkai, we would see some masame and shirake and his ha is a hint more subdued.


Picture 11: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊), date see text above, nagasa 74.25 cm, sori 2.45 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, the blade was once a heirloom of the Uesugi family


Now to Rai Kunitoshi’s tantô. Like his senior Awataguchi colleagues Kuniyoshi and Yoshimitsu, he did not focus on one single tantô style and made blades with the very wide range of roughly 18 to 30 cm, although the majority lying somewhere between 21 and 24 cm. And he was also open for different blade geometries as he made apart from the standard hira-zukuri also shôbu and kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri tantô. So let me introduce a few representative works, beginning with the kokuhô that is owned by the Atsuta-jingû and that is thus also referred to as “Atsuta Rai Kunitoshi” (熱田来国俊). The blade is dated “Shôwa gonen jûichigatsu hi” (正和五年十一月日, “a day in the eleventh month Shôwa five [1316]”) and is with a motohaba of 2.5 cm pretty wide for its nagasa of 25.1 cm. It shows an uchizori and a kitae in dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie. Interesting here, the nie-utsuri is joined by a thick bô-utsuri that appears parallel to the ha. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha that is mixed with ko-ashi, ko-gunome, and a kuichigai-ba along the fukura that turns into a kind of nijûba. The nioiguchi is wide, bright, and clear and the bôshi features a ko-maru-kaeri which is noticeably longer on the omote than on the ura side and which Tanobe sensei describes as “Fuji shape.” He explains that this shape, which resembles a stylized Mt. Fuji, is a characteristic feature of Rai Kunitoshi and also seen on some tachi and that its “mountain peak” appearance is the result of a wide and long turnback that makes the kaeri look a little symmetrical. Both sides of this tantô show a katana-hi with a suken below which end at the same height in kakudome.


Picture 12: kokuhô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊), date see text above, nagasa 25.1 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Next the longest tantô known of Kunitoshi which I once had the chance to study hands on at a northern branch meeting of the NBTHK in Japan. The blade is dated “Einin gonen nigatsu hi” (永仁五年二月日, “a day in the second month Eining five [1297]”) and has a nagasa of 29.7 cm. It has the same motohaba of 2.5 cm as the Atsuta-jingû blade and looks thus with its overlength more narrow. It shows a little uchizori towards the kissaki and a thick kasane, two elements that tell us right away that it is, despite of its length, most likely not a Nanbokuchô work. The kitae is a very dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that starts with a little indentation and that is mixed with a little ko-gunome and uchinoke along the center of the blade that makes the area tend to nijûba. The nioiguchi is bright and clear, the ha gets a little wider along the fukura, shows nijûba there too, and turns back in “Fuji shape,” i.e. with a ko-maru-kaeri whose turn back is wide and makes the kaeri look like the peak of a mountain. Like at the Atsuta-jingû blade, we have a katana-hi on both sides but this time with a thin koshibi on the omote, and a suken on the ura side. Due to the low position of the mei and the grooves running as kaki-nagashi into the tang, the nakago looks like suriage at a glance but it is ubu. I remember very well voting for Awataguchi Kuniyoshi at the kantei because of the nijûba but was of course not unhappy to see a ubu dated and signed tokubetsu-jûyô Rai Kunitoshi when the hilts were taken off. 😉


Picture 13: tokubetsu-jûyô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊), date see text above, nagasa 29.7 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

The last tantô I want to introduce is a kokuhô and this blade is truly classical, also with its curved furisode-style nakago. It has a normal mihaba and nagasa, uchizori, and a relative thick kasane, so everything speaks for Kamakura. The kitae is a fine ko-itame with a little masame and displays ji-nie. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-ashi and some kinsuji along the monouchi. The nioiguchi is rather tight and the bôshi is sugu with a wide ko-maru-kaeri which results again in the aforementioned “Fuji shape,” this time the symmetrical slopes are pretty clear, especially on the omote side of the blade. The omote side bears gomabashi and the ura side a koshibi as horimono. When you go back to the Awataguchi chapters you will see that the grooves are a little farther away from the mune than for example at Kuniyoshi or Yoshimitsu. This, sometimes rather felt than measureable, distance from the mune is a characteristic feature that distinguishes Rai from Awataguchi tantô.


Picture 14: kokuhô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊), nagasa 24.5 cm, uchizori, motohaba 2.14 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, owned by the Kurokawa Institute of Acient Cultures


At the end of the chapter on Kunitoshi, I want to address the changes in his signatures but with a focus on the basic changes. During his Niji phase, he signed the three inner left short strokes of the character for “Kuni” pushed up to the upper left corner. He kept that when he started to sign with the prefix Rai but gradually stretched them out and distributed them evenly over the height of the character. Apart from that, the outer box of the character fof “Kuni” got more angular and a little smaller over time and the ending strokes/sweeps of the character for “toshi” were given up in his advanced Rai phase. Another important feature of Kunitoshi’s mei is that he executed the upper part of the character for “Rai” as just three parallel horizontal strokes. The angle of the inner left short three strokes of the character for “Kuni” changes during the Shôwa era, that means they are now no longer slanting from bottom left to top right but from top right to bottom left. But at post-Shôwa mei, i.e. from Bunpô, Gen’ô, and Genkô, the previous variant is seen again.


Picture 15, from left to right: Niji Kunitoshi dated Kôan one (1278), Torikai Kunitoshi, early Rai Kunitoshi, Rai Kunitoshi dated Bunpô two (1318), dated Shôwa five (1316), dated Gen’ô one (1319)

Comparative studies of Rai signatures allow us certain conclusions about daimei. First of all, it seems as if the daimei artists producing for Kunitoshi in his latest years took over the master’s way of signing the name of the school, Rai, and combined that with their own variant for “Kuni.” For example, Rai Kunitsugu signed the inner left short three strokes just like seen on the Kunitoshi works from the Shôwa era, i.e. slanting from top left to bottom right. Therefore it is assumed that all Kunitoshi blades signed that way go back to the hand of Kunitugu (see picture 16 left). Rai Kunimitsu in turn signed the three strokes in a quite steep manner, similar to what we see on Gen’ô and Genkô dated blades. Thus it is said that all these blades go back to the hand of Kunimitsu (see picture 16 right).


Picture 16: Left Rai Kunitsugu, right Rai Kunimitsu, with each their supposed Kunitoshi daimei to the right


KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #16 – Rai (来) School 2

The successor of Kuniyuki was Kunitoshi (国俊) and when it comes to Kunitoshi, the first thing to address is the centuries old question if there were one or two generations. Now seeing this question from a chronological point of view, we learn that the earliest sword books, that are those which were compiled up the the mid-Muromachi period, list a single Kunitoshi and that this changed from the very end of the Muromachi through the Momoyama up to the beginning Edo period when two Kunitoshi smiths were introduced. And this approach of dealing with two smiths dominated until the 1970s when experts started to go more and more back to the view that there was actually just one Kunitoshi. But let me explain why it went that way. First of all, Kunitoshi enjoyed a very long life and was active for more than fifty years. We know date signatures from Kôan one (弘安, 1279) to Gen’ô three (元応, 1321) and there is one very famous blade extant which is dated Shôwa four (正和, 1315) and added with the supplement “made at the age of 75.” Thus we can calculate his year of birth as Ninji one (仁治, 1240) and although we don’t know when he died, we know that he made the Gen’ô three blade when he was 82 years old, or rather that he was still head of the school at that time because certain works from those late years were actually made by his sons or students (I will address this point later). So let’s assume that he died some time in the early 1320s for the time being. Second, it is only natural that his style changed over time, one the one hand just because of the fact that he was active for more than half a century, but on the other hand also because a certain stylistic change took place all over the country during his time.

Now the oldest sword publication, the often quoted Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi from 1423 that bases on data collected up to the year 1316, lists only one Kunitoshi. Interestingly, it inserts on one occasion (there are two Rai genealogies in the book) a certain Kuninaga (国永) between Rai Kuniyuki and Kunitoshi but anyway, the manuscript for the book was written on the spot, i.e. in Kyôto, and at a time when Kunitoshi was still alive and head of the Rai school. Experts are not sure where to put this Kuninaga but some say he might have well been a Rai smith but who died young and acted thus only for a very brief period of time as head of the school and therefore he was later removed again from the genealogy. The other very old source, the Ki’ami Hon Mei Zukushi from 1381, also lists just one Kunitoshi and so does the Nô’ami Hon Mei Zukushi from 1483. But then come the Genki Gannen Tôken Mekiki Sho from 1570, the Keichô era (1596-1615) Keifun Ki, and first of all the influental Kokon Mei Zukushi, which was published in 1661 but goes back to data gathered up to 1611, which introduce “all of a sudden” two Kunitoshi. However, this is not surprising. It was the time when sword studies experienced a boom and a lot was written back then (and from the early Edo period onwards also actually published in larger print runs). But think about the limited data situation of those days. You have blades signed Kunitoshi with earlier dates which are all of one style and then you have blades signed Rai Kunitoshi with noticeably later date signatures which are all of a significantly different style. Of course you assume they were two smiths and that a shift of generations must had taken place at some point in time. And this approach was subsequently refined by introducing the nickname Niji Kunitoshi (二字国俊) for the former, as he signed in niji-mei, and Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊) for the latter, as he signed with the prefix Rai, and by the end of the 18th century, you get a construct like the Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen which says the following: Niji Kunitoshi was the son of Kuniyuki and was born in Niji one (1240) and died in Kôei three (康永, 1344) at the very great age of 105 (according to the Japanese way of counting years). And Rai Kunitoshi was the son of Niji Kunitoshi. He was born Shôan one (正安, 1299), lived in Yamato province, signed from Kenmu one (建武, 1334) onwards with the prefix Rai, and died in Ryakuô two (暦応, 1339) at the young age of 41. With this as a basis, the complicated theory emerged that Niji Kunitoshi actually started his career by signing with “Rai Kunitoshi” and that it was his son who initially signed just with Kunitoshi. But then the son left for Yamato where he established his own branch of the school and where he too signed with “Rai Kunitoshi.” He died young and his father outlived him for some years, signing with “Rai Kunitoshi” throughout his entire career.

Anyway, this is and was seen as a nice anecdote and never made it much into mainstream discussions on the Rai Kunitoshi subject but I wanted to introduce it here for the sake of completeness and to underline how far things can go when an initially honest approach is fed here and there with tiny pieces of hearsay over time. But the Niji Kunitoshi and Rai Kunitoshi theory prevailed for a long time and even Honma sensei saw them first as two smiths, e.g. at the time when he wrote his Nihon Kotô Shi (the first edition was published in 1958 and is based on a thesis he wrote in 1952). He changed his view later and assumed that there was indeed only one Kunitoshi and also Tanobe sensei is of that opinion. This change in scholarship goes back to the fact that by that time, data and references were much easier accessible. That means, experts were and are no longer to restricted to some old manuscripts which were kept secret and only handed down within the own family and to a very limited stock of available Kunitoshi blades. Now you can bring all sources together and you are not only able to check hundreds of Kunitoshi blades for themselves but compare them with hundreds of blades of contemporary smiths and get a much clearer picture of what was going on back then. To sum that all up, Kuniyuki had a successor, Kunitoshi, who decided at a certain point in his career to sign his blades with the prefix Rai, the name of his family and school. Maybe he did so after his father had retired or died and the earliest dated work known that bears the prefix Rai is from the second year of Shôô (正応, 1289). He was already in his late 40s at that time what explains that he had enough time to sign in niji-mei like his father did. Thus the large quantity of extant niji-mei signed blades.

Let’s move on to the workmanship of Kunitoshi and although I go with the one smith theory, I will stay with the nicknames Niji Kunitoshi and Rai Kunitoshi, but that in a pure stylistic context, i.e. I will use terms like “Niji Kunitoshi phase” or “Rai Kunitoshi phase.” When we look at Kunitoshi’s entire body of work, we learn that he started continuing the style of his father Kuniyuki, turned that style into even more magnificent interpretations with a flamboyant hamon and an impressive tachi-sugata with ikubi-kissaki, and that he later changed towards more unobtrusive tachi with a suguha-based hamon and an elegant, slender sugata with chû or ko-kissaki. As indicated earlier, this specific stylistic change from magnificent and flamboyant to calm and slender can be seen at other contemporary smith and best example is Osafune Nagamitsu (長光) who can be seen as Kunitoshi’s “Bizen twin brother.” Both were the greatest masters of their region, both were working at exactly the same (dated works from Kunitoshi range from 1279 to 1321 and from Nagamitsu from 1274 to 1320), both were highly productive, and both were starting from where a previously dominating lineage had ceased to exist, i.e. Ichimonji in case of Nagamitsu and Awataguchi in case of Kunitoshi, with their fathers (Mitsutada [光忠] and Kuniyuki respectively) doing the first step. And as far as their skill and productivity is concerned, both are well represented among the Agency for Cultural Affairs designations: 17 for Kunitoshi (4 kokuhô and 13 jûyô-bunkazai), and 34 for Nagamitsu (6 kokuhô and 28 jûyô-bunkazai). And more than 200 blades of Kunitoshi are jûyô and about 30 passed tokubetsu-jûyô (not separating Niji Kunitoshi from Rai Kunitoshi). In comparison, about 150 blades of Nagamitsu are jûyô and a little over 20 are tokubetsu-jûyô.


Niji Kunitoshi Phase

Going more or less chronologically from here, I first want to introduce some works where he so to speak picked up where his father Kuniyuki left. The tachi seen in picture 1 is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai and shows the magnificent and kind of stout sugata that was prevailing at that time, featuring a wide mihaba, no noticeable taper, a deep toriizori, and a compact ikubi-kissaki. The kitae is a ko-itame that tends to stand out a little and that shows plenty of ji-nie and a faint nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ô-chôji-chô in ko-nie-deki mixed with kawazu no ko-chôji, gunome, and many ashi and . The ha tends to slant along the upper half and the nioiguchi is rather subdued. The bôshi is a widely hardened midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri. Both sides feature a bôhi that runs with kaki-nagashi into the tang with on the haki-omote side a suken and a soebi over the rest of the length, engraved below of the shinogi. The ura side shows a koshibi with a kind of gem element and after that the same soebi. The tang is ubu, tapers only a little to a ha-agari kurijiri, shows kiri-yasurime, and a shinobi no ana at the tip. The ha is flamboyant and not that nie-laden and as the nie-utsuri tends to midare-utsuri in places, one might think of a Fukuoka-Ichimonji work at a glance. But although lesser in quantity and size, there is too much ko-nie and ha-nie for a Fukuoka-Ichimonji work and having a faint nie-utsuri with a little midare would be also be odd as we would expect to see a striking midare-utsuri all over on a Fukuoka-Ichimonji blade.


Picture 1: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Kunitoshi” (国俊), nagasa 75.6 cm, sori 2.4 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

Next is the only dated blade known from Kunitoshi’s Nidai phase (see picture 2). This tachi is signed “Kunitoshi” and dated “Kôan gannen jûnigatsu hi” (弘安元年十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month Kôan one [1278]”). It has a wide mihaba, an ikubi-kissaki, and is a little shortened but keeps its magnificent sugata. The kitae is a ko-itame with ji-nie, nie-utsuri, and some jifu in places and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden chôji-gunome mixed with plenty of ashi and and some tobiyaki which even tend a little to nijûba in places. The elements of the ha tend to slant all over the blade and the boshi is midare-komi with yakitsume, i.e. it does not really have a kaeri.


Picture 2: tachi, mei “Kunitoshi” (国俊), date see text above, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, nagasa 77.9 cm, sori 2.3 cm, the blade is preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum and does not bear any designation of the Agency for Cultural Affairs

Picture 3 shows the meibutsu Torikai-Kunitoshi (鳥養国俊) which was once owned by late Muromachi period calligrapher Torikai Sôkei (鳥飼宗慶, please note that his family name is written with a different kanji for kai than the meibutsu) and ended up via a stopover at Hosokawa Yûsai (細川幽斎, 1534-1610) and his son Tadaoki (細川忠興, 1563-1646) as a heirloom of the Owari-Tokugawa branch. The blade is a kodachi and is today designated as a jûyô-bijutsuhin. It is truly stout and wide, measuring 60.3 cm in nagasa, but kind of elegant at the same time as it has a relative deep toriizori of 2.4 cm. We see funbari and an ikubi-kissaki and the kitae is a dense ko-itame with ji-nie and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a wide and chôji-based midareba mixed with some gunome and which does not show much ups and downs. There are plenty of hataraki like ashi and and the entire yakiba is quite nie-loaden. The nioiguchi is bright, clear, and tight and the hamon gets wider along the monouchi and turns there into a hiro-suguha-chô. The bôshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri and almost tends to ichimai and along the upper half of the blade we see connected muneyaki. The deki and the condition are outstanding and the Torikai is considered to be one of the best work from Kunitoshi’s Niji phase. There are only very few kodachi of him from this time extant but as mentioned in the last part, already his father Kuniyuki made some and so he too continued to take orders in this direction. The overall interpretation with the flamboyant hamon reminds of his “Bizen twin” Nagamitsu but there is too much ji-nie and a nie-utsuri present what speaks against Nagamitsu. And the bôshi is also different as Nagamitsu mostly hardened a so-called sansaku-bôshi.


Picture 3: jûyô-bijutsuhin, meibutsu Torikai-Kunitoshi, kodachi, mei “Kunitoshi” (国俊), nagasa 60.3 cm, sori 2.4 cm, motohaba 3.03 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, preserved in the Tokugawa Museum

Now to a blade from Kunitoshi’s somewhat later  Niji phase that kind of anticipates the style of his upcoming Rai phase. The blade is still wide and magnificent but the kissaki is no longer straightforward ikubi and becomes chû and we see a hint more taper. The kitae is a dense ko-itame mixed with mokume and shows plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a calm suguha-chô, or hiro-suguha-chô if you want, in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-ashi, slanting Kyô-saka-ashi (on the omote side), , some yubashiri-based nijûba, and much muneyaki. The nioiguchi is rather tight, bright and clear, and the bôshi continues as wide suguha with a ko-maru-kaeri and a hint of hakikake. This tachi can be difficult to kantei at a glance but if you have internalized this and the upcoming chapter, you should be able to see that it can only be a late work of Kunitoshi’s Niji phase because the sugata is still to magnificent for the Rai phase and the jiba is “too advanced” for Kuniyuki. Well, Rai Kunimitsu would be a good guess too as early works of Kunimitsu are often very close to Rai Kunitoshi but there are just not enough nie-hataraki for Kunimitsu and we would also expect an approach of gunome in his ha. Anyway, this is the style that so to speak served as a blueprint for the Rai School itself from here on and for its offshoots Ryôkai and Enju. Incidentally, the blade was once a heirloom of the Owari-Tokugawa family and comes with an origami of Hon’ami Kôchû from Hôei five (1708) evaulating it with 100 gold pieces.




Picture 4: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei “Kuni…” (国…), nagasa 77.0 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


But it must not be overlooked that Kunitoshi also went even more classical in his late Niji phase, for example as seen as in picture 5. This tachi is of an elegant sugata with a normal mihaba, a deep toriizori, and a chû-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie, fine chikei, and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden hoso-suguha with a little ko-gunome at the machi and faint nijûba accompanying the ha here and there along the ura side. The nioiguchi is rather tight and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. This blade too is difficult to kantei and could perfectly pass as Rai Kunitoshi. That means, this and the previous blade are precious references for us to realize that the late Niji and early or subsequent Rai phase are indeed very much overlapping.



Picture 5: jûyô, tachi, mei “Kunitoshi” (国俊), nagasa 75.2 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


How about tantô from Kunitoshi’s Niji phase? There is actually only one tantô known, and that is the meibutsu Aizen-Kunitoshi (愛染国俊) which is signed in niji-mei (see picture 6). To my knowledge, all mumei tantô that are attributed to Kunitoshi are explicitly attributed to Rai Kunitoshi, i.e. to his Rai phase. And from his Rai phase on, tantô increase significantly in number. His father Kuniyuki made hardly any tantô and we can only guess why that was the case. My theory, as stated in the previous chapter, is that Kuniyuki was just active a little to early for the great “Kyôto tantô boom” that started with his colleague Awataguchi Kuniyoshi and that was then continued by Kuniyoshi’s successor Yoshimitsu. So I think that Kunitoshi jumped only later onto that fine tantô bandwagon, i.e. when he was already in his Rai phase. Back to the Aizen-Kunitoshi. The blade got its nickname from the kebori carving of the deity Aizen Myôô on its tang and right above the niji-mei. It was once owned by Hideyoshi and came via a stopover at the Tokugawa family into the possession of the Maeda which owned it until the Shôwa era. The blade has a wide mihaba and follows in terms of sugata very much the sunnobi-style tantô of Kuniyuki introduced in the previous chapter (picture 8), although it is a little shorter. It show a dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and a nie-utsuri and a “wet” looking steel and the entire kitae is described as nashiji in the old text to the jûyô-bunkazai classification. The hamon is a notare-gunome-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed ko-midare, togariba, plenty of ko-ashi, and some tobiyaki and yubashiri. The bôshi is notare-komi to midare-komi with a rather pointed but irregular kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura side a hatana-hi with a shorter soebi.



Picture 6: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, meibutsu Aizen-Kunitoshi, mei “Kunitoshi” (国俊), nagasa 28.75 cm, sori 0.24 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune, owned by Brast Sheave Co., Ltd., Ôsaka


Now that should do it for today because I want to dedicate Kunitoshi’s Rai Kunitoshi phase a chapter of its own so that we don’t have one mega post and too much info at once. So stay tuned.


Cast Sword Fittings

There is a short report in the December 2015 issue of the Tôken Bijutsu that I read with great interest and that I wanted to work into a smaller article on my site. The report in question is about an early Edo period sword fitting workshop that was discovered during construction work for a new apartment building in the Yanagimachi (柳町) neighborhood which is located a little to the southwest of downtown Nara. Well, as so often, a lot of things are going on and I had to put that article idea aside but the other day, Ford Hallam put a link to a short YouTube video on Facebook that briefly shows some of the discovered items that were on display at a small local special exhibition on the find.  The video by Sankei News is neither long nor very detailed but you can see the items much better than in the black and white Tôken Bijutsu article and with this, I thought I better introduce that issue on my site too as next to nothing is known about such cast workshops.

First of all, the finds. Discovered were about 800 items and fragments related to tsuba casting and about 600 of such for menuki, the majority being kikka-sukashi models for tsuba and dragons for menuki. Also found were more than 200 spherical melting pots, some with handles, some with three legs, and fragments of copper and zinc were confirmed on some of them, the “ingredients” you need for making brass (shinchû, 真鍮). The Tôken Bijutsu report says that so far, it was thought that brass was not produced in Japan until the latter half of the 17th century (up to that time it was imported) and that this find, which is dated to the first half of the 17th century, obviously predates that assumed starting point of local brass production. According to the report, the Yanagimachi area where the workshop was found was not settled in the Keichô era (1596-1615) but we have records that at the latest by Kan’ei eight (1631), 21 so-called yakuya (役家) resided there. Yakuya were families who held land tenure on the basis of socage. It seems that not much is found in period records and the first historic document that goes more into detail is the Nara Zarashi (奈良曝) topography/local history of the town published in Jôkyô four (1687). Therein we read that at that time, 14 swordsmiths, 14 saya lacquer artists, and 17 sword polishers were living and working in Nara. And for Yanagimachi we find listed a swordsmith named Kichibei (吉兵衛), a saya lacquer artist named Kansuke (勘介), and a polisher named Kiya Gohei (木屋五兵衛), the latter most likely coming from the renowned Kiya family of sword polishers whose main line had been working (like the Hon’ami and the Takeya) for the bakufu. The source does not mention any sword fittings makers but the find of the cast workshop combined with the listed names and professions strongly suggests that a thriving sword manufacture community had existed in Nara during the early Edo period. The fact that only the first and not the smith name of the swordsmith (i.e. the alias with which he signed) is quoted might not mean anything but it could suggest, again with the cast workshop in mind, that he was one of the many below-of-the-radar smiths and this in turn brings me to another point that made we wonder whilst thinking about the discovery. Incidentally, when I checked the meikan to see which smiths worked at that time in Nara, I could not find any smith with the first name Kichibei/Yoshibei but again, this does not necessarily mean much as the first names of the lesser known smiths were often not recorded and fell into oblivion. And almost all Nara-based smith of that time, i.e. Kanbun and Enpô, were from the Monju School, i.e. the Sue-Tegai lineage that made it into the Edo period.

What made me wonder were the circumstances of the emergence of such small local sword manufactures who obviously did not produce “daimyô level” swords, or not even mid-level bushi swords. Well, smaller or larger sword manufactures under the jurisdiction of local feudal lords had always existed as not every fief or region was receiving from the large sword centers like Osafune or Seki of course and as the equipment of the own men had to be ensured no matter what. And also safe to assume is that the fittings of the tens of thousands of mass produced swords that were exported to Ming China (more details here) were equipped with the cheapest kind of fittings. I am not talking about special presentation and special order swords as they were surely of at least decent make. As mentioned in the linked article, contemporary records say that most of the export swords were made in Nara and Bizen but we are talking here about the early 1500s at the latest and with the ongoing Sengoku era and all what took place during the reigns of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, it is not unusual that many of the Nara-based manufactures had simply disappeared from the face of earth by a century later. So why were some of these relative cheaply producing workshops reemerging during the early Edo period and were still working when the general demand for swords was declining?

I think that this issue is linked to the then changes within the bushi class. So even if the demand for newly made swords surely declined from the end of the 17th century onwards, we are facing with the early 17th centuries’ continuous expansion and formulation of the Tokugawa-bakufu a certain change in the wearing of swords. It was the time when for the first time a “uniform” for all samurai was introduced and all things office-related – i.e. garments, hairstyle, swords – were dictated by the bakufu. Now each member of the bushi class from a certain rank upwards was required to wear the daishô pair of swords when on duty and rules were even stricter when operating in Edo (see also here). I don’t want to go too much into detail here about what sword form developed from what sword but as everybody knows, by the beginning of the Edo period, a samurai was wearing the typical daishô pair consisting of a katana and a wakizashi mounted in more or less matching koshirae. But before that time, i.e. pre-Momoyama and Sengoku, the uchigatana or katateuchi, the forerunner of the katana, worn by the lower ranking warriors and ashigaru was nothing more than a weapon and so to speak furnished in the minimum requirement to be used.


I want to cite the special case of the Sai’en-dô (西円堂) at this point to demonstrate what I mean. This side temple of the Hôryû-ji in Nara is a rare stroke of luck for the studies on Muromachi-period swords and mountings as it stored until recent times hundreds of weapons (see picture above) offered to it, or rather to the healing Buddha Yakushi-Nyorai (薬師如来) to which the temple is dedicated. At some of the swords the tsuba or other fittings were removed again later to reuse them on other swords but still many “intact” specimen have survived. The picture below shows what I meant with “minimum requirement,” that is, many of these basic uchigatana had no decorative elements whatsoever. They had a fuchi and kashira that held the hilt together, a kurigata for tying it with a cord to the obi, a kaerizuno so that the sword doesn’t slip out of the obi, and a rudimentary hilt wrapping. Some were equipped with a kozuka (most of the kozuka are missing so only the slots in the saya remain) and many did not even have a tsuba, i.e. were mounted in aikuchi style, and as many did not feature any menuki. As mentioned, these specimen show the very basic mounting that is necessary to make a sword use and wearable.


Such utilitarian swords basically disappeared with the disarming of the civilian population started by Nobunaga and finished by Hideyoshi, the so-called katanagari (刀狩り, “sword hunt”), and the subsequent regulations issued by the Tokugawa-bakufu. Whilst Nobunaga and Hideyoshi first of all sought to ensure with the katanagari that no one could take the country by force, Ieyasu’s rules were more about making sure that only the bushi class had nationwide the monopoly on violence, with the sword pair as easy-to-grasp symbol of being legally allowed to use physical force. From now on, it was unthinkable for even a lower ranking samurai to wear some kind of cobbled together uchigatana, no, you were required to wear a decent daishô when doing duty. Of course there were also semi-bushi class persons who ranked even lower and not every simple rural duty required a full daishô and as mentioned in an earlier article, there was no “sword police” going round that checked if every coutryside samurai had a sword with a proper tsukamaki for example and no plaintiff, no judge. So it was pretty much like if you are a soldier today doing duty on some desert base with just you and your guys all year long. Nobody complains if you show up in the morning with your shirt open. But the fun stops as soon as the base has a certain size or when you have to show up at another base. You don’t want to embarrass yourself or worse, your superior. Back to the early Edo period. Now every sword and short sword that was worn when on duty had to be equipped with a proper tsuba, tsukamaki, fuchigashira, and menuki. (Again, I am not talking about special cases, koshigatana with unwrapped hilts, swords in private collections etc. I am referring to the majority of swords.) Now comes some numbers game. It is estimated that the samurai class made up about 10% of the Japanese population. In the early Edo period, Japan had a population of about 12,000,000 to 18,000,000 and about steady 30,000,000 from Genroku (1688-1704) to the end of the Edo period. So if we start with 12,000,000, about 2,500,000 swords (daishô, thus times two the 10%) have been worn at any given day in the early, and about 6,000,000 swords throughout the later Edo period. Well, tsuba and sword fittings were of course reused and handed down in the peaceful Edo period but still, there must had been a production line for the cheaper swords and therefore it is in my opinion only logical to accept that there were many more of such cast workshops like the one discovered in Nara. I also think that the majority of these relative cheap fittings just did not survive or was melted down for casting metal fittings. Thus we are hardly talking about them today.

These are my initial thoughts on the matter for the time being and maybe some more sites are discovered in the future as it is hard to develop a proper theory on just that one find. Last but not least, some more pictures can be found in the Sankei article here. And thank you Ford for pointing out that video.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #15 – Rai (来) School 1

Now we are entering another of the great old Yamashiro traditions, that is Rai. I have summarized most of the traditions concerning the alleged school’s founder Kuniyoshi (国吉) a while ago here, for example that he was from Korea and became naturalized in Japan and that the school’s name Rai goes actually back to that context. Just one more note here, Honma points out that all the early Kyôto schools are either referred to as by and/or signed with the name of their production site, i.e. Sanjô, Gojô, Awataguchi, Ayanokôji. Only the Rai smiths used their family name what, according to Honma, somehow distinguishes them from the other local schools and what might suggest that they did not emerge from any of them. So we end up again at the immigration approach. Incidentally, the first smith who actually signed with the character for “Rai” was Kunitoshi but who was active towards the end of the Kamakura period. When we just stick to the facts then all we can say is that the Rai school emerged in the mid-Kamakura period and is stylistically most likely linked to the Awataguchi school, which had been the dominating Kyôto school of sword making at that time. Apart from that, experts see today Kuniyuki (国行) as founder of the school but that just on the basis of the fact that the earliest Rai works available go back to his hand. He was the son of the aforementioned Kuniyoshi who remains on paper the ancestor of the school. None of his blades have survived but there is a single puzzling blade going round – once owned by the sword polisher Hirai Matsuba (平井松葉), who was the younger brother of Hon’ami Nisshû – that might be his work (see picture 1). Honma says, apart from that the deki is excellent, that the overall workmanship in suguha in ko-nie-deki mixed with ko-midare is clearly Kyô and about contemporary to Awataguchi Kuniyoshi but the mei is completely different from that of the Awataguchi master and that the mei can’t be brought in line with any of the other known Kuniyoshi smiths of that time, e.g. from Yamato. So Rai seems most likely but as even the old oshigata collections leave out Kuniyoshi, we just don’t have enough data to say for sure that the mei is that of Rai Kuniyoshi or not. Well, one of the very few oshigata of Rai Kuniyoshi can be found in the Kokon Mei Zukushi (see picture 2). It is a tantô with a furisode-style nakago and a slightly undulating suguha but the mei is not a definite match with the mei of the tachi in question, although it has to be mentioned that the signatures of early oshigata collections were captured with a certain artistic freedom (i.e. they were copied with the brush and not rubbed like we do it today).


Picture 1: tachi, mei “Kuniyoshi” (国吉), nagasa 71.8 cm


Picture 2: Rai Kuniyoshi as seen in the Kokon Mei Zukushi

Satô in turn introduces this tachi as being a work of the Rai ancestor and describes its workmanship as showing a sugata with an iori-mune, a koshizori, and a compact ko-kissaki with a slightly standing-out kitae in itame mixed with nagare, a hamon in suguha-chô that has a rather subdued nioiguchi and that is mixed with ko-midare and a few chôji and kinsuji, and a bôshi with a relative widely running-back ko-maru-kaeri. He also says that there is another tachi with an ubu-nakago of Rai Kuniyoshi extant but which is yakinaoshi. The oshigata shown in picture 1 also strongly suggests the existence of a prominent utsuri (maybe one of those antique looking utsuri with antai that is also seen on some blades of Awataguchi Kuniyasu and Ayanokôji Sadatoshi) and the tapering, strongly curved tang and the slender interpretation with the ko-kissaki speak for a blade that dates early Kamakura or to the transition from early to mid-Kamakura at the latest. Before we go over to Kuniyuki, I want to quote Tanobe on this matter as he says that the blade shown in picture 1 looks in terms of sugata and jiba surely older than Kuniyuki but even upon closer examination, he can not attribute the mei with reasonable certainty to Rai Kuniyoshi. But that is just how it goes, i.e. even if many indicators point towards Rai Kuniyoshi, we are talking about a single blade here with no other references to compare with whatsoever.



Thus we arrive at Kuniyuki (国行). He is traditionally dated somewhere between Jôgen (承元, 1207-1211) and Shôgen (正元, 1259-1260), but the former seems a bit early. That is because we know a blade by his alleged son Kunitoshi that is dated Shôwa four (正和, 1315) and that is signed with the additional information “made at the age of 75.” So Kunitoshi was born in 1240 and it is rather unlikely that Kuniyuki had the prime of his life 30 years earlier, i.e. in Jôgen. So something around Shôgen seems more fitting. By the way, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that Kuniyuki died in Einin five (永仁, 1297) at the age of 79. So if we believe in this statement for a little, then he was 22 years old when Kuniyoshi was born. Anyway, the Shôgen era brings us right to an important aspect when talking about Kuniyuki, and that is that even if he was the actual founder of a school, we are, as mentioned, already in the mid-Kamakura period. So we are facing a different body of evidence than we did with the founding smiths of the Awataguchi school. These smiths were namely active from the end of the Heian to the very beginning of the Kamakura period, i.e. at least two generations earlier. In other words, the somewhat later active period makes a big difference when it comes to the pure number of extant works. But not only that, Kuniyuki entered the then sword world in a quite impressive manner because we are talking about more than two dozen blades that are jûyô-bunkazai or jûyô-bijutsuhin (one of them is kokuhô), more than 80 that are jûyô, and 17 that are tokubetsu-jûyô! So regardless of his scholastic background, he became without a doubt one of the greatest masters working in Kyôto at that time. Apart from that, his active time around the mid-Kamakura period also marks a noticeable shift from classical and elegant to powerful, and that applies both to sugata (e.g. ikubi-kissaki) and jiba. Accordingly, we have early works of Kuniyuki which are more unobtrusive and later works which are more magnificent and I want to introduce them in a chronological order. Incidentally, there are far more magnificent than classical blades of Kuniyuki extant.

The first two blades I introduce kind of connect to the aforementioned blade that is signed “Kuniyoshi” and to some of the Yamashiro/Kyôto masters who have been active a little earlier than Kuniyuki, e.g. Awataguchi Kuniyasu and Kunikiyo and Ayanokôji Sadatoshi. Blade number one shown in picture 3 is long, ubu, and of a slender and very elegant tachi-sugata but the (deep) toriizori (i.e. not koshi that bends down towards the tip) and the not that much tapering mihaba tell us that it is a mid and not an early Kamakura work. The kitae is a ko-itame mixed with mokume and nagare that shows plenty of fine ji-nie, much chikei, some jifu, and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden chû-suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-chôji, some angular elements, ashi, , uchinoke, fine hotsure, sunagashi, and kinsuji. The nioiguchi is rather wide and the bôshi is a shallow notare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri with some fine hakikake. Please pay attention to the small crescent-shaped uchinoke that appear here and there right atop of the habuchi. These so-called karimata are often seen on works of the three above mentioned smiths, i.e. Kuniyasu, Kunikiyo, and Sadatoshi, and are one the one hand an important characteristic feature of Rai Kuniyuki, and on the other hand a strong stylistic indicator that connects him as indicated to the earlier masters.


Picture 3: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei “Kuniyuki” (国行), nagasa 82.7 cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The blade shown in picture 4 too shows a very elegant and slender ubu tachi-sugata with a prominent kijimono-style nakago. The kitae of the “wet-looking” steel is a ko-itame mixed with some ô-hada and nagare that features plenty of fine ji-nie, fine chikei, and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a mix if ko-chôji ko-gunome and ko-midare that shows some ko-gunome and ko-notare along the upper half and that comes with plenty of ashi and , small and punctual yubashiri along the yakigashira, nijûba in the monouchi area, fine kinsuji and sunagashi, and plenty of ha-nie all over the blade. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the ha gets somewhat thinner towards the base and along the upper half. The bôshi is sugu with much hakikake and the kaeri is so small that it almost appears as yakitsume. Again, please take a look at what is going on parallel and above to the habuchi and compare that with the blades introduced here and here.


Picture 4: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei “Kuniyuki” (国行), nagasa 76.6 cm, sori 2.7 cm, motohaba 2.75 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Next a blade (see picture 5) that shows one of his other characteristic interpretations, and that is a suguha-chô with a large amount of smallish and densely arranged chôji which are accompanied by an abundance of ashi, , and karimata. Please note that none of the chôji protrudes prominently and that the ha is as mentioned perfectly suguha-based, i.e. overall straight with not much ups and downs (what distinguishes him from Ayanokôji Sadatoshi as he applied more ups and downs along the ha and apart from that, his bôshi usually shows prominent hakikake). This interpretation, also due to the fact that some jifu appears, might remind of Ko-Bizen at a glance but the sugata would be different as Ko-Bizen blades usually come with a koshizori that bends down towards the tip and also karimata are not associated with Ko-Bizen. And the bôshi is a hint to wide for Ko-Bizen. This blade of Rai Kuniyuki by the way was once a heirloom of the Ogasawara family (小笠原), the daimyô of Buzen´s Kokura fief (小倉藩).


Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Kuniyuki” (国行), nagasa 74.5 cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 2.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Another of the very typical interpretations of Kuniyuki is seen in picture 6. This is his only work that is designated as a kokuhô and the blade is regarded as one of his greatest masterworks. The bôhi runs as kaki-nagashi into the tang and there is a mekugi-ana at the tip of the tang but this ana is a so-called shinobi-ana and the nakago is indeed completely ubu (also proven by the sankozuka-ken that is carved as relief in the hi which is exactly where it was intended to be, i.e. not half-way in the tang). The blade has a wide mihaba, does not taper much, has a relative thick kasane, a toriizori, and a stately chû-kissaki. The kitae is somewhat standing-out but dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie, some ô-hada along the haki-omote side, and a midare-utsuri. The hamon is a wide and ko-nie-laden suguha-chô that tends a little to notare along the monouchi and towards the yokote and that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-midare, many ashi and , karimata, and at this blade, we see something that should become a characteristic feature of his school, and that is muneyaki. The bôshi tends to notare-komi and has an ô-midare-kaeri with hakikake and the nie are a hint more emphasized in the bôshi than in the rest of the ha. The blade was once a heirloom of the Matsudair family (松平), the daimyô of Harima´s Akashi fief (明石藩), and is thus also nicknamed Akashi-Kuniyuki (明石国行). Today it is owned by the NBTHK.


Picture 6: kokuhô, tachi, mei “Kuniyuki” (国行), nagasa 76.6 cm cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Picture 7 shows one more stylistic approach of Kuniyuki and that is an almost pure suguha or a suguha-chô which is mixed with fewer elements and/or shows some shallow notare over its length. The blade is designated as a jûyô-bijutsuhin and has its mei preserved via orikaeshi. The tachi is rather wide, does not taper much, shows a toriizori, and ends in a stately chû-kissaki. The ha is mixed with some ashi and plenty of all over the blade and most of the mixed-in ko-midare focus on the very base, that means, right after the koshi the ha appears almost as pure suguha. Interesting here is that we see prominent nijûba before the yokote and throughout the sugu-bôshi, which runs back with a neat ko-maru-kaeri (or almost a chû-maru-kaeri on the haki-omote side). The nijûba are insofar very interesting as they connect him on the one hand to Awataguchi Kuniyoshi (see here), and on the other hand as this element was taken by his son-in-law’s son Kunimura (国村) to Higo where it was continued by the local Rai offshoot, the Enju school. But Enju works would show some masame along the hada and a shirake-utsuri.


Picture 7: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, orikaeshi-mei “Kuniyuki” (国行), nagasa 69.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now to another noteworthy aspect in Rai Kuniyuki’s oeuvre, and that is that there are apart from a couple specimen hardly any tantô extant by him. This is insofar interesting as his contemporary Awataguchi Kuniyoshi was a great tantô master and produced quite some and so did their successors Yoshimitsu and Rai Kunitoshi respectively. There are also no tantô of Ayanokôji Sadatoshi known and neither are much of pre-Awataguchi Kuniyoshi smiths (with the exception of Hisakuni). So with this and the aforementioned stylistic proximity to Sadatoshi in mind, it is conceivable that Kuniyuki has been active just a hint earlier than Awataguchi Kuniyoshi (who is dated around Kenchô [1249-1256]). But this is very speculative as it is quite possible that he made a decent number of tantô but which just did not survive. Anyway, I want to introduce one of these extremely rare Kuniyuki tantô, a blade that makes one think of Nanbokuchô or beginning Muromachi at a glance. It has a sunnobi-nagasa of 30.7 cm, a sori of 0.2 cm, and is in hira-zukuri with a mitsu-mune and a wide mihaba of 2.8 cm. The kitae is a dense itame that is mixed with some ô-hada in places and that shows jifu and plenty of ji-nie. The steel is clear and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with gunome, ashi, , shimaba, kinsuji, fine sunagashi, and yubashiri. The bôshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeru with a few hakikake and kinsuji. Both sides bear a katana-hi with tsurebi and the tang is ubu. So this entire interpretation (sugata and jiba with much midare) seems to anticipate the style of Rai Kunimitsu and Kunitsugu, i.e. even skipping his son Kunitoshi. The blade was once a heirloom of the Shimazu family (島津), the daimyô of the Kagoshima fief, and was given to them by shôgun Tsunayoshi on the occasion of the marriage his adopted daughter Takehime (竹姫, 1705-1772) to Shimazu Tsugutoyo (島津継豊, 1702-1760) in Kyôhô 14 (1729).


Picture 8: tokubetsu-jûyô, tantô (modern classification is wakizashi), mei “Kuniyuki” (国行), measurements see text

Apart from that, there are a few stout kodachi and, what seems to be, uchigatana of Kuniyuki extant. Picture 9 shows such an uchigatana (it is according to the modern classification a katana) and signed so, i.e. in katana-mei, and was thus worn edge up. The blade is wide and stout, ends in an ikubi-style chû-kissaki, and features unlike his tachi a koshizori. The kitae is overall rather standing out and covered with ji-nie and appears on the omote side as itame, and on the ura side along the lower half as itame-masame and on the upper half as ko-itame mixed with mokume. There is a vivid midare-utsuri and the hamon is a notare-chô in ko-nie-deki with a wide nioiguchi and is mixed with chôji, gunome, and many ashi and . The bôshi is midare-komi with a somewhat “tied up” looking kaeri. On both sides we see a wide bôhi with soebi and the tang is a little suriage. So with the relative flamboyant interpretation with midare-utsuri we might think of Bizen for a moment but there are just too many nie for a Bizen work of that time, i.e. of the mid-Kamakura period.

Picture 9: jûyô, uchigatana, mei “Kuniyuki” (国行), nagasa 61.25 cm, sori 1.6 cm, motohaba 3.05 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Last but not least I want to recommend taking a look at the pictures at Darcy’s site here to get an impression of the steel and the almost “supernatural” forging quality we are talking about here. And I want to close by quoting Darcy that “this kind of sword is what shows us that the Kamakura period was truly the golden age of sword making.”