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 yô. 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 ”). 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 yô 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 yô 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), yô, 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.