KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #23 – Rai (来) School 9

In this chapter I will introduce the last relevant Rai smiths, starting with Kunisue (国末) who was allegedly the third son of grand master Rai Kunitoshi, so at least according to the oldest extant sword publication, the Kanchi’in Bon Meizukushi, whose core data was compiled whilst all these masters were still alive. The source also says that he died in his thirties. However, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was not the son but the younger brother of Kunitoshi, that he was born in the Kenchô (建長, 1249) and died in the Shôchû era (正中, 1324-1326) at the age of 76. Interesting is that the Kanchi’in Bon Meizukushi lists Kunisue at another point, namely in a Rai genealogy, as younger brother of Kunitoshi (like the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen does). So the source is not consistent in this regard. Anyway, there is only one signed blade of Rai Kunisue extant, what would support the approach that he died young, but there is another tradition, namely the one that he later moved to the Hikigayatsu (比企谷) neighborhood of Kamakura, and this in turn would speak in my opinion rather for that he lived longer. Due to this alleged Kamakura connection, which is by the way found in both of the above mentioned sources, Kunisue is also referred to as Hiki-Rai (比企来). As indicated, there are virtually no blades of him extant, i.e. not a single one that bears a designation by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, nor any one that is jûyô or tokubetsu-jûyô. The mentioned signed blade is designated as a jûyô-bijutsuhin and shown in picture 1. It has a suriage-nagasa of 72.9 cm and the original length is estimated with around 79 cm. It is rather slender, tapers noticeably, has a relative thick kasane, a deep sori, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a dense and excellently forged ko-itame that is mixed with mokume and some jifu in places. In addition, ji-nie, chikei, and a jifu-utsuri appears. The hamon is a chû-suguha that tends a little to shallow notare. It is mixed with ko-ashi, saka-ashi, and “soft” looking and the hardening is in nioi-deki with only a hint of fine ko-nie. The bôshi is sugu with a short ko-maru-kaeri. Both sides bear a bôhi with ryô-chiri that runs on the omote side as kaki-tôshi through, and on the ura side as kaki-nagashi into the tang. We also see traces of a tsurebi in the kissaki. The tang is suriage as mentioned, shows katte-sagari yasurime, and bears on the hira-ji a rather small sanji-mei.


Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei “Rai Kunisue” (来国末), nagasa 72.9 cm, sori 1.98 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, sakihaba 1.75 cm, kasane 0.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now the jigane speaks because of the densely forged ko-itame and the clarity of the steel basically for Rai but we also see a considerable amount of mokume as well as jifu that tends to jifu-utsuri in places, what results with the saka-ashi in a slightly Aoe or Un feel. Honma places the mei on the basis of its smaller size in the vicinity of Rai Kunimitsu and also sees him rather as a contemporary of the latter than of Kunitoshi. He also says that judging from this blade, Kunisue was surely a very skilled smith but does not reach the quality level of the top Rai Kunimitsu works. He further states that the hada stands more out and the jigane is stronger than at Kunitoshi and Kunimitsu. Incidentally, the blade was once a heirloom of the Sakai (酒井) family, the daimyô of the Shônai fief of Dewa province. It was later owned by Honma sensei’s younger brother, Honma Yûsuke (本間祐介). Incidentally, the smiths of the Rai School we are dealing with today are highlighted below.



Via Kunisue we arrive at an offshoot of the school, and that is the so-called Nakajima-Rai (中島来) branch which was founded by Kunisue’s son Kuninaga (国長). Please note that Kuninaga and his successor are both also referred to as Nakajima-Rai. So when you hear the term Nakajima-Rai, it almost always means first and second generation Rai Kuninaga and only in certain cases it is about the branch in general or about other smiths from that branch. Now Kuninaga was trained by Kunitoshi and turned out to be a great master himself, leaving us today two jûyô-bunkazai and about 100 jûyô (of which one made it tokubetsu-jûyô, counting both works that bear attributions to Rai Kuninaga and to Nakajima-Rai). These blades comprise all categories, i.e. tachi/katana, hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi, and tantô, and even a naginata-naoshi is among them. Thus we have quite an impressive body of work to deal with. To my knowledge, there are no dated blades of Kuninaga extant but he is traditionally placed around Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331), with his successor of the same name somewhere between Shôhei (正平, 1346-1370) and Ôan (応安, 1368-1375). The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen however sees Kuninaga as son of Kunisue’s son-in-law Kuniyasu (国安, who will be introduced later) and states that he was 24 years old in the Enbun era. But this would rule out that he had studied with Kunitoshi and would place him much later than stated by all the other sources. So I stick to the above mentioned approach that he was the son of Kunisue, a student of Kunitoshi, and active from the very end of the Kamakura to the early Nanbokuchô period (and not that his career just started in mid-Nanbokuchô). Anyway, Kuninaga moved at some point (the Nihontô Kôza says during the Gentoku era) to Nakajima in Settsu province, thus the nickname Nakajima-Rai. Disclaimer: I will deal with the smiths who emerged from all these local offshoots in corresponding chapters, i.e. Settsu, Echizen and so on).

When we take a look at the above mentioned body of work as a whole, we learn first that signed blades are very rare, and second that we have on the one hand a few more classical blades, and on the other hand noticeable more that are either quite magnificent or come with an ô-kissaki that clearly speak for heyday Nanbokuchô. Accordingly, a shift in generations is obvious, although we can’t say for sure when exactly it took place, and it seems as if the second generation was more productive. It is said that smaller, more angular signatures are that of the first and larger, more roundish signatures that of the second generation. The differentiation of the meiburi seems to match with the differences in sugata and production time. Please note that in the case of Kuninaga, the NBTHK treats the generations equally in terms of quality. In other words, they do not, as it is sometimes the case, attribute the best works to the first and the somewhat inferior ones to the second generation but orientate themselves merely on the sugata and the interpretation of the jiba (and meiburi of course in those rare cases where a signature is present). In this sense, it should be mentioned that the one and only tokubetsu-jûyô of Kuninaga is a work of the second generation and if you have a blade that is attributed to the Nidai, it means just that it was made by the (worthy) successor and doesn’t imply at all that it is inferior in quality. As for the attribution criteria to Rai Kuninaga, the Hon’ami family used to handle it that way that mumei blades which are close to Rai Kunimitsu in interpretation but are somewhat inferior in quality get an attribution to Rai Kuninaga or ti Nakajima-Rai. And the NBTHK seems to follow this approach. Simply speaking, it means that if you have a Hon’ami origami or a NBTHK attribution of an unsigned blade to Rai Kuninaga or to Nakajima-Rai, it means that it is in their eyes a very good Rai work from the close vicinity of Kunimitsu but insufficient to pass as such. There is room for discussion of course but that’s the general approach. Next I introduce, in chronological order, some works of the two generations Rai Kuninaga as I want to talk about “attribution labels” like that separately.

The blade shown in picture 2 is one of the two jûyô-bunkazai. It is attributed to the first generation, bears a smallish mei, and its sugata with the elongated chû-kissaki speaks clearly for a blade that was made before the heyday of the Nanbokuchô period. In short, we can date it somewhere from the very end of the Kamakura to the early Nanbokuchô period. The kitae is a ko-itame with some masame, plenty of ji-nie, and the steel is clear. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with many ko-ashi, some uchinoke and kuichigai-ba, and that widens at the monouchi where it tends a little to kuzure and from where it runs into an (almost) ichimaibôshi. So by just looking at the oshigata, one might be even reminded of Gô Yoshihiro at first glance with this wide and wild monouchi and the widely hardened bôshi. The tang is suriage and shows katte-sagari yasurime. This tachi is considered as the greatest masterwork of Rai Kuninaga and as being equal in terms of quality to his contemporary Rai Kunimitsu. It was once worn by Takeda Shingen (武田信玄, 1521-1573) and was later offered by one his his local successors, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu (柳沢吉保, 1659-1714), daimyô of the Kôfu fief of Kai province, to the Enri-ji (恵林寺, Yamanashi Prefecture) which still owns it today.


Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Rai Kuninaga” (来国長), nagasa 79.3 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The next blade (picture 3) is ô-suriage mumei and attributed to Rai Kuninaga and because of its pre-heyday Nanbokuchô sugata (i.e. chû-kissaki and noticeable taper), I tend to attribute it to the first generation for the time being, although it is already rather wide, has a shallow sori for its length, and was once pretty long. The jigane is a standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with mokume, nagare-masame, and jifu. In addition, plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and a nie-utsuri appear. The hamon is a nie-laden chû-suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-gunome, ko-chôji, many ashi and , and towards the top and bottom also with nijûba and long kuichigai-ba. The nioiguchi is rather tight and is bright and clear. The bôshi is sugu with a relative wide ko-maru-kaeri and shows some hakikake at the very tip.


Picture 3: jûyô, tachi, mumei, attributed to Rai Kuninaga, nagasa 76.5 cm, sori 1.8 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, sakihaba 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Picture 4 shows another blade that is probably a work of the first generation. It is ô-suriage, has a normal mihaba, a relative deep sori for its length, and a chû-kissaki. The jigane is a very dense and beautifully forged ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden hiro-suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-gunome, many ashi and , and some kinsuji and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. Again, we see an increase in midare and hataraki along the monouchi, but not as strong as seen in the blade from picture 2 of course, and also the ha drops again before the yokote and turns into a pretty calm bôshi.


Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mumei, attributed to Rai Kuninaga, nagasa 69.7 cm, sori 1.7 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 2.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Tantô and hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi of the first generation are very rare, this means, the majority of Rai Kuninaga works from that category are attributed to the second generation. The hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi shown in picture 5 is, based on the small and thinly chiselled signature, attributed to the Shodai. The blade is relative wide and also shows some sori what would speak for Nanbokuchô at a glance (please compare it to the similar Kunizane hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi introduced in picture 2 here). But it has to be mentioned that such a sugata is sometimes also seen in the Kamakura period and it still remains to be clarified if the heyday Nanbokuchô danbira are more related to growing koshigatana or to shrinking uchigatana (i.e. blades like the Nakigitsune-Kuniyoshi introduced here). Anyway, the blade in question shows a rather standing-out itame that is mixed with some masame. Ji-nie appears and the hamon is a suguha-chô that is mixed with some ko-gunome, hotsure, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi tends to be tight and the ha is clear and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. Both sides bear a soebi-accompanied katana-hi that runs with kaki-tôshi through the tang, although the initial end of the grooves might be grasped at the nakago-jiri.


Picture 5: jûyô, wakizashi, mei “Rai Kuninaga” (来国長), nagasa 38.3 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Now let’s go over to the second generation and I want to start with the blade that I have mentioned before, that is the only tokubetsu-jûyô of Rai Kuninaga. This hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi has an obvious sunnobi-sugata, is wide, has some sori, and a thin kasane, so no discussion that this is not heyday Nanbokuchô. The kitae is an itame that is mixed with some nagare and apart from that, jinie, chikei, and a nie-utsuri appear. The hamon is pretty flamboyant for a Rai work and appears as a nie-laden gunome that is mixed with chôj, ko-notare, ashi, , sunagashi, kinsuji, and along the upper half also with yubashiri and tobiyaki what almost results in a kind of hitatsura approach from the monouchi upwards. The bôshi continues from there and appears as a midare-komi with a rather pointed kaeri on omote side and some hakikake. The omote side shows a suken, and the ura side gomabashi, both with a tsume at the base. The blade is, as mentioned, with the abundance of hataraki and the strong jigane truly flamboyant for Rai and reflects the advanced times, times when with the emergence of the Sôshû tradition such and similar, more “ambituous” interpretations began to dominate. Incidentally, the blade was once a heirloom of the Hisamatsu (久松) family, the daimyô of the Iyo-Matsuyama fief on Shikoku.


Picture 6: tokubetsu-jûyô, wakizashi, mei “Rai Kuninaga” (来国長), nagasa 33.0 cm, sori 0.35 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, kasane 0.55 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Another characteristic feature of the Nidai Kuninaga is that his hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi often show similarities to blades by the Hasebe School of his contemporary Nobukuni (信国), who was from the Rai offshoot Ryôkai. One such Nobukuni-kind-of interpretation is shown in picture 7. It is a signed tantô with a nagasa of 28.9 cm, a thin kasane, and some sori and shows a somewhat standing-out and altogether rather largely structured itame that is mixed with nagare all over. In addition, plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and a faint nie-utsuri appear. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, ko-ashi, kinsuji, and sunagashi and the bôshi has a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake. As horimono we see a suken with tsume base on the omote, and a bonji on the ura side. So the standing-out hada and the conspicuous trend to nagare as well as the slight approach to yahazu (see the one hamon protrusion on the ura side above of the bonji) make one think of Nobukuni at a glance.


Picture 7: jûyô, tantô, mei “Rai Kuninaga” (来国長), nagasa 28.9 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.6 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

As for the Nidai’s long swords, they follow as mentioned the then heyday Nanbokuchô trends, i.e. are wide, magnificent, don’t taper that much, have a shallow sori, and end in an ô-kissaki, although there are also many that feature “just” an elongated chû-kissaki. Picture 8 shows such a blade, once a tachi, later greatly shortened to a katana. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and is mixed with nagare-masame. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden hiro-suguha-chô that is mixed with many and densely arranged ko-chôji, ko-gunome, ashi, , some yubashiri along the yakigashira, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is wide, bright, and clear and the bôshi is widely hardened and runs out as yakitsume with hakikake on the omote, and shows pointed kaeri on the ura side.


Picture 8: jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Rai Kuninaga, nagasa 69.3 cm, sori 2.0 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, sakihaba 2.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The last blade that I want to introduce for the second generation has a really large ô-kissaki and that shows again features that can be considered as characteristic for Rai Kuninaga, and that are njûba and kuichiga-ba (or in this very case just slight approaches to kuichigai-ba). So with the aforementioned proximity to Rai Kunimitsu in mind, we might say that he often followed the basic style of Kunimitsu which was introduced here in Picture 5c. So when it comes to long swords, we learn that in quantitative terms Kuninaga mostly followed style 5c. Well, the blade shown in picture 9 is wide, does not taper much, and concludes as mentioned with a pretty large kissaki. At first glance, the rather thick kasane and deep sori might sound, on the paper, uncommon for a heyday Nanbokuchô blade but we have to take into consideration that it is very likely that this blade was once quite long. The kitae is a dense ko-itame that is mixed with some nagare here and there and that shows ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chô with a little notare and is mixed with a hint of ko-gunome, many ashi, uchinoke, nijûba, fine sunagashi, and kinsuji, hataraki that also continue into the slightly undulating sugu-bôshi which runs back with a ko-maru-kaeri with some hakikake.


Picture 9: jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Rai Kuninaga, nagasa 68.9 cm, sori 1.9 cm, kasane 0.77 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 2.35 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


I will end this chapter with Rai Kuniyasu (来国安) who is seen as son of Kunisue, son-in-law of Kunisue, grandson of Kunisue, son of Kunitoshi, or as son-in-law of Kunitoshi. But there might be some merger here with his student of the same name who moved later to Echizen province where he founded the Echizen-Rai offshoot. So although mostly listed as student, it is possible that Echizen-Rai Kuniyasu was actually the son of Rai Kuniyasu and as a consequence the grandson of Kunisue. Anyway, most meikan date him around Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331) and the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338), what would match with his alleged direct connection to Kunisue and/or Kunitoshi and with the interpretation of his blades, which are typical for the very end of the Kamakura and the beginning of the Nanbokuchô period. Now extant blades of Rai Kuniyasu are very rare and most that are labelled as Rai Kuniyasu are works of his son/student Echizen-Rai Kuniyasu. Well, we know that Rai Kuniyasu left, together with his homonymous son/student, Kyôto and settled in Awaji (淡路) in Settsu province. Because of that, he is also referred to as Awaji-Rai (淡路来). Just as a sidenote, Awaji is located in present-day Ôsaka and just about 1 mile to the northeast of Nakajima. As a sidenote, there exists a connection between this Awaji manor and Echizen, the province to which his son/student moved later but I want to address this in a separate article.

A blade that is attributed to Rai Kuniyasu, i.e. not to Echizen-Rai Kuniyasu, is seen in picture 10. It is suriage but maintains its sanji-mei “Rai Kuniyasu” of which the last character is almost illegible. The blade is elegant, has a relative deep sori, and a chû-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a nie-laden and relative narrow suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-gunome, ashi, , sunagashi, and kinsuji. The nioiguchi is wide and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and shows a few hakikake. The hamon is interpreted in a way where all hataraki are found within the ha or adjacent to the habuchi, this means, there is no “layered” approach with nijûba or uchinoke.


Picture 10: jûyô, tachi, mei “Rai Kuniyasu” (来国安), nagasa 70.7 cm, sori 1.9 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.85 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


That should do it for Rai and in the next chapter we continue with Ryôkai whose Rai offshoot I treat, in view of the Nobukuni group that emerged from it, as a school of its own. In other words, the next chapter will not be “Rai (来) School 10” but “Ryôkai (了戒) School 1.”


Uncommon kanji for sword terms

Looking something up the other day in the Kokon Mei Zukushi (古今銘尽), I also browsed through its fifth volume again, the one which introduces workmanships of different smiths. Doing so I remembered how the uncommon way many terms are written therein gave me quite a headache when I worked through this publication for the very first time. So in this sense, I thought that it might be of interest, for the kanji nerds out there so to speak, to present them here. The “list” is not very extensive and don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize them as they are no longer in use. Most of them are phonetic substitutes, whilst there are also some semantic substitutes. I point out the former via (PS) and the latter via (SS). Also, I am not talking about the use of old and unsimplified characters, an issue that I have addresses a while ago here. I am talking about the use of odd or rather very uncommon characters and/or substitutions. So in the brief list below, I will also add some explanations and as mentioned, this humble post is more for the kanji cracks.

bôhi (謀樋) – [棒樋] (PS): (謀) reads but means “plan, strategy”

funbari (釒本弘) – [踏張り] – This kanji (see pic below) is not found in any character set. It is composed of the metal radical left, and to the right of the character (本) on top of (弘). Thus the composition is kind of literal, i.e. “wide/broad” (弘) at the “base” (本), with the metal radical as its “sword-related classifier.”


gomabashi (護摩梯) – [護摩箸] (PS): (梯) reads hashi/bashi but means “ladder, stairs”

hada (膚) – [肌] (SS): actually means “skin/texture/grain” too but came out of use to refer to the jihada of a sword

jifu (地苻) – [地斑] (PS): (苻) reads fu but refers to a “kudzu-like plant”

kaeri (歸) – [返り] (PS): use of old variant of (帰)

kenuki (鑷) – [毛抜] – The opening in the tang of a kenukigata-tachi, i.e. (鑷) has the same meaning of “tweezers” but came out of use to refer to the kenukigata opening/interpretation.

kiriha/kiriba (刎齒) – [切刃] (PS): (刎) reads kiri but means “decapitate,” so still semantically related to kiri/kiru (切, “cut”). And (齒) reads ha but means “tooth.”

machi (関) – [区] (SS): (関) does not read machi but means what the machi are supposed to be, i.e. “barriers” between blade and tang

mune (𫒒) – [棟] (PS): (𫒒) reads mune and has to be taken literally, i.e. as “metal (金) hill (丘).” For example, the literal meaning of this term was also quoted with the charactes (刀背), i.e. “sword (刀) back (背)” whereas the two characters (刀背) were then again read as mune.

sujikai (直違) – [筋違] – Interesting case as we have here a coming together of several substitutes. First of all, the term sujikai originally referred to braces, i.e. slanting beams giving extra support between horizontal and/or vertical members of a timber frame, forming a X when mounted. Thus this term was initially written with suji (筋, “sinew, tendon,” or also something long and linear) and kai (交い, “alternate, cross”), referring to the X shape of the braces. But then this writing of the term (筋交い) was replaced by (筋違い), which reads suji-jikai in the strict sense, i.e. suji (筋) and chigai (違い, voiced jikai). Therefore we find this term, or the yasurime in question, sometimes quoted as suji-jikai. But even if replaced by (筋違い), the initial reading of sujikai of the characters (筋交い) was kept. In short, (筋違い) should also read sujikai but suji-jikai is not wrong of course. Back to the Kokon Mei Zukushi. Therein the term was so to speak “re-split-up” from suji-kai to su-jikai and the su (which should actually be suji [筋] and not just su) was replaced by the homophonic (直).

togariba (鋒刃) – [尖り刃] (PS): (鋒) reads togari, or rather tokari, but means “lance, pike, tip of sword.” So this is kind of literal too, i.e. something pointy (togaru, 尖る) like a tip or lance

yakiba (㓵) – [焼刃] – The etymological meaning of (㓵) is “sword” or “double-edged sword” but it also had the meaning of “edge of knife,” so that’s why it was used to represent the term yakiba.

yasuri (鈩) – [鑢] – This substitute is insofar interesting as it is the (simplified) variant (itaiji, 異体字) of the character (鑪) (note the different radical on the bottom left, i.e. 心 and 皿). In other words, (盧) gets replaced by (戸) and (慮) either by (呂) or (虑). So the character for yasuri (鑢) should actually be replaced by (鋁) and not by (鈩).

And below the two introductory pages in question of volume 5, just in case you want to do some deciphering yourself.


KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #22 – Rai (来) School 8

Today, I am talking about Mitsukane (光包) before we deal next with the Nakama-Rai branch. I did not want to “pack” Mitsukane into the previous chapter because he was a pretty outstanding master and because there is, compared to for example Kunihide and Kunitsugu, a relative good body of work of him extant. In short, he deserves a separate chapter for himself. What you will immediately notice when you deal with Mitsukane is first, that there are no long swords known by him and second, that he never signed with the prefix “Rai.” The first distinctive feature has already been pointed out in Muromachi-period sword publications. Some now assume that he actually did some in his early years but that on a very small scale whilst others assume that he did not make any tachi at all. Well, there were allegedly some very few unsigned tachi attributed to him going round in feudal times but nothing really tangible from today’s perspective. And the second distinctive feature goes back to the fact that he was not an indigenous Rai smith. According to tradition, he left the forge of the Osafune master Nagamitsu (長光) to proceed to Kyôto where he studied under Rai Kunitoshi whereupon he left the capital again later to open up his own forge in Ômi province. Now the old publications, for example the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen, give us some cornerstones for this tradition, namely that Mitsukane was born in Kôan one (弘安, 1278), that he studied around Tokuji (徳治, 1306-1308) under Nagamitsu, that he became a student of Rai Kunitoshi at the age of 29, and that he died in Jôwa five (貞和, 1349) at the age of 72. Now the given age of 29 would correspond to Tokuji two (1307) and this in turn would mean that he entered the forge of Kunitoshi immediately after having studied with Nagamitsu. But other sources, e.g. the Kokon Mei Zukushi, say that he arrived in Kyôto around Bunpô (文保, 1317-1319) and this could mean that the given age of 29 is a typo and he that was actually 39 when he studied with master Kunitoshi (what would then correspond to Bunpô one, 1317).

So lets unravel this handed down career of Mitsukane step by step. It is said that he was the fourth son of Nagamitsu, thus being named Heishirô (平四朗, i.e. -shirô as suffix for the fourth son). Some say that he was the son of a mistress of Nagamitsu but maybe both is true, i.e. that he was his fourth son but born out of wedlock. When we now follow this tradition that he was Nagamitsu’s son and take Kôan one (1278) as his year of birth, his entire apprenticeship would have roughly correlated to the Einin era (永仁, 1293-1299). In this light, the tradition that he studied with Nagamitsu around Tokuji (1306-1308) sounds a little odd as he was already approaching his 30th birthday at that time. So if the Tokuji approach is true, then Mitsukane was probably not the son of Nagamitsu but a student who entered the Osafune forge at an advanced age. Or his alleged year of birth is not true and he was born a decade or so later. Anyway, his most famous work, the meibutsu Midare-Mitsukane (乱れ光包), seems to go back to this Osafune milieu. The blade is shown in picture 1 and got its nickname from the interpretation in midareba. It is a wide sunnobi-style hira-zukuri tantô with uchizori and a rather thick kasane that shows a dense ko-itame with chikei and plenty of fine ji-nie that tends somewhat to nagare and that shows shirake along the mune. The hamon is a slanting, katauchi-style gunome in ko-nie-deki with a wide nioiguchi and is mixed with ashi and kinsuji. The bôshi is midare to notare-komi and shows a rather pointed ko-maru-kaeri that runs back in a long fashion. Both sides bear a katana-hi that runs with kaki-nagashi into the tang. The tang is ubu, has a ha-agari kurijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, and shows centrally under the mekugi-ana Mitsukane’s large and finely chiseled, peculiar niji-mei.


Picture 1: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Mitsukane” (光包), nagasa 29.2 cm, uchizori, kasane 0.7 cm, motohaba 2.5 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune, owned by the NBTHK

The interpretation of the midareba that tends noticeably to kataochi-gunome is so much similar to that of Nagamitsu and (some earlier blades) of his successor Kagemitsu (景光) (see picture 2) that the tradition of Mitsukane having studied at the Osafune School shall be deemed safe. Also the noticeable thickness of this tantô is a feature that is also seen at several Nagamitsu tantô. Interesting is that Tanobe describes the Midare-Mitsukane as showing also a nie-utsuri, an element that I haven’t read in any other descriptions of the very meibutsu. This would distinguish him from Nagamitsu as the Osafune master usually either applied a or a midare-utsuri and is probably feeding into the (more uncommon) approach that Mitsukane’s career happened the other way round, i.e. coming from the Rai School and studying later in life down in Bizen under Nagamitsu. Another factor that would support this approach is that on the one hand, Bizen-style blades of Mitsukane are regarded as his wakauchi (若打), i.e. his early works, but the meibutsu Midare-Mitsukane is a great masterwork of the calibre we would expect from an advanced master. Well, maybe Mitsukane was just a very talented smith and able to produce early on such great masterworks and what also speaks against the “other way round” approach is that if he was a Rai smith who decided to study with Osafune Nagamitsu later in his career, he would have signed with “Rai,” and probably not given up to do so.


Picture 2: Comparison of the Midare-Mitsukane (top) with works of Nagamitsu (center) and Kanemitsu (bottom).

Mitsukane eventually arrived in Kyôto and studied with Rai Kunitoshi. As mentioned in one of the previous chapters, we know that Kunitoshi was born in Ninji one (1240) and lived at least until Genkô one (1321). So when the studies of Mitsukane have taken place around Tokuji (1306-1308) or Bunpo (1317-1319), depending on tradition, then he was learning from an about 67 or 77 years old master respectively. Both ages might look advanced at a glance but we have to bear in mind that Mitsukane was alreay a fully trained swordsmith when he entered the Rai forge and we can assume that Kunitoshi was rather acting as a grand master, giving him some coaching and being supported so by his no less skilled sons Kunimitsu and Kunitsugu. In short, Mitsukane didn’t have to learn from scratch how to prepare the charcoal for example and was basically “just” introduced on the spot to the Rai School’s technical approach of sword forging.

A prime example of his later Rai interpretations is shown in picture 3. It is a jûyô-bunkazai tantô that was once handed down within the Date (伊達) family, the daimyô of the Sendai fief. It is with a nagasa of 26.4 cm about jôsun, i.e. of standard length, shows a hint of an uchizori, and is rather slender. Different from Kunitoshi is that the kasane is somewhat thicker than we would expect from a tantô of the Rai grand master. The kitae is a very dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie, some chikei, and a nie-utsuri, and the lower half of the blade shows some mixed-in larger hada structures, but we don’t see Rai-hada. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden and thin suguha that has a rather tight nioiguchi and that is mixed with some fine kinsuji and a little bit of hotsure along the monouchi of the ura side. The bôshi is quite prominent as it is widely hardened and a little taore, i.e. “falling/leaning” towards the ha on the omote side. So the bôshi too is different from that of Rai Kunitoshi.



Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Mitsukane” (光包), nagasa 26.4 cm, a hint of uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, preserved in the Fukuyama Museum of Art, Hiroshima

Another jûyô-bunkazai of Mitsukane in Rai style is shown in picture 4. This blade is with a nagasa of 24.5 cm a little shorter and comes with a curved furisode-nakago. It shows a rather dense itame with a nie-utsuri and a suguha in ko-nie-deki, a deki which reminds of Kunitoshi at first sight but the again somewhat thicker kasane and the widely hardened bôshi with the long kaeri show the typical stylistic approach of Mitsukane. The blade was once a heirloom of the Echizen-Matsudaira (越前松平) family.


Picture 4: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Mitsukane” (光包), nagasa 24.5 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

Well, after his study visit of Kyôto he travelled a little bit farther north-east and settled in Tozu (戸津) in neighboring Ômi province and took with this the name of Tozu Sasuke (戸津佐助). A popular tradition says that he had then retreated to the Konpon-Chûdô (根本中堂) named main hall of the Enryaku-ji (延暦寺) on Mt. Hiei (比叡山) to forge swords for a while there, what earned him later the nickname Chûdô-Rai (中堂来). Now some see this Tozu referring to the Totsu Shrine (戸津神社) which is located on the southeastern lakeside of Lake Biwa. But it was found out that also a neighborhood of present-day Sakamoto (坂本) was named Tozu and Sakamoto is right where you arrive at when coming down from Mt. Hiei going east, i.e. down to Lake Biwa. However, this tradition of him establishing a forge on Mt. Hiei, what is with transporting all the raw materials up there rather cumbersome and laborious, is today dismissed by some scholars who forward that Chûdô actually refers to the Chûdô-ji (中堂寺) and its surrounding district, a neighborhood which is just located in the heart of Kyôto. But on the other hand, his later name Tozu Sasuke and the fact that his son and some of his students moved to the southern Biwa lakeside village of Awazu (粟津) does suggest a strong connection to Ômi province. Incidentally, this branch of his that moved down to Awazu is referred to as Awazu-Rai (粟津来).

Before I introduce a last work of Mitsukane, let me address some kantei points for him. As mentioned, his tantô show a somewhat thicker kasane than Rai Kunitoshi. Also his jigane is a little stronger and does not show Rai-hada and of course the widely hardened bôshi is different too. In addition, Mitsukane’s kaeri often emphasizes the nie and there are by trend a little more hataraki within the ha as at Kunitoshi. It is often said that Mitsukane’s suguha is generally wider than that of Kunitoshi but if you take a look at his entire body of works, you learn that this view needs to be rethought as more than half of his tantô actually shows a pretty narrow suguha. Some even place Mitsukane’s tantô more in the vicinity of Awataguchi Yoshimitsu but the sugata differs insofar as the blades of Mitsukane feel a little more stretched, i.e. more sunnobi for their width, and are just not as harmonious in overall shape as are Yoshimitsu’s tantô (of that kind). Well, Yoshimitsu is regarded by many experts as greatest tantô smith of all times so his daggers have of course an overwhelming presence and dignity that is not seen to that extent in the tantô of Mitsukane.

Now last but not least the meibutsu Kuwayama-Mitsukane (桑山光包). Also I want to mention at this point that 5 works of Mitsukane bear designations by the Agency of Cultural Affairs (all tantô and all jûyô-bunkazai). 7 tantô passed jûyô of which 3 made it tokubetsu-jûyô later. The Kuwayama-Mitsukane is one of these 3 tokuju and was once owned by Kuwayama Iga no Kami Motoharu (桑山伊賀守元晴, 1563-1620) who presented it later to shôgun Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光, 1604-1651), who in turn gave it to Maeda Toshitsune (前田利常, 1594-1658) after whom it was handed down within the Kaga Maeda family (which sold it after WWII). By the way, the Kyôhô Meibutsu Chô says that Motoharu once bought this tantô for 1,500 kan from a person from Ôtsu (大津) in Ômi province, a town that is also located at Lake Biwa. The tantô , shown in picture 5, is pretty similar in interpretation to the jûyô-bunkazai tantô introduced in picture 3. It has a nagasa of 27.1 cm, shows a hint of uchizori, a thick kasane, and tends to sunnobi. The kitae is a very dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri appears along the mune. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha with a wide, bright and clear nioiguchi that is mixed with kuichigai-ba and along the fukura with yubashiri. The bôshi is again relative widely hardened but is due to the this time rather wide suguha not as prominent. It shows a pointed ko-maru-kaeri which meets the yubashiri to form some kind of muneyaki approach, but just in the tip.


Picture 5: tokubetsu-jûyô, meibutsu Kuwayama-Mitsukane, mumei, nagasa 27.1 cm, a hint of uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Book review: Analysis of the Iai Katana

Today I want to review a recently published book, written by PhD Jon Andresen from American Art Swords. Title of the book is Analysis of the Iai Katana, published by Jon’s Androzo Publishing, and available via amazon. In his book, Jon approaches the katana, as mentioned in the blurp, analytically and his academic scientific background is very much reflected in this approach. Jon is also an iaidôka, a rokudan renshi to be specific, and thus he tackles the analysis of swords, and that is of iaitô and shinken as well, truly from the modern iaidô practitioner’s point of view.

The book is basically divided into three parts, i.e. bokutô, iaitô, and shinken. In the first part, Jon thoroughly analyses all aspects of the bokutô, with a main focus on the woods used, from traditional to modern Japanese sources to non-Japanese equivalents. And with thorough, I mean thorough, as this (I am speaking of ~ 50 pages) is the most comprehensive study on bokutô I have come across to this day. The second part is comparatively brief and addresses all basic and relevant points you have to know about iaitô whereas the third part on shinken is the main part of the book and comprises ~ 120 pages. In these 120 pages, Jon analyses and puts into relation measurements, weight, and bôhi grooves by using a dataset of 1,695 long swords from all periods. Through this analysis, you can see certain trends and relations of nagasa, kasane, weight, and presence or absence of bôhi, just to name a few factors, whereas the weight makes an important part of this analysis because as Jon says in the preface, to predict the weight of blades based on their nagasa was originally a major goal of this work.

This means, and borrowing from the preface, it was to be for the benefit of iaidô students who generally care about what swords weigh when information of the weight is usually omitted in descriptions on sites that sell swords. The book is rounded off by guidelines and tips on maintenance (and that applies to bokutô, iaitô, and shinken) and therefore I would recommend this publication to the serious iaidô aspirant who wants to get as much information as possible to make up his mind on the purchase of an as perfect as possible iaitô or shinken (in addition to what your sensei is recommending of course). In other words, studying Jon’s book gives you useful tips, and makes you aware of maybe never thought off aspects that you have to bear in mind when shopping for a sword that should fit you well and for a long time on your journey along the Way of Drawing the Sword. As indicated, the book places a firm focus and does not pretend to be anything else, thus do not expect to find in it any discussions on swordsmiths schools, workmanships, swords as collectibles, or iaidô techniques/kata and things like that . I just wanted to underline that because, from my personal experience as an author in this field, people often expect a “Swiss Army knife” approach.


Fujiwara ligature

Working on the German translation of parts of the current Tôken Bijutsu magazine I saw that Satô Kazunori (佐藤一典) points out a “habit” in the 24th part of his article series on Sendai swordsmiths that I would briefly like to introduce. The habit in question is a certain ligature, gôji (合字) in Japanese, that combines the characters Fuji (藤) and wara (原) to a single character that represents, obviously, the clan name Fujiwara. Now I don’t want to deal with the specific swordsmith, who is the Nidai Sôryûshi Tamateru (雙龍子玉英, 1820-1889) by the way, but suffice it to say that I first came across this habit years ago via his master Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857). Naotane started rather early on in his career, i.e. around Bunsei (文政, 1818-1830) to drop the wara and sign the reference to the clan name Fujiwara just with Fuji (see my Shinshinto-Meikan, p. 135f). Later, i.e. around Tenpô (天保, 1830-1844), he signed Fujiwara as everyone else with two characters but changed towards the end of his career, i.e. around Kôka (弘化, 1844-1848) and Kaei (嘉永, 1848-1854) to the gôji ligature variant. So Tamateru obviously adopted this habit from his master.


Picture 1, from left to right: Naotane signing just with Fuji (dated Bunsei four, 1821), with Fujiwara (dated Tenpô eleven, 1840), and with the gôji (dated Kaei four, 1851)

When I say “came across via Naotane” above, I mean that I once wrongly read this gôji just as Fuji, i.e. I thought that he later returned to the habit of dropping the wara character again but was pointed out that he did add it by so to speak squeezing it into the the lower Fuji part (滕), that is squeezing it between the radicas (月) and (𣳾). So if you see a mei like the one in picture 1 right, you correctly read it (in this very case) as “Mino no Suke Fujiwara Naotane” and not “Mino no Suke Fuji Naotane.”


Picture 2: Naotane’s Fujiwara gôji (left) and how Tamateru signed it (right).

Explicit ligature was and is rather rare in Japan because when you combine two characters, you just get a new character and this is not regarded as ligature in the strict sense. However, there were some, but they mostly used for decorative or “underlining/emphasizing” purposes on temple inscriptions or talimans. Apart from that, and what we see sometimes today, Western units were adopted and made into gôji, for example (糎) for centimeter, Japanese senchi or senchimêtoru, composed from the characters (米) and (厘), and (粍) for millimeter, Japanese miri or mirimêtoru, composed from the characters (米) and (毛). In our field, you can come across such units gôji via certain papers, for example those issued by the Nihon Tôsôgu Kenkyû Kai and the Jûhô Tôken Kenkyû Kai (see picture below).


Picture 3: Details from a NTK and a JTK paper.