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 bô 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