KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #27 – Nobukuni (信国) School 2

I know that by basically reverting to the old sources with my first chapter on the Nobukuni School, I didn’t make things easier but you have to be open for everything and not just regurgitate. So back to Nobuie and the difficult task of nailing down the immediate successor of the 1st generation, i.e. the one who studied with Sadamune, who was one of the first smiths to bring the Sôshû tradition to Kyôto, and who was the one who probably lived until the late 1370s or early 1380s. So if the 1st generation’s career did pass the zenith of the Nanbokuchô period, who followed him as 2nd generation? In my Swordsmiths of Japan, I already tried to do very same as here, that is, to find the balancing act between giving credit to the old traditions but following the most recent studies. That said, I introduced a 2nd generation but who might actually have been the 1st generation, or in other words, the first two generations in my Swordsmiths of Japan might have been the same smith.

This greyzone in counting the initial Nobukuni masters is very well reflected in the NBTHK jûyô papers which say – apart from explicitly stating 1st generation and Genzaemon and Shikibu to whom we will come later – also just for example “Nobukuni work from the Enbun-Jôji eras”, “Nobukuni work from the vicinity of the Kenmu-era 1st generation”, “Nobukuni work from the end of the Nanbokuchô period”, or “Nobukuni work from the Ôei era”. So in the following, I can’t help but so to speak keep this greyzone alive. That said, I will introduce works that chronologically follow those of the alleged 1st generation from my first Nobukuni chapter, works that are today – and because of this greyzone – just classified as “end of Nanbokuchô Nobukuni” and “Ôei-Nobukuni.” Those we can attribute to concrete masters like Minamoto Saemon, Shikibu, and Saburôzaemon Nobukuni will be introduced in the next chapter.

Now Tanobe follows the approach that I have forwarded in my first Nobukuni chapter, i.e. that the 1st generation was active to Eitoku (1381-1384). Satô Kanzan in turn sees the blades dated with this era, a tachi dated Eitoku three (1383) and a tantô dated Eitoku four (1384), as works of the 2nd generation. Well, Tanobe avoids tackling the succession of Nobukuni generations in his latest work, the Yamashiro Volume of the Nihontô Gokaden no Tabi series (published in 2015), so I will focus on the theories of Satô and Honma. As mentioned, Satô sees the Enbun and Jôji dated blades as works of the 1st generation, those around Eitoku as works of the 2nd generation (whom he sees being active until the beginning of the Muromachi era), and counts the smith who signed with Minamoto Saemon no Jô (源左衛門尉) and who was active around Ôei (1394-1428) as 3rd generation. Apart from that, he refers to Shikibu no Jô (式部丞) as being active a hint later than Minamoto Saemon and probably being the younger brother of the latter, although he does not explicitly introduce him as 4th generation. In short, and reading between the lines, Satô counts three Nobukuni main line generations and implies that by the time of the third master, i.e. the early Muromachi period, the lineage had already become a workshop with the name Nobukuni as trademark where several smiths worked (and signed with that name), being probably managed by the third generation Minamoto Saemon and his younger brother Shikibu no Jô. Honma just states that the Nobukuni who was active around Enbun and Jôji was the 1st generation, the one active around Ôei the 2nd, and the one active from Ôei to Eikyô (1429-1441) the 3rd generation. Interestingly, he sees Minamoto Saemon and Shikibu no Jô as younger brothers or students of the 2nd generation. This thing with Minamoto Saemon and Shikibu no Jô being both younger brothers of some Nobukuni kind of connects with Tsuneishi’s approach who introduces a Gyôbu no Jô (刑部丞) Nobukuni whom he lists as 3rd generation. That means, Tsuneishi sees Gyôbu no Jô as oldest, Minamoto Saemon as second oldest, and Shikibu no Jô as third oldest son of the late Nanbokuchô 2nd generation and states that it are only these three masters to whom we refer today as “Ôei-Nobukuni.”

So for the time being, I think of the genealogy of the Nobukuni School as seen in the link below:

Genealogy Nobukuni School

*

Now to some works which can be attributed to the immediate time after the 1st generation and before the Ôei-Nobukuni masters Minamoto Saemon and Shikibu no Jô. An interesting thing to observe at how the Nobukuni School went on is that it came from the Yamashiro tradition, that it next adopted the Sôshû tradition via Sadamune, and that it then shifted towards Bizen, although maintaining both Yamashiro and Sôshû characteristics, e.g. nie. That means, we can already see Bizen elements appearing towards the end of the Nanbokuchô period and with the Ôei era, works of the Ôei-Nobukuni smiths strongly resemble that of their Ôei-Bizen colleagues. That’s why Nobukuni works are often difficult to kantei.

I want to start with the aforementioned tachi which bears the date signature from Eitoku three. There is not much Sôshû and please note the pairs of gunome, an interpretation that is understood as the forerunner of the yahazu elements which are so typical for the Nobukuni School. The blade is of a small and slender sugata with not much sori and might be at the edge of being a kodachi. The jigane is a partially standing-out itame with plenty of ji-nie and the hamon is a nie-laden gunome-midare with a few sunagashi and some muneyaki. The bôshi is midare-komi with a prominently round kaeri and both sides feature a single bonji at the base.

Picture 9: jûyô, tachi, mei: “Nobukuni – Eitoku sannen hachigatsu tsuitachi” (信国・永徳三年八月一日, “first day of the eighth month Eitoku three [1383]”), nagasa 65.1 cm, sori 1.4 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The blade shown in picture 10 is dated with the third year of Meitoku (明徳, 1392), i.e. dates about a decate later than the previous one. The blade is of a magnificent and deeply curved sugata with an elongated chû-kissaki. It shows an itame that is partially mixed with masame-nagare and that features plenty of ji-nie and also chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, ashi, sunagashi, kinsuji, and yubashiri and the bôshi is a notare-komi with hakikake and that almost runs out as yakitsume. The ura side bears the characters “Namu Hachiman Daibosatsu” and the ura side just a single bonji.

Picture 10: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei: “Nobukuni – Meitoku sannen mizunoe-saru jûichigatsu hi” (信国・明徳三年壬申十一月日, “a day in the eleventh month Meitoku three [1392], year of the monkey”), nagasa 71.0 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now with picture 11 we arrive at what I have mentioned before, that is, the trend towards Bizen that happened with the Nobukuni School entering the Muromachi period. The blade is dated Ôei two (1395) and does therefore classify as Ôei-Nobukuni in the strict sense but it predates a little bit the earliest extant dated blade of Minamoto Saemon, which is from Ôei nine (1402). The blade is relatively short, has a normal mihaba, a thick kasane, tapers noticeably, and ends in a compact chû-kissaki. The jigane is a dense but overall somewhat standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with some mokume and that features plenty of ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a gunome-chô in ko-nie-deki that tends to koshi no hiraita (i.e. wide bases) and that is mixed with yahazu, togariba, ko-gunome, ashi, , kinsuji, sunagashi, yubashiri, and tobiyaki. The nioiguchi is wide and bright and the bôshi is relatively widely hardened, showing a roundish kaeri and a hint of hakikake. On both sides we see a naga-bonji which is accompanied on the ura side by a koshi-bi with inside a suken as relief.

Picture 11: jûyô, tachi, mei: “Nobukuni – Ôei ninen hachigatsu hi” (信国・応永二年八月日), nagasa 68.3 cm, sori 2.45 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Let’s talk about tantô and wakizashi that the school produced around that time. First we must not overlook that although late in the Nanbokuchô period, the then Nobukuni head did still stick to the initial Yamashiro tradition of his school. A perfect example for that is the tantô shown in picture 12 which is dated Shitoku two (至徳, 1385). It is of a conservative shape but with a somewhat thicker kasane what rules out heyday Nanbokuchô. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with ô-hada in places and that features plenty of fine ji-nie, chikei, and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that has a rather tight and clear nioiguchi and that shows a few sunagashi, hotsure, and kinsuji. The bôshi has a classical ko-maru-kaeri and shows a hint more nie than the ha. On the omote side we see a bonji, a shiketsu, and a rendai, and on the ura side a sankozuka-ken. As you can learn from the description, and the oshigata of course, the tantô is classical Yamashiro but enriched with sophisticated horimono and that speaks for that time for the Nobukuni School.

Picture 12: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Nobukuni – Shitoku ninen hachigatsu hi” (信国・至徳二年八月日), nagasa 26.0 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.6 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

In picture 13 we see another classical Yamashiro tantô by the 2nd generation Nobukuni, although this one is of a more slender mihaba. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame that is mixed with some nagare-masame and that features fine ji-nie and a linear nie-utsuri. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that tends a little to notare in places and that is mixed with hotsure, faint yubashiri, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The slightly undulating sugu-bôshi shows hakikake and a relatively long kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura side gomabashi.

Picture 13: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), shu-mei: “Genroku jûyonen gokugetsu origami dai-kinsu roku-mei” (元禄十四年極月折紙代金子六枚, “[Hon’ami] origami from from the twelfth month of Genroku 14 [1701] evaluating the blade with six gold pieces”), nagasa 25.2 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.0 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Now picture 14 shows a more Bizen-style wakizashi. The blade is dated Meitoku three (明徳, 1392) and is interpreted in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri with a prominent sori. The jigane is a dense but standing-out itame that is mixed with some ô-hada on the ura side and that displays ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome and sunagashi. The bôshi tends to sugu and features a ko-maru-kaeri with a wide turnback. Both sides show a naginata-hi with soebi.

Picture 14: jûyô, wakizashi, mei: “Nobukuni – Meitoku sannen hachigatsu hi” (信国・明徳三年八月日), nagasa 40.1 cm, sori 1.2 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri, mitsu-mune

 

Picture 15 shows a sunnobi-style tantô that is dated Ôei three (1396). It has a normal mihaba, as mentioned a sunnobi-sugata, and features a sakizori. The jigane is a densely forged itame that is mixed with mokume. Ji-nie and chikei appear and the hamon is a nie-laden gunome-chô that is mixed with yahazu, hotsure, yubashiri, ashi, , kinsuji, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is tight and the bôshi has again a roundish kaeri with some hakikake. The omote side shows a bonji with below a suken and the ura side a koshi-bi.

Picture 15: tantô, mei: “Nobukuni – Ôei sannen hachigatsu hi” (信国・応永三年八月日), nagasa 28.3 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

*

To recapitulate, certain Nobukuni works might be hard to kantei as they mix different traditions. So when you have a late Nanbokuchô Yamashiro blade that looks like Bizen but whose hardening is based on nie and which shows horimono (and yahazu), it is safe to go for Nobukuni. In the next chapter, we will talk about the aforementioned masters Minamoto Saemon an Shikibu no Jô and what attributes as Ôei-Nobukuni in general.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #26 – Nobukuni (信国) School 1

The Ryôkai offshoot of Nobukuni was one of the schools that firmly established the Sôshû tradition within Kyôto, i.e. Yamashiro, but there is this decade-long discussion about its ancestor. Basic problem is that the earliest extant Nobukuni blades do not directly link to the alleged scholastic backgrounds and that the historic sources are either contradicting or so broadly defined that so to speak anything could be possible (for example that several Ryôkai smiths also signed with Nobukuni at a certain point in their career). The most common tradition says that the 1st generation Nobukuni was one of the “Three Great Students of Sadamune” (Sadamune-santetsu, 貞宗三哲) and that he was active around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338) in Kyôto, at the instersection Gojôbômon (五条坊門) and Horikawa (堀川). This background is found in the Nôami Hon Meizukushi (能阿弥本銘尽) which was written in 1483, i.e. about a century after the first Nobukuni smiths had been active. This source also does not refer to his other scholastic background, the Ryôkai School, which is found for the first time in the Genki Gannen Tôken Mekiki Sho (元亀元年刀剣目利書) from 1570. This source sees the 1st generation Nobukuni as son of Ryô Nobuhisa and grandson of Ryô Hisanobu. The Kokon Mei Zukushi in turn whose data goes back to 1611 says that the tradition with Nobukuni being the son of Nobuhisa is incorrect and that he was actually the son of Ryô Kunihisa, i.e. Hisanobu’s brother and Nobuhisa’s uncle. And the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen lists him as direct student of Ryôkai whilst the Nihontô Koza says “either the son of Ryôkai or of Ryô Hisanobu.” And then Nobukuni Yoshisada (信国吉貞, ?-1640), the founder of the shintô era Chikuzen-Nobukuni School, stated in his genealogic claims from 1602 that his ancestor became during the Gen’ô era (元応, 1319-1320) a late student of Ryôkai and worked henceforth for several decades under the name of Nobukuni along Kyôto’s Gojôbômon. As indicated above, the statement of the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen that Ryô Hisanobu signed from the Jôwa era (貞和, 1345-1350) onwards with Nobukuni and that his son Nobuhisa did so too from the age of 43 onwards does not make things easier.

So how about the facts? The earliest extant date signature is from Enbun three (延文, 1358), followed by dates from Kôan one (康安, 1361), Jôji five (貞治, 1366), Ôan ? (応安, 1368-1375, the part with the year is illegible), and Eitoku three (永徳, 1383) as very last one that possibly attributes to the 1st generation. All these dates mean heyday Nanbokuchô and support at first glance the widespread assumption that there is too much a gap between the 1st generation Nobukuni and his alleged masters Ryô Hisanobu (or Ryôkai himself) and Sadamune. But only at first glance because I think that actually it all might go together. Just as a sidenote before we continue: I stated at the very beginning of this Kantei series that I will omit for the most part the biographical data of the smiths and that I am not going too much into historic detail, with the disclaimer that unless it is necessary for the understanding of what I am trying to communicate. Well, I broke that “promise” pretty quickly after we started because I realized that I don’t want to use a cookie-cutter approach and just throw in things like “sugata XY, kitae XY, hamon XY, bôshi XY…” What I want to provide is something comprehensible, replicable, something that allows you to follow my trains of thought rather than makes you feel urged to start from scratch by yourself. In other words, I do speculate quite often but I always try to provide an understandable foundation for my speculations. But let’s return to the topic.

Now the dismissal of the early Nobukuni always goes like “records say that the 1st generation was active around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338) but there are no Nobukuni blades extant that can be dated back that far,” concluding from there that the 1st generation was active much later. But for me actually nothing speaks against the assumption that the 1st generation Nobukuni studied around 1320 with the Ryôkai School when master Ryôkai was in his latest years (as the Chikuzen-Nobukuni genealogy says), that he learned from Sôshû Sadamune much later, and that he enjoyed a long life and was still alive in the early 1380s. Sadamune was active from the very end of the Kamakura period, i.e. around Karyaku (嘉暦, 1326-1329) and Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331), until about the Nanbokuchô-period Jôwa era (貞和, 1345-1350). Even when we dismiss the 1320 date and assume that Nobukuni emerged somewhat later from the Ryôkai School, we are still in the picture, i.e. him being active in Kenmu and being either the son of Ryô Hisanobu or Kunihisa. And another statement from the Kokon Mei Zukushi which says that Nobukuni started forging swords when Sadamune was of an old age and active around Enbun (延文, 1356-1361) does only dismiss the approach that he directly learned from master Ryôkai but fits in smoothly into everything else. Thus for the time being I think that there was indeed a Nobukuni who was active in the Kenmu era, that this nengô is maybe just placed too early and does not refer to his main active period, that he learned the Sôshû tradition of sword forging from Sadamune, and that he was still active when the Nanbokuchô period had passed its zenith.

*

But let me underline all that, i.e. my above mentioned approach, on the basis of concrete works. Picture 1 shows the earliest dated work known by Nobukuni. It is a tantô that is designated as jûyô-bijutsuhin, signed in niji-mei “Nobukuni,” and dated “Enbun sannen jûnigatsu hi” (延文三年十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month Enbun three [1358]”). It has a nagasa of 27.5 cm, is in hira-zukuri, has a rather wide mihaba and a sunnobi-sugata, features a relative thin kasane, and a hint of a sori. So the sugata is typical for pre-heyday Nanbokuchô, i.e. pre-Enbun-Jôji. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame with some masame-nagare towards the ha and shows plenty of ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a classical Yamashiro-like chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that comes with a rather tight nioiguchi, starts with a yakikomi over the machi, shows only little hataraki like ko-ashi, and that ends in a sugu-bôshi with a relative wide and long running-back ko-maru-kaeri. The blade was once a heirloom of the Shimazu (島津) family, the daimyô of the Satsuma fief, and speaks truly for Yamashiro Rai at first instance and with the nagare-masame along the ha for Ryôkai at second glance.

Nobukuni1

Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), date see text above, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 27.5 cm, a hint of a sori

Next in picture 2 I want to introduce the blade with the second eldest known date signature. It is a sunnobi-tantô or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a nagasa of 31.2 cm, a wide mihaba, a noticeable sori, and a thin kasane. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame with masame towards the ha, plenty of ji-nie, and chikei. The hamon is a hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that shows some hotsure along the monouchi and the bôshi is sugu with a smallish ko-maru-kaeri that features some hakikake. On the omote side we see a katana-hi with a soebi and on the ura side just a katana-hi. Please note that the tang is judged as ubu, although with the tip cut off, i.e. the hi are supposed to run like that into the nakago. Again, this blade is clearly more Ryôkai than Sôshû.

Nobukuni2

Picture 2: jûyô, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Kôan gannen ni…” (康安元年二…, “second [month] Kôan one [1361]”), nagasa 31.2 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

After that, i.e. some time in the mid 1360s, Nobukuni finally started to apply the techniques of the Sôshû tradition which he had learned from Sadamune. The next known dated work namely (see picture 3), a jûyô-bunkazai tantô, shows a finely forged itame but which comes with an abundance of ji-nie and a ko-notare hamon in ko-nie-deki with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with ashi and yubashiri. The bôshi is midare-komi and features a wide but rather pointed kaeri.

Nobukuni3

Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Jôji gonen jûgatsu” (貞治五年十月, “tenth month of Jôji five [1366]”), nagasa 27.9 cm, sori 0.1 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

And then he went so to speak “full” Sôshû, as seen in the jûyô-bunkazai introduced in picture 4 which is regarded by many as the best work of Nobukuni. It is a wide hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a relative deep sori and shows a dense but overall rather standing-out itame that is mixed with a little ô-hada in places and that features plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and jifu, and Tanobe even mentions a nie-utsuri that appears towards the mune. The hamon is a quite nie-laden notare that is mixed with gunome, ko-midare, much sunagashi, some ara-nie, and a few kinsuji and the tobiyaki and yubashiri that appear along the yakigashira anticipate in certain areas a hamon interpretation that is often found on Nobukuni blades, and that is yahazu. In other words, the longer areas of yubashiri and tobiyaki that float in Sôshû-style over the gunome or ko-midare merge later with the ha and form gunome or ko-midare that fork into dove-tail shaped elements. The bôshi of the jûyô-bunkazai runs back in a long manner and shows hakikake and ara-nie. On the omote side we see a futasuji-hi and on the ura side a katana-hi with inside a suken as relief and a short soebi at the base. With this we have another approach that should become a characteristic feature of the Nobukuni School, and that is the trend to horimono. Incidentally, this masterwork was once a present of the Bizen Okayama daimyô Ikeda Tsunamasa (池田綱政, 1638-1714) to the Tokugawa family on the occasion of the birth of Tokugawa Ienobu’s (徳川家宣, 1662-1712) son Iechiyo (家千代, who died at the age of only two months). From that time on, the blade was a heirloom of the Tokugawa main line.

Nobukuni4

Picture 4: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 36.6 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

A very good example of the aforementioned trend towards elaborate horimono is the jûyô-bunkazai hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that is shown in picture 5. It is basically of the typical 1st generation Nobukuni interpretation of the Sôshû tradition, i.e. dense ko-itame with chikei and plenty of ji-nie in combination with a ko-notare-based hamon in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, ko-midare, and sunagashi and a bôshi with a rather wide kaeri that features hakikake. The blade is shortened and bears a kinpun-mei attribution to Nobukuni on the omote and a no longer legible kinpun inscription on the ura side. As for the horimono, we see a ceremonial hat, a bonji, a rendai, kuwagata and a suken with elaborate sankozuka hilt on the omote, and a katana-hi with inside bonji and a suken as relief on the ura side.

Nobukuni5

Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, kinpun-mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 38.1 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 3.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

 *

 When we take a look at the entire body of work of Nobukuni, and not only of the 1st generation but of the entire school, we learn that they placed a firm focus on shorter blades, i.e. sunnobi-tantô and hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi. Long swords are rare, and this is all the more true when we go back to the early Nobukuni smiths who had their main active periods before Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). So looking at these very rare Nanbokuchô-era tachi reveals that unlike short blades, it seems as if the 1st generation Nobukuni no longer used his Ryôkai-based Yamashiro style for them, i.e. they are all pretty much soshuesque, at least as far as the hamon is concerned. Picture 6 shows a tokubetsu-jûyô tachi that is ô-suriage and that comes in the typical heyday Nanbokuchô sugata which is a wide mihaba, a relative shallow sori, a thin kasane, and an elongated chû-kissaki. The kitae is an itame mixed with masame that shows ji-nie and chikei and the hamon is a nie-laden shallow notare that is mixed with gunome, ashi, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is wide, bright, and clear and the bôshi runs on the omote side with a yakikomi over the yokote into a suguha and appears on the ura side as notare-komi, both running back with a ko-maru-kaeri.

Nobukuni6

Picture 6: tokubetsu-jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Nobukuni, nagasa 69.7 cm, sori 1.5 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

A more flamboyant long sword of the 1st generation can be seen in picture 7. The blade is ubu, has a tachi-sugata with a toriizori, a relative thick kasane, and a chû-kissaki and shows a kitae in itame that tends to nagare on the omote side and that shows much chikei and plenty of ji-nie. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, ko-gunome, ashi, connected , sunagashi, kinsuji, and some gunome that are about to turn into yahazu (but not yet fully). The bôshi is midare-komi with a brief ko-maru-kaeri. So from the overal sugata and the interpretation of the ha we can place this blade to the latest active period of the 1st generation and it connects very well to the works of his immediate successors.

Nobukuni7

Picture 7: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 67.9 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The last blade that I want to introduce for today is more Sadamune-like in terms of its sugata and ha (see picture 8). It is an ô-suriage tachi with a relative wide mihaba, a shallow sori, and a very much elongated chû-kissaki that might already come under the category of an ô-kissaki. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame but which tends very much to nagare-masame and that shows ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden shallow ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, kinsuji, and sunagashi and the bôshi is sugu-chô to midare-komi that features a pointed and late starting kaeri with hakikake. On both sides we can see towards the bottom of the tang the remnants of the suken relief in the bôhi.

Nobukuni8a

Nobukuni8b

Picture 8: jûyô, wakizashi, mumei, attributed to Nobukuni, nagasa 54.5 cm, sori 1.4 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

*


I have saved the discussion about the succession of generations or rather the counting of generations for the next part as it would have been too confusing to pack all that into this first chapter. Also horimono and the distinguishing features of Nobukuni signatures will be addressed next time so please stay tuned.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #25 – Ryôkai (了戒) School 2

Ryôkai was succeeded by his son Hisanobu (久信) who is – due to the fact that he often signed just with the prefix “Ryô” – mostly referred to as Ryô Hisanobu (了久信). The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was born in Kagen one (嘉元, 1303) and died in Ôan seven (応安, 1374) at the age of 73. Again, we have here dates which don’t add up and apart from that, the source also mixes up Hisanobu with Nobuhisa (信久). That is, it lists Nobuhisa as son of Ryôkai and Hisanobu as his successor whereas all other sources state it the other way round, i.e. Nobuhisa being the son of Hisanobu. Hisanobu being the son of Ryôkai is also proven by dated and signed works which will be addressed in the following. First, there is a pretty famous tachi extant (see picture 1) which is signed kakikudashi-style “Ryôkai Kagen sannen sangatsu hi” (了戒  嘉元三年三月日, “Ryôkai, on a day of the third month Kagen three [1305]”) on the haki-omote, and “Yamashiro no Kuni-jûnin Kurôza…” (山城国住人九郎左…) (rest cut off) on the haki-ura side. This mei was for a long time interpreted as showing Ryôkai’s first name, being Kurôzaemon or Kurôzaemon no Jô but in more recent years another tachi has been found (see picture 2) which is signed “Kurôzaemon no Jô Hisanobu saku – Kagen ninen uzuki hi” (九郎左衛門尉久信作・嘉元二年卯月日, “on a day of the fourth month Kagen two [1304]”). So Kurôzaemon no Jô was obviously the first name of his son Hisanobu and not of master Ryôkai and the Kagen three tachi is thus obviously a gassaku. Incidentally, the Kagen two tachi by Hisanobu bears somewhat apart from the actual mei and interpreted in a completely different way the name “Ikkai” (一海). Some speculate that this was the nyûdô-gô of Hisanobu but the NBTHK says that it is a kiritsuke-mei, i.e. added later. Well, and “final proof” for Hisanobu being the one of Ryôkai delivers a naginata (see picture 3) which is signed “Ryôkai shisoku Hisanobu – Tokuji sannen tsuchinoe-saru jûgatsu muika” (了戒子息久信・徳治三年戊申十月六日, “Hisanobu, son of Ryôkai, on the sixth day of the tenth month Tokuji three [1308], year of the monkey”).

Now let me introduce all these blades, beginning with the gassaku which is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai, owned by the Atsuta-jingû, but preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. It must have had a magnificently long nagasa because it measures 82.6 cm in its shortened condition. It has a deep sori that tends to koshizori, maintains a little funbari, tapers noticeably, and ends in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with masame-nagare and fine ji-nie as well as a shirake-utsuri appear. The hamon is an overall rather subdued suguha to hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, some ko-chôji, ko-ashi, and that features a rather tight nioiguchi, and the bôshi is a thin sugu to midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.

RyoHisanobu1

Picture 1: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 82.6 cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The Hisanobu tachi with the Ikkai supplement is shown in picture 2. This blade too is with a nagasa of 84.0 cm pretty long. It has a wide mihaba that tapers noticeably, a deep koshizori with funbari, and end in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with a conspicuous amount of masame and features fine ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with some ko-gunome, ko-midare, ko-chôji and ko-ashi and has a subdued nioiguchi. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and tends to a little bit to a sansaku-bôshi. The omote side bears a bonji with below a suken, and the ura side a bonji with below gomabashi, both of them running as kaki-nagashi into the tang.

RyoHisanobu2

Picture 2: jûyô, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 84.0 cm, sori 2.8 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

RyoHisanobu3

Picture 3: The naginata which explicitly states that Hisanobu was the son of Ryôkai. It is owned by the Tokugawa Museum, has a nagasa of 42.8 cm, and is interpreted in the typical Ryôkai style.

Another signed tachi of Ryô Hisanobu is introduced in picture 4. It has a long nagasa too, tapers noticeably, but the kissaki tends to chû. Its jigane is a standing-out itame that is all over mixed with nagare-masame and that features ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, hotsure, ashi, , and sunagashi and appears subdued in places. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-mar-kaeri.

RyoHisanobu4

Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryô Hisanobu” (了久信), nagasa 83.7 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

An interesting blade is shown in picture 5 (click on the pic to get to the website), interesting insofar as that it is very similar to the shôbu-zukuri tachi of Ryôkai shown in picture 8 of the previous chapter. Hisanobu’s blade is ubu but unsigned, has a nagasa of 67.3 cm, a high shinogi, and shows a ko-itame that is mixed with much nagare-masame and some ô-hada in places, even formingsome mokume swirls here and there. This time a faint nie-utsuri appears and the hamon is a subdued hoso-suguha with ko-ashi, and the bôshi is sugu too and runs out as yakitsume.

RyoHisanobu5

Picture 5: tachi, mumei, attributed to Ryô Hisanobu, nagasa 67.3 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.94 cm, shôbi-zukuri, iori-mune

*

Now let’s talk about Hisanobu’s tantô. An often quoted work is the tantô shown in picture 6 that is dated Enkyô three (延慶, 1310). It is a so to speak standard hira-zukuri tantô for that time, showing moderate to smallish dimensions, an uchizori, and a jigane in dense ko-itame that tends to nagare along the mune and that displays a midare-utsuri. This midare-utsuri is in my opinion linked to the interpretation in midareba. I mean, we see a ko-notare-based ko-gunome in nioi-deki that is mixed with ashi and that features a mizukage, thus quite a flamboyant interpretation for the Ryôkai group. The bôshi is midare-komi too and runs back in a ko-maru-kaeri. So when we bear in mind that the latest known date signature of Rôkai is from the previous year and take into consideration that not that many works of Hisanobu are extant, we can speculate that he might have mostly worked for his father. This is also supported by the fact that we are facing a pretty inconsistent signature style of the characters for Ryôkai, I am hinting at daisaku-daimei, and this might go hand in hand with the tradition that Hisanobu signed himself with “Ryôkai” one or two years after his father had died, so at least according to the Goto Tebiki Shô (如手引抄). Well this work was published in the Kan´ei era (寛永, 1624-1644), more than 300 years after Hisanobu’s active period. Incidentally, the known date signatures of Ryô Hisanobu, which are pretty rare, span just from Kagen (嘉元, 1303-1306) to Enkyô (延慶, 1308-1311).

RyoHisanobu6

Picture 6: tantô, mei “Ryô Hisanobu” (了久信) – “Enkyô sannen jûnigatsu muika” (延慶三年十二月六日, “sixth day of the twelfth month Enkyô three [1310]”), nagasa 23.9 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

But the majority of Hisanobu’s tantô is in suguha, like for example the blade shown in picture 7. It is with a nagasa of 26.2 cm of standard length has no sori. The motohaba is with 2.42 not really on the narrow side for a tantô but when you take a look at the width of the tang, the condition of the ha-machi, and the thinness of the ha, I think that this blade has lost some substance. It shows a finely forged ko-itame that is mixed with ko-mokume and nagare and features ji-nie, a shirake-utsuri, and even a few chikei. The hamon is a hoso-sugha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with sunagashi and fine kinsuji and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri.

RyoHIsanobu7Picture 7: tantô, mumei, attributed to Ryô Hisanobu, nagasa 26.2 cm, muzori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

*

Genealogy of the Ryokai School

Now Ryô Hisanobu was succeeded by his son Nobuhisa (信久) who lived, according to the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen, from Bunna one (文和, 1352) to Ôei 26 (応永, 1419). He signed in the syntax of his father, i.e. with “Ryô Nobuhisa” (了信久) and worked allegedly also in the same style, although I have never come across any of his works. Well, Tsuneishi goes pretty much into detail but the problem is, he just addresses a “3rd generation Ryôkai” and does not say if he means Nobuhisa or not. Apart from that, most other sources don’t count an exact succession of generations of the Ryôkai lineage or just say that Ryôkai was the 1st generation and Ryô Hisanobu the 2nd, period. Tsuneishi introduces even more generations, i.e. a 4th generation who was active around Jôji (貞治, 1362-1368) and a 5th generation who was active around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). For a better overview, I have compiled a genealogy of the Ryôkai School that is provided above. So Tsuneishi describes the 3rd generation as working basically in the style of his father and grandfather, hardening a hoso-suguha but which shows less nie and that comes close the a pure nioi-deki. He further states that his nioiguchi is not tight and dull (he uses “dim, blurred”), that most extant works show a “tired yakiba,” a weak and roughish hada, much masame towards the mune, and a shirake-utsuri. His tantô are smaller dimensioned and show a hoso-suguha that is mixed with ko-gunome-midare which is more “busy” than the ha of the 1st and 2nd generation. And he concludes that the 3rd generation also does not match the quality of his two predecessors.

Anyway, the old-established Yamashiro schools were all fading by the end of the Nanbokuchô period. The Awataguchi School had “long” been gone. The Rai School had just “disappeared” or had scattered to the four winds (Nakajima, Echizen, Higo) and its remaining smiths were outshined by masters, for example from the Hasebe and the Nobukuni School, who adjusted their work very much to the new Sôshû tradition. The Ryôkai School shared the same fate. Their own offspring Nobukuni overshadowed all other Ryôkai students and the son of Hisanobu’s student Yoshisada (能定), i.e. the 2nd generation Yoshisada, moved eventually down to Kyûshû where he became the ancestor of the so-called Tsukushi-Ryôkai group.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #24 – Ryôkai (了戒) School 1

According to tradition, Ryôkai (了戒) was a very early son of grand master Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊), born when Kunitoshi was only 17 years old. He entered priesthood at an early age of 16, taking the very name Ryôkai, but returned later to secular life to forge swords, allegedly not only with his father but also learning from Ayanokôji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利). As always, there are several traditions and theories going round. One says that he was actually a Nara smith who came to Kyôto to study with Kunitoshi. Another one suggests that he started a normal career as a swordsmith and entered priesthood only later in life, whilst sources who follow the approach that Niji Kunitoshi and Rai Kunitoshi were different smiths say that Ryôkai was the son of the former and thus the brother of Rai Kunitoshi. Well, when we take a look at the extant date signatures of Ryôkai, which start from Shôô three (正応, 1290), followed by date signatures from Einin (永仁, 1293-1299) and Kagen (嘉元, 1303-1306) to Enkyô two (延慶, 1309) as the latest, we learn that he was active at about the same time when Kunitoshi signed in sanji-mei. We know that Kunitoshi was born in 1240. So when we follow the tradition that Ryôkai was born when Kunitoshi was 17 years old, we arrive at Kôgen two (康元, 1256) as year of birth for Ryôkai (or at Shôka one [正嘉, 1257] if we follow the Western way of counting years). This date (Kôgen two) is also forwarded by the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen by the way, what means that not all of its data is far-fetched. This in turn means that he was 34 when he made the earliest extant dated blade from Shôô three (1290) what sounds very plausible. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen also says that Ryôkai died in Shôkyô four at the age of 72 but the Shôkyô era (正慶, 1332-1334) only lasted for two years, and apart from that, if you count 72 from Kôgen two (1256), you arrive at 1328 (or 1327 according to the Japanese way), what in turn would correspond to Karyaku three. Taking into consideration that Ryôkai’s known date signatures end noticeably before those of Kunitoshi (of whom we know date signature up to 1321), I tend to think that he might have died before his father and indeed in the Karyaku era (嘉暦, 1326-1329). Or in other words, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen might be right about his age at death but not about the year he died in.

Before we come to the workmanship of Ryôkai, I want to elaborate on his standing in the sword world, or on his ranking if you want. There are 5 blades of him that made it jûyô-bunkazai (3 tachi, 1 tantô), no kokuhô, about 90 jûyô, and 2 that passed tokubetsu-jûyô. In comparison, Rai Kunitoshi has 4 kokuhô, 17 jûyô-bunkazai, more than 200 jûyô, and about 30 tokubetsu-jûyô. But we have to bear in mind that (due to the fact that Kunitoshi was the grand master of a bustling workshop) there are in total more blades of Rai Kunitoshi extant than of Ryôkai, so these numbers are relative. An interesting aspect of Ryôkai’s ranking is gained by looking into contemporary records. For example, the Chûshin Mono (注進物), a report on sharp swords from the entire country compiled on request of the bakufu in Shôwa two (正和, 1313) which contains the name of 60 smiths, does list Ryôkai but not his father Rai Kunitoshi. Well, the emphasis of such early works remains to be seen as for example, the Chûshin Mono lists for Yamashiro also Sanjô Kokaji Munechika, Awataguchi Kuniyoshi, Awataguchi Hisakuni, Ayanokôji Sadatoshi, and kiku-gyosaku, and therefore I tend to interpret sources like that as mere guidelines for what kind of swords are “appropriate” to be owned by (and presented to) the contemporary high-society rather than referring to their effective sharpness. But just due to the fact of being on this list, you can get an idea of how high Ryôkai’s blades were regarded these days.

*

Now to the workmanship of Ryôkai. In general, it can be said that the sugata and jiba of his works, and that means both tachi and tantô, are pretty close to Rai Kunitoshi. However, many of his tachi are more on the slender side, showing a noticeable taper, a deep sori, and a smallish kissaki, and it is assumed that it is this trend towards a more classical elegance might be the reason for why some assumed he studied with Ayanokôji Sadatoshi. But at Sadatoshi’s slender tachi, the koshizori is more pronounced and straightens more out towards the tip. Apart from that, some of Ryôkai’s tachi show a somewhat higher shinogi (and partially also a higher iori-mune) what in turn might have been the reason for assuming a Yamato origin. This is further substantiated by the fact that Ryôkai’s jigane is basically the Rai-typical ko-itame but which tends to a certain extent to nagare and might even show masame here and there. In addition, we usually see shirake or a shirake-utsuri on his blades and not the nie-utsuri from Rai main line. Also his hamon is a hint more narrow and subdued and has a lesser emphasis on nie than that of Rai Kunitoshi. So we have here again the junction where you were following the Rai Kunitoshi road but then come across nagare-masame and shirake and have to fork to one of the Rai sidelines like Ryôkai or Enju. And then the hamon and bôshi should tell you, in the ideal case, if you took the right exit. But of course, sometimes it can be very had to tell if a blade is a Rai Kunitoshi, an early Rai Kunimitsu, or a Ryôkai.

One of his most representative works is the signed tachi that is preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum but which does not hold any status (see picture 1). It is ubu and in this case, the sori tends more to koshizori, also running into a pretty curved kijimomo-style nakago. We see funbari and a ko-kissaki and the kitae is a dense ko-itame that features masame, shirake, and some jifu. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-chôji, and ko-ashi and the nioiguchi is rather subdued. The bôshi is a midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.

Ryokai1

Picture 1: tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 79.98 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Also very representative is the jûyô tachi that is shown in picture 2. It is ubu too and preserves like the previous blade its long nagasa of 80.3 cm. It tapers, shows funbari and its jigane is an itame that is mixed with masame-nagare and that shows ji-nie and shirake. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki which tends a little to shallow notare and that is mixed with ko-midare, , some kinsuji, and many ko-ashi. The nioiguchi is rather tight and subdued and the bôshi is a slightly undulating sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri whereas the ura side features hakikake. Thus with the rather wide ha with its abundance of hataraki and the quality of the jiba place this work pretty close to Rai Kunitoshi. By the way, this blade was one of those that were submitted to (and passed) the very first jûyô-shinsa in 1958. It was once a heirloom of the Hisamatsu-Matsudaira (久松松平) family, the daimyô of the Iyo-Matsuyama (伊予松山藩) fief.

Ryokai2

Picture 2: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 80.3 cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.65 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Another signed tachi of Ryôkai that is almost ubu is shown in picture 3. The blade was shortened to 71.0 cm but keeps its rather deep sori (which tends again somewhat to koshizori). We still see a hint of funbari, a noticeable taper, and a ko-kissaki. The jigane is an itame with a conspicuous amount of masame and features ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a gentle suguha in ko-nie-deki with a little shallow notare and is mixed with ko-gunome and some faint nijûba in places. The bôshi is sugu to notare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.

Ryokai3

Picture 3: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 71.0 cm, sori 2.3 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, sakihaba 1.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The tachi in picture 4 is one of Ryôkai’s highly classical, calm, and unobtrusive interpretations. It is ubu and signed, slender, has a rather deep koshizori, tapers noticeably, shows funbari, a high shinogi, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a densely forged but also somewhat standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with nagare-masame, some ô-hada, and jifu. In addition, ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri appear. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with a little ko-gunome, ko-midare, ko-ashi, , and some fine kinsuji and sunagashi. The nioiguchi and the entire ha are more subdued. The bôshi is a narrow sugu with a brief ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken at the base and there are several tachi of Ryôkai known that bear such a short suken or koshibi at the base.

Ryokai4

Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 75.65 cm, sori 2.8 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, sakihaba 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

*

Now we come to his tantô, the most famous of course the meibutsu Akita-Ryôkai (秋田了戒) which is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai (and was even holding the status of kokuhô for a while, i.e. until many designations were reassessed by the Agency for Cultural Affairs after WWII). The name of the meibutsu goes back to the fact that it was once work by Akita Sanesue (秋田実季, 1576-1660) who held the title of Akita Jônosuke (秋田城之介). Later it became an heirloom of the Kaga Maeda family. There are several tantô extant by Ryôkai which are interpreted in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri. The jigane is an itame that is mixed with masame and that shows ji-nie and some shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki with a tight nioiguchi and nijûba and the bôshi is rather pointed and features a rather wide and long running-back kaeri, also with nijûba.

Ryokai5

Ryokai5a

Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 27.2 cm, muzori

An outstanding tantô of him can be seen in picture 6. It is tokubetsu-jûyô and is with the moderate dimensions, the uchizori, and the curved furisode-nakago quite classical. The jigane is a dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri and the hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki with some ko-ashi, , and nijûba in places that features a tight nioiguchi. The bôshi is sugu with a rather wide ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken with on top of it a bonji and on the ura side gomabashi, both running with kaki-nagashi into the tang. The tang is ubu by the way, so the second mekugi-ana and the kaki-nagashi of the horimono do not speak for a suriage in this case. There is no nagare-masame or “weakness” in the jigane and so this tantô comes pretty close to Rai Kunitoshi.

 Ryokai6

Picture 6: tokubetsu-jûyô, tantô, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 24.9 cm, very little uchizori, motohaba 2.35 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

As it will be addressed in the next chapter, the Ryôkai lineage also made some naginata and a shortened one, a naginata-naoshi wakizashi, can be seen in picture 7. It is relative wide and bears on both sides a central shinogi-hi, i.e. a groove that runs along the shinogi. The jigane is a dense ko-itame with some nagare and ji-nie and the hamon is a hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The bôshi runs out as yakitsume and taking into consideration the overall course of the ha, we learn that this was once a shizuka style naginata (more on that interpretation here).
Ryokai7Picture 7: jûyô, naginata-naoshi wakizashi, mumei, attributed to Ryôkai, nagasa 40.6 cm, sori 0.9 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, iori-mune

But Ryôkai also made some more uncommon blade shapes, like for example the one in shôbu-zukuri seen in picture 8. Well, the blade has a nagasa of 68.2 cm and is classified, due to the position of the mei, as tachi but it might well be one of these longer uchigatana that come mostly in hira-zukuri that were made by some of the great Kamakura masters for a higher ranking clientele (like the Nakigitsune-Kuniyoshi, see here). The blade has a relative deep sori and shows a dense itame that is mixed with nagare in places and with ô-hada along the upper half of the omote side. In addition, ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri appear. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-dei that is mixed with some ko-ashi and fine sunagashi and kinsuji and that shows some ko-gunome along the monouchi. The bôshi is formed out of these ko-gunome elements and runs back with a short ko-maru-kaeri and some hakikake.

Ryokai8Picture 8: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 68.2 cm, sori 1.8 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, shôbu-zukuri, iori-mune

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.

RaiKunisue

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.

NakajimaRai

*

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.

RaiKuninaga2

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.

RaiKuninaga3

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.

RaiKuninaga4

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.

RaiKuninaga5

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.

RaiKuninaga6aRaiKuninaga6b

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.

RaiKuninaga7

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.

RaiKuninaga8

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.

RaiKuninaga9

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.

RaiKuniyasu

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.”

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.

RaiMitsukane1

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.

RaiMitsukane2

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.

RaiMitsukane3a

RaiMitsukane3b

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.

RaiMitsukane4

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.

RaiMitsukane5

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

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #21 – Rai (来) School 7

We continue with some of the “below of the radar” Rai smiths. I have mentioned another son of Kunitoshi in the previous chapter, the homonymous Kunitoshi (国歳), but hardly anything is known on this smith and I am not aware of any extant blades of him. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen however says that he was born in Kenji two (建治, 1276) and that he died in Genkô one (元弘, 1331) at the age of 55. Consulting the traditional genealogies, it seems that the lineage of Rai Kunimitsu did not bring forth many independent smiths. Or in other words, it is safe to assume that he trained many students but who remained working as assistants throughout their entire career and did not have an output of blade on their own account. Well, we find a certain Rai Kuniyoshi (来国吉) listed as son of Kunimitsu who was supposedly active around Ôan (応安, 1368-1375) but no blades of him are known either.

*

This brings us the the next Rai lineage, namely that of Kunitsugu. He had a son, Rai Kunihide (来国秀), who was born in the first year of Kôan (弘安, 1278) and who died in Kôei one (康永, 1342) at the age of 65, so the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen. There are a few signed yari extant of Kunihide and one niji-mei tachi that got jûyô. Incidentally, there are 7 works of Rai Kunihide that passed jûyô but none that bears a designation by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Asigned tachi of Kunihide is shown in picture 1. It has a wide mihaba, a shallow sori, and an elongated chû-kissaki, what speaks for a sugata from the very end of the Kamakura to the early Nanbokuchô period. The kitae is a dense itame with ji-nie and chikei and the hamon is a nie-laden gunome with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with chôji, many ashi, and some few sunagashi and kinsuji. The bôshi is midare-komi with a very brief ko-maru-kaeri. Both sides show a bôhi with ryô-chiri and a kakudome in the tang and traces of a soebi. The tang is suriage, has a kirijiri, kiri-yasurime, and bears a thinly chiseled niji-mei. Now interesting is that this tachi is not signed with the prefix “Rai” but the blade is nevertheless attributed to Rai Kunihide. In the jûyô description we also read that because of the kitae with chikei and the nie-deki hamon in gunome mixed with chôji and the midare in the bôshi, the workmanship resembles closely that of Rai Kunitsugu, his alleged father.

RaiKunihide1

Picture 1: jûyô, tachi, mei “Kunihide” (国秀), nagasa 71.5 cm, sori 1.6 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, sakihaba 2.35 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

It is interesting that seemingly neither signed nor unsigned tantô or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi of Rai Kunihide going round. Thus I want to introduce another tachi of him before referring to his yari. The tachi (which is now a katana) shown in picture 2 is relative wide and has a slightly elongated chû-kissaki, what again brings us in the same time of end of Kamakura to early Nanbokuchô. The kitae is an overall somewhat standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and much nagare on the omote side and also chikei and plenty of ji-nie appear. The hamon is a nie-laden suguha-chô to shallow notare that features a wide and bright nioiguchi and that is mixed with gunome, chôji, ko-chôji, thick and long ashi, , sunagashi, kinsuji, uchinoke, and smallish yubashiri which all focus pretty much on the habuchi (i.e. don’t spill much into the ji). The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and some hakikake. So again, the workmanship suggests Rai Kunitsugu at a glance but once more, the NBTHK plays the quality card and says the overall quality is just a hint under that of Kunitsugu but the work is clearly from the direct vicinity of Kunitsugu and as the quality is very close, they go for the smiths who ranks very next, and that is his alleged son Kunihide.

RaiKunihide2

Picture 2: jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Rai Kunihide (来国秀), nagasa 66.9 cm, sori 1.0 cm, motohaba 2.75 cm, sakihaba 2.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now in picture 3 we see one of his extant signed yari. It is with a nagasa of 11.0 cm a smallish yari and shows a finely forged ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and a noticeable tendency to masame. This appearance of much masame is also true for his other yari and goes most likely back to the different forging techniques used for yari (which are for example also evident on ken). The hamon is a slightly undulating suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki.

RaiKunihide3

Picture 3: hira-sankaku yari, mei “Rai Kunihide” (来国秀), nagasa 11.0 cm

*

Another smith who came from the lineage of Kunitsugu was Rai Hidetsugu (来秀次). He is listed as son or student of Kunitsugu but also as son of Kunihide whereas some put all them all in a pot and say that Kunihide and Hidetsugu were the same smith who succeeded later as 2nd generation Rai Kunitsugu. This would mean that Kunihide changed his name at some point in his career to Hidetsugu or vice versa. The meikan list Hidetsugu a little later than Kunihide, i.e. around Jôji (貞治, 1362-1368), and the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was born in Enkyô two (延慶, 1309) and that he died in Jôji six (1367) at the age of 58. Well, as the signature style of Kunihide and Hidetsugu is quite different, I would keep them all separated for the time being and dismiss the approach that we are facing here the same smith who succeeded later as 2nd generation Rai Kunitsugu. Interesting is that unlike Kunihide, there are just tantô and no long swords of Hidetsugu extant. Also no hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi of this smith are extant as far as I know. So let’s take a look at one of his tantô (picture 4). It measures 27.9 cm in nagasa, has an uchizori, and shows an itame-nagare with shirake. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare with sunagashi and some kinsuji and yubashiri and the bôshi is notare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri and a hint of hakikake. In the Nihontô Kôza, Honma states that this tantô fits well into the lineage of Rai Kunitsugu but earlier in his Nihon Kotô Shi he said that “There are two tantô with the signature of ‘Rai Hidetsugu’ existing and their hamon is midareba, but their workmanship is totally different from that of Rai Kunitsugu.” The other tantô, which is briefly presented in the Nihontô Kôza and shown here in picture 5, is of different interpretation, i.e. it is even more nie-laden and hardened in gunome-chô, and shows clearly a different signature style. Well, Honma says that if viewed each by its own, he would say that they are authentic but in comparison, he is not sure if one is gimei (or both) or not or if one goes back to the hand of a second generatio Hidetsugu. So this is something for further study but I am not aware of any other signed Rai Hidetsugu blade popping up in the meanwhile and there is also none that passed jûyô so far. But maybe this discrepancy has to be seen in view of what Honma suggests, namely that at around this time, the Rai School had already lost their traditional workmanship and things becoming washy.

RaiHidetsugu1

Picture 4: tantô, mei “Rai Hidetsugu” (来秀次), nagasa 27.9 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

RaiHidetsugu2

Picture 5: The other known tantô of Rai Hidetsugu as a reference.

On the other hand, there were still some late Rai smiths who tried to keep up the tradition of the school. For example, there was a tantô discovered about 15 years ago that is signed “Rai Kunikiyo” (来国清) and dated “Meitoku yonnen hachigatsu hi” (明徳二二年八月日, “a day in the eighth month Meitoku four [1393]”). Now this Rai Kunikiyo is not listed in any meikan and the date of Meitoku four, i.e. at the very end of the Nanbokuchô period, makes this tantô one of the very last Rai works known. It is rather wide, has a thin kasane, shows a hint of sori, and a dense ko-itame that is partially mixed with ô-hada. Also ji-nie and a faint utsuri appear. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that features a wide nioiguchi and that is mixed with noticeably wide hotsure areas and some sunagashi. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and we see a suken on the omote, and a wide koshibi on the ura side. Not sure if the tang is a little suriage but the mei is thickly chiseled. The two characters for the nengô era are barey legible on the oshigata but the descriptio says that it is clearly Meitoku when examining the tang in hand.

RaiKunikiyo

Picture 6: tantô, mei “Rai Kunikiyo” (来国清), date see text above, nagasa 26.3 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

*

To conclude this chapter, I want to introduce the smith Rai Mitsushige (来光重) who is dated around Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331) and who was a student of Rai Kunitoshi. Well, some speculate that Mitsushige was the early name of Rai Kunimitsu but the signature style differs too much as to follow this approach blindly. However, signed works of him are extremely rare so well, we can’t say for sure if there is some truth in this tradition. I for my self see them as two individual smiths for the time being. Now there is one signed tantô extant (see picture 7) that is also dated, namely “Gentoku sannen jûgatsu nijûninichi” (元徳三年十月廿二日, “22nd day of the tenth month Gentoku three [1331]”). It is rather wide, has a little uchizori, and comes in a sunnobi-sugata. The kitae is a ko-itame with nagare and ji-nie and the hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that shows nijûba along the monouchi. The bôshi narrows very much down along the fukura and runs widely back as ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura a take-kurabe-style koshibi with soebi. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, shallow katte-sagari yasurime, and bears a rather largely chiseled mei.

RaiMitsushige
Picture 7: jûyô, tantô, mei “Rai Mitsushige” (来光重), date see text above, nagasa 26.9 cm, uchizori, motohaba 2.65 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #20 – Rai (来) School 6

Now I want to talk about some of the Rai smiths who worked under master Kunitoshi and then deal in separate chapters with the Nakajima-Rai lineage, Ryôkai, and the Nobukuni School that goes back to the Rai offshoot that was established by Ryôkai. Due to the relative large number of active Rai smiths, all these chapters will be divided into several parts. Again, I want to create a useful reference and don’t want to rush through all the schools just because we are running out of time, and there are anyway no limitations of space here in the net. Or in other words, I want that later on, one can find also some of the more unknown smiths being dealt with and their workmanship described in this series. But let’s continue with the Rai School.

Now when we take a look at the traditional genealogies of the Rai school, we learn that Kunitoshi had supposedly several sons, namely in chronological order: Ryôkai (了戒), Kunimitsu (国光), Kunizane (国真), Tomokuni (倫国), and Kunitoshi (国歳), whilst some also see Kuniyasu (国安) as his son but more on him in the corresponding chapter. Now Ryôkai is said to have been born when Kunitoshi was 17 years old, what would mean in Shôka one (正嘉, 1257). He entered priesthood (more on this in the corresponding chapter) so his second son, Kunimitsu (born in Bun’ei one, 1264) became his heir. His third son Kunizane was born in Bun’ei five (文永, 1268), his fourth son Tomokuni in Bun’ei nine (1272), and his fifth son Kunitoshi in Kenji two (建治, 1275). Again, all these dates go back to the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen, which is questionable in this context, but I nevertheless want to use the dates here for the sake of comparison.

*

Kunimitsu has been dealt with and Ryôkai will get a chapter on his own so let’s continue with Kunizane (国真). So his father (and master) Kunitoshi was 28 years old when he was born and according to the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen, Kunizane died in Bunpô two (文保, 1318). The meikan traditionally date him around Shôwa (正和, 1312-1317) and some say “active before Kenmu (建武, 1334-1336),” what would both match with the aforementioned life data of 1268-1318. Problem with this date is that quite a number of his works, or at least works that are attributed to him as signed blades are very rare, speak clearly for Nanbokuchô, i.e. to a noticeably later production time. Thus it has been forwarded that he lived much longer than said or that there was a second generation Kunizane. A later Rai Kunizane appears in the meikan who is dated around Bunna (文和, 1352-1356) what would match (also because he is listed as grandson of Kunitoshi). But there are also some few more classical blades extant, i.e. such which do come close to Kunitoshi if you want, or in other words, we know some few more Kamakura-Rai and several Nanbokuchô-Rai works of Kunizane and so both could be true, that he was a master who lived long and who changed his style of the years, becoming also more productive in his later years, or that there were just two generations. If you ask me, I tend towards the latter approach. Anyway, signed works are very rare as mentioned and as far as I know, they count less than a handful, or to be precise, we are talking about 1 tachi, 2 hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi, and 1 tantô. And whilst we are talking about figures, there are no blades of Kunizane that are designated as a kokuhô or a jûyô-bunkazai and 18 of him passed jûyô (no tokubetsu-jûyô) to this day. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the tachi, which seems to be, with a (only very slightly shortened) nagasa of 61.1 cm, more a kodachi than a “real” tachi. It is preserved in the Ise Shrine’s Jingû Chôkokan Museum. Satô Kanzan describes it as having a normal mihaba with a thin kasane and a ko-kissaki and showing an itame that is a little tired, stands out, and shows some masame and fine ji-nie. The hamon starts in the lower half as ko-midare mixed with tobiyaki and develops in the upper half to a hitatsura, running into a midare-komi bôshi with a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake. There is a bôhi on both sides that runs with kaki-nagashi into the tang and the blade bears a finely chiseled tachi-mei. So with the thin kasane and the hitatsura, it looks like we are facing here a later, i.e. a Nanbokuchô work.

Picture 1 shows one of the two extant signed hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi. It has a nagasa of 38.4 cm and does show a sori, namely one of 0.3 cm. And with the thin kasane, we have here really a blade whose sugata says Nanbokuchô, and not early but heyday Nanbokuchô. The kitae is a very dense ko-itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a gunome-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-notare, ashi, , and sunagashi and that tends, like the above mentioned tachi/kodachi, in the upper blade section to hitatsura. The bôshi is midare-komi with hakikake and shows a long and wide kaeri that runs as midare-komi back to form a part of the hitatsura approach. On the omote side we see a suken as relief in a katana-hi and on the ura side a futasuji-ji. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, and shows centrally a rather finely chiseled sanji-mei.

RaiKunizane1

Picture 1: wakizashi, mei “Rai Kunizane” (来国真), nagasa 38.4 cm, sori 0.3 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

Picture 2 shows the other extant signed hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi. The nagasa is with 35.7 cm a little shorter what makes the sori of 0.4 cm a hint more prominent. This blade too is thin and wide and truly Nanbokuchô. The kitae is an itame with ji-nie and chikei and the hamon is a shallow notare in ko-nie-deki and a rather wide nioiguchi that is mixed with gunome. The bôshi is notare-komi on the omote, and midare-komi on the ura side and shows a ko-maru-kaeri that runs back in a long fashion. There is a katana-hi engraved on both sides and we can see traces of a tsurebi on the ura. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, and bears again a rather finely chiseled sanji-mei. This blade doesn’t show any approaches to hitatsura.

RaiKunizane2

Picture 2: jûyô, wakizashi, mei “Rai Kunizane” (来国真), nagasa 35.7 cm, sori 0.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

How about his long swords? The signed kodachi/tachi aside, I first want to introduce a blade that was designated as an Important Cultural Property of Ôgaki City (Gifu Prefecture) in 1961 and was just recently submitted to the NBTHK in 2012 to authenticate its attribution inlaid via a kinzôgan-mei. It passed and got tokubetsu-hozon papers and it might be a very good candiate for jûyô. Well, the kinzôgan-mei does not come with a kaô but Tanobe attributes it in his sayagaki for the blade to the 12th Hon’ami main line generation Kôjô (本阿弥光常, 1643-1710). He also writes that the workmanship is very typical and also that the jiba of this very blade might well be used as a reference for future attributions to Rai Kunizane. Now the blade itself shows a ko-itame that is mixed with ko-mokume and that features ji-nie and a clearly visible nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-gunome-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with some chôji-midare sections, plenty of ashi, and with sunagashi and kinsuji. The bôshi has a ko-maru-kaeri and shows nijûba and rather prominent hakikake. So in terms of the sugata, i.e. the fact that the kissaki is not that prominently large, and the ji with the nie-utsuri, I would place this work before the Nanbokuchô period, i.e. more towards to when Rai Kunitoshi was still alive or just had died, what essentially means late to end of Kamakura.

RaiKunizane3

Picture 3: katana, kinzôgan-mei “Rai Kunizane” (来国真), nagasa 71.2 cm, sori 1.5 cm, motohaba 2.94 cm, sakihaba 2.18 cm, kasane 0.54 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The next blade that I want to introduce is an ô-suriage mumei jûyô katana that is rather wide, does not taper much, and that shows an ô-kissaki but the thick kasane and the rather deep sori place it not into the heyday, but right before the heyday of the Nanbokuchô period. It shows a ko-itame with ji-nie that is mixed on the omote with some ô-hada and also a nie-utsuri appears. The hamon is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-gunome, ashi, , and some few hotsure. The nioiguchi is clear and rather tight and the bôshi appears on the omote side with a little midare, on the ura side as sugu-chô, and runs back with a brief ko to chû-maru-kaeri and a hint of hakikake. Now when you read the description and take a first look at the oshigata, everything would speak for Rai Kunimitsu, but please note the smallish and densely arranged hataraki along the habuchi that appear on the ura side’s lower monouchi area. So these smallish hataraki are one hint that identifies the hand of Kunizane but the NBTHK usually orientates towards the quality aspect. That is, if the workmanship speaks for Kunimitsu at a glance but the quality is just a hint inferior, they might go for Kunizane. And if you have Nanbokuchô hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi, i.e. with Enbun-Jôji-sugata, that shows a tendency to hitatsura but which still says Rai at the end of the day, it is also a recommendable option to go for Kunizane.

RaiKunizane4

Picturre 4: jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Rai Kunizane (来国真), nagasa 74.0 cm, sori 1.9 cm, motohaba 3.05 cm, sakihaba 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

While we are on the topic of quality and the differentiation of Rai smiths, I want to quote Tsuneishi at this point, who writes:

The term “Rai-ichimon” (来一門) is a generic term for all Rai smiths like Kunizane, Kuniyasu, Kunisue, Kunimune, Kuninaga, or Kunihide of whom relative few signed works are extant and whose skill is noticeably inferior to that of the main line masters Kuniyuki, Kunitoshi, Kunimitsu, and Kunitsugu. That is, compared to main line works, their sugata is not so perfectly in harmony, their hamon is usually calm, unobtrusive, suguha-based and lacks nie what makes their blades sometimes look like Aoe at a glance. But compared to Aoe, their suguha is not as tight, there is less hira-niku, the hada stands more out and is overall not that tight, and there appears Rai-hada, what identifies them as Rai works in the end. But on the other hand, these Rai-ichimon works are in terms of overall dignity and quality, i.e. hardening and forging of the steel, still more close to the Rai main line than the works of contemporary Rai offshoots (like Ryôkai, Ko-Uda, Enju, Fujishima, Chiyozuru). Accordingly, higher quality works that are shortened and/or unsigned might therefore well bear attributions to Rai Kunitoshi. Tantô can be interpreted in the classical Rai style, i.e. with takenoko-zori and hardened in nie-deki, but some show a suguha-chô with less nie that is mixed with densely arranged gunome-midare, whilst wide and thin sunnobi-tantô or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi respectively often show a large midare and a tendency to hitatsura. Works of the latter category show thus the then (i.e. Nanbokuchô) influence of the much thriving Sôshû tradition and might be difficult to identify as Rai as they often resemble contemporary Hasebe or Nobukuni works. However, the nie-hataraki like the appearance of the sunagashi and the forging technique are not Sôshû but remain always Rai. And incidentally, also Rai-hada that is mixed with masame might appear on these Rai-ichimon works.

Also Tsuneishi assumes that the lack of signed works of these Rai-ichimon smiths does not go back to the fact that they were not very productive but rather to that they were most of their life busy working for the Rai manufacture and as assistants or “suppliers” to the successive masters. Thus it is just safe to assume that a certain share of the so numerously available Kunitoshi and Kunimitsu blades are actually damei by these Rai-ichimon smiths.

*

Now to Rai Tomokuni (来倫国). As stated at the beginning, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was born in Bun’ei nine (1272) and further that he died in Shôchû two (正中, 1325). Apparently, there are no long swords of him extant, neither signed nor (shortened and) unsigned ones, and as far as signed works are concerned, we are dealing with just two specimen, a tantô in hira-zukuri and a tantô in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri. Also, no blades of him bear a designation by the Agency of Cultural Affairs and to the present day, only four passed jûyô (all tantô or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi). With Tomokuni, we are facing the same “problem” as with Kunizane, that is, he is listed as son of Kunitoshi but many of his works speak for heyday Nanbokuchô what gave rise to the theory that there was a second generation. Anyway, the meikan list him around Genkô (元享, 1321-1324) and those who follow the two-generations theory list the second Tomokuni around Bunna (文和, 1352-1356). A characteristic feature of him is that he signed with a thick chisel and for whatever reason, he did not follow the rule of the school by using Kuni as the first character of his smith name but as the second character. Honma writes in his Nihon Kotô Shi that he remembers two tantô of Tomokuni, most likely he is referring to the two signed examples, that came with a narrow mihaba and a ko-midare hamon which showed overall a similar workmanship to that of Rai Kunitoshi. Some see them more in the vicinity of Ryôkai by the way. But the majority of the unsigned blades that are attributed to him are wide Nanbokuchô-style hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a strong, sometimes zanguri-like jigane and a ko-notare-based hamon what makes them remind of the Nobukuni School at a glance, so Honma. There is the approach to attribute all these to the second generation what then suggests that the first generation, of whom signed example do exist, was mostly active working for the Rai workshop and did not work much independently, and that the second generation hardly ever signed.

Picture 5 shows one of the signed tantô of Tomokuni, the kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri one. As we know, this blade shape was also applied by other smiths of the Rai School and by Ryôkai. It is of standard length, has a normal mihaba, a hint of uchizori, and shows a dense ko-itame with ji-nie and jifu. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with ko-midare, gunome, ashi, sunagashi, and on the omote side along the monouchi also with nijûba and uchinoke. The bôshi is midare-komi with hakikake and a somewhat pointed and late starting kaeri. Both sides show a naginata-hi with marudome. The tang is almost ubu, has a furisode shape, a kirijiri, and ô-sujikai yasurime.

RaiTomokuni1

Picture 5: tantô, mei “Rai Tomokuni” (来倫国), nagasa 24.8 cm, a hint of uchizori, kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri, mitsu-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

Next I would like to introduce one of these nanbokuchôesque hira-zukuri ko wakizashi of Tomokuni and as a side note, they all seem more merge with sunnobi-tantô in his case. In other words, it seems that he did not make like extra long hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that scratch the 40 cm and smaller tantô but actually just one category of blades, namely sunnobi-tantô. The one in picture 6 has a nagasa of 32.6 cm, is wide, thin, and has a sori. The kitae is an itame with plenty of ji-nie and some chikei and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden notare with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with gunome and kinsuji. The bôshi is notare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri and hakikake. The omote side bears a suken and the ura sude a koshibi with soebi. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, and shallow katte-sagari yasurime. The jûyô description says briefly that the sugata is Nanbokuchô but the jiba Rai, so Tomokuni.

RaiTomokuni2

Picture 6: jûyô, wakizashi, mumei, attributed to Rai Tomokuni (来倫国), nagasa 32.6 cm, sori 0.3 cm, mihaba 3.0 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

As you see, it is difficult to grasp individual features within the aforementioned Rai-ichimon group as so few signed references are extant. So if you have an unsigned Rai sunnobi-tantô or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that shows a notare-based ha and that reminds of Nobukuni at a glance, where do you go? If it is more on the longer side and shows an approach of hitatsura, you go for Kunizane and if it is rather on the short side and has a strong and/or rougher jigane, better go for Tomokuni, but at the end of the day, there is a big grey zone.

*

This brings us to another one of the Rai-ichimon, the Rai Kunimune (来国宗), who was either the son or student of Tomokuni but who is listed as having also studied under master Kunitoshi. Same story here, the older, i.e. feudal sword publications place him somewhere from the end of the Kamakura to the early Nanbokuchô period but those few works of him that are extant rather speak for mid-Nanbokuchô and so most of the more recent meikan list him around Bunna (文和, 1352-1356). I am not aware of any long swords of Rai Kunimune and as far as signed example are concerned, I think there are only two going round, that is two tantô in hira-zukuri. One of them is shown in picture 7. The blade was once a heirloom of the Yamanouchi family (山内), measures 27.0 cm in nagasa, and has a little sori of 0.15 cm. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and some masame towards the ha and the steel is overall rather whitish, i.e. comes with shirake. The hamon differs a little from the usual Rai hamon as it appears as a ko-nie-laden, rather uniformly connected gunome with a subdued nioiguchi that is mixed with angular elements and plenty of sunagashi. The bôshi appears on the omote side as notare-komi and on the ura side as midare-komi, but running back on both sides in a long fashion and with a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, and bears a thickly chiseled sanji-mei. This is by the way the only jûyô blade of Rai Kunimune.

RaiKunimune1Piture 7: jûyô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunimune” (来国宗), nagasa 27.0 cm, sori 0.15 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

The other signed blade that I am aware of is shown in picture 8 and is basically similar in deki. It is a sunnobi-tantô measuring 30.4 cm in nagasa, showing a sori of 0.34 cm, and with the wide mihaba a nanbokuchôesque sugata. The kitae is an itame with chikei that tends again to masame towards the ha and the hamon is a chû-suguha in nie-deki that is mixed with some gunome-midare, a few kuichiga-ba, and some nijûba. The bôshi is a shallow notare-komi with a long running-back ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake. So the masame towards the ha and uniformly connected gunome should be a good kantei point for Rai Kunimune. Here is a link to a Rai Kunimune where you can clearly see the masame. Please note that the blade got papered hozon even if it is saiha, probably due to the extreme rarity of zaimei examples of this smith. It appears to me that the tang had a recent re-patination job done, probably because of the effect the fire damage had on the patina of the tang. A few red flags here though so this blade is presented here as a reference but with reservation.

RaiKunimune2

Picture 8: tantô, mei “Rai Kunimune” (来国宗), nagasa 30.4 cm, sori 0.34 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

 

That should do it for today and next I will introduce some more rare Rai-ichimon smiths before we deal with Mitsukane and then with the Nakajima-Rai lineage. So stay tuned.

 

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #19 – Rai (来) School 5

After Kunimitsu we arrive right away at Rai Kunitsugu (来国次) who is listed, amongst others, as son-in-law of Rai Kunitoshi or as older cousin of Rai Kunimitsu (well, bearing in mind the then family system and situation of adoptions an so on, it is quite possible that actually both is true). As mentioned in the chapter on Rai Kunitoshi, Kunitsugu made some daimei for the master and we can assume that he also supported his cousin when the latter succeeded as head of the school. Interesting is that Kunitsugu deviated noticeably from the traditional Rai style and we can only speculate if he did so on his own initiative, finding himself in a situation where it didn’t make much sense for him – either in terms of artistic demands he placed on himself or order situation – to make exactly the same blades as his cousin, or if the school, i.e. the newly appointed Kunimitsu, made the conscious decision that Kunitsugu better meets the customer requests concerning the then very much thriving Sôshû tradition whilst Kunimitsu as head covers more the traditional Rai style. Anyway, dated works of Rai Kunitsugu are very rare and we only know a few from between Karyaku (嘉暦, 1326-1329) and Shôkyô (正慶, 1332-1334) but we can safely say that he was active at the same time as Rai Kunimitsu, and that is from the very end of the Kamakura to the early Nanbokuchô period.

The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that Kunitsugu was born in Hôji one (宝治, 1247) and died in Shôchû one (正中, 1324) at the age of 78. It further says that he went in Bun’ei eleven (文永, 1274) at the age of 28 to Kamakura where he became a student of Masamune and that he returned in Kengen one (乾元, 1302), aged 56, to Kyôto. Well, there are now basically two theories about that: One says that it is quite possible that he indeed visited Kamakura to learn so to speak at ground zero the technical approach of the just established Sôshû tradition, and the other suggests that it was rather unlikely for a Kyôto smith of his time to travel that far just to undergo a training under a certain master and that the stylistic peculiarities in Kunitsugu’s blades go merely back to an all local adjustment to the now so much in fashion Sôshû tradition. Consequently, there exists the nickname “Kamakura-Rai” for Kunitsugu and this term is ambiguous enough not to dismiss it, i.e. it can be understood as a reference to him visiting Kamakura, or just as a reference to his Sôshû-influenced workmanship. Just the same case as Bizen Sukezane being called “Kamakura-Ichimonji.” Please note that the term “Sôshû tradition” is a rather recent one and that in earlier times, a reference to this style or approach of sword forging was usually made by its birthplace or major production site Kamakura, thus “Kamakura-Rai” and “Kamakura-Ichimonji” and not “Sôshû-Rai” or “Sôshû-Ichimonji” respectively. Before we continue with Rai Kunitsugu’s workmanship, it is also interesting to note that when talking about Kunitsugu, it is always said that he did not make many tachi and that he focused more on tantô and ko-wakizashi. But when we check out his body of work, we learn that the number of extant signed long swords is actually pretty equal to that of extant signed short swords and that there are actually quite a few ô-suriage mumei long swords going round that are attributed to him. For example, five blades of him bear designations by the Agency of Cultural Affairs, 1 kokuhô and 4 jûyô-bunkazai, of which two are short, and three are long swords. And way more than half of the about 50 jûyô of Kunitsugu are long swords too. So I have a hunch that the old saying that tachi of Rai Kunitsugu are so much rarer than tantô needs to be rethought. In any case, what we learn when we take a look at his body of work is that he focused much more on longer and wider tantô (or ko-wakizashi) than Kunimitsu did, even if he was senior to him. That means, this peculiarity can not be explained by him being active later than Rai Kunimitsu and thus approaching more the heyday of the Nanbokuchô period. Maybe this has to be seen in the above mentioned Sôshû context too, i.e. him adjusting much more to the latest fashions than Kunimitsu.

*

Now to his works. First one of his tachi that is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai (see picture 1). It is completely ubu and has an impressive nagasa of 82.0 cm and shows the sugata from the late Kamakura period, i.e. it is wide, has some funbari, tapers, but not that much, has a moderate sori, and ends in a chû-kissaki. The kitae is a rather standing-out itame with plenty of ji-nie and some chikei and ô-hada. The hamon is a nie-laden gunome-chô mixed with ko-midare and a few sunagashi. The nioiguchi is wide and the bôshi is sugu and runs out as yakitsume. The overall interpretation is rather classical for Rai Kunitsugu and blades like this or such which are hardened in suguha-chô are often placed in his early period, i.e. showing the remaining influence of his master Kunitoshi.

RaiKunitsugu1

Picture 1: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Rai Kunitsugu” (来国次), nagasa 82.0 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, the blade was once a heirloom of the Kaga Maeda family

Another one of these supposedly early works is seen in picture 2. It is an ubu tokubetsu-jûyô tachi that is more on the elegant side and sticks much more to the traditional Rai style than his later interpretations. The kitae is truly Rai and appears as a dense and finely forged ko-itame that is mixed with some jifu, a few ô-hada areas here and there, and that features plenty of ji-nie, fine chikei, and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chô mixed with shallow notare, ko-gunome, ko-chôji, ashi, , fine kinsuji and sunagashi, muneyaki (towards the base), and nijûba along the monouchi. The bôshi is a thin sugu with a very brief ko-maru-kaeri. The ha is as a whole close to Rai Kunitoshi and I this would be a very tricky kantei blade.

RaiKunitsugu2

RaiKunitsugu2a

Picture 2: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei “Rai Kunitsugu” (来国次), nagasa 74.1 cm, sori 3.2 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Although not as prominent as seen via his short swords, Rai Kunitsugu also had the Sôshû approach “slip” into his tachi. The blade seen in picture 3 is such an example. The tachi is suriage and although it keeps a relative deep sori, it is due to the lack of distinct taper and the compact, almost ikubi-style chû-kissaki of an overall rather stout sugata. The kitae is a somewhat standing-out itame mixed with mokume and shows ji-nie and a little jifu, and the hamon is a nie-laden mix of ko-notare and ko-gunome that features a noticeable amount of ups and downs, a bright nioiguchi, and an abundance of hataraki like ashi, , sunagashi, kinsuji, yubashiri, prominent muneyaki, and some tobiyaki. The bôshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri that shows some hakikake and that connects with the muneyaki. The nie are pretty strong in ji and ha and the interpretation truly lives up to his nickname Kamakura-Rai.

RaiKunitsugu3

RaiKunitsugu3a

Picture 3: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei “Rai Kunitsugu” (来国次), nagasa 69.7 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

As just indicated, the Sôshû influence is more obvious at Rai Kunitsugu’s tantô and I want to introduce first his one and only kokuhô and his most famous work in general (see picture 4). The tantô in question would actually come under the classification of a wakizashi today as it has a nagasa of 32.7 cm. So you can either name it sunnobi-tantô or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi to transport that it is overlong and not one of those standard-sized (jôsun) tantô of the Kamakura period. It has a wide mihaba and might thus look like an Enbun-Jôji work at a glance but the kasane is too thick and the sori is, although there is sori present, too shallow for a blade from that time. Or in other words, at a blade in Enbun-Jôji-sugata, the sori would be much more noticeable. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with ji-nie and much chikei and here we have just arrived at a feature that distinguishes Kunitsugu from Kunimitsu and Kunitoshi, and that is the presence of chikei. So if you can make out chikei on a Rai blade, you better go for Kunitsugu. Apart from that, weaker Rai-hada areas are very rare for Kunitsugu but as the exception proves the rule, a hint of Rai-hada is actually present on that kokuhô. The hamon of this tantô or rather sunnobi-tantô is a very nie-laden ko-notare-chô mixed with gunome, nijûba, yubashiri, plenty of ashi and , and some kinsuji and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is wide, bright, and clear and the bôshi is a notare-komi with a somewhat pointed ko-maru-kaeri and some nijûba and kuichigai-ba along the monouchi. The interpretation of the bôshi distinguishes him from Rai Kunimitsu. As mentioned in the previous part, Kunimitsu emphasized his bôshi in contrast to the rest of the hamon in case of a midareba. In other words, at those blades he hardened in midareba, Kunimitsu added a so to speak “extra touch” of midare and “wildness” to the bôshi whereas Kunitsugu lets his midareba calm more down in the bôshi. And this “calmness” in the bôshi also distinguishes Rai Kunitsugu from “real” Sôshû works as these often come with wild bôshi that tend to ichimai or ichimai with enclosed islands of unhardened areas in between. In addition, also his jigane distinguishes him from true Sôshû because in direct comparison you learn that his jigane (and his ha) is actually much more Rai than Kamakura. So if you have a Rai blade from the very end of the Kamakura and the early Nanbokuchô period where the hamon is noticeably midare and comes with much nie, it is safe to go for Kunitsugu.

 RaiKunitsugu4

Picture 4: kokuhô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunitsugu” (来国次), nagasa 32.7 cm, sori 0.1 cm, motohaba 3.3 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, the blade was once a heirloom of the Kishû-Tokugawa family

Another good example for him staying much more at Rai with the jigane and having, apart from chikei in cases as mentioned above, the Sôshû approach mostly affecting his ha is the tantô seen in picture 5. Darcy put it perfectly in one of the recent threads on NMB by saying that Rai Kunitsugu was Sôshû influenced but he did not make Sôshû swords. That means, some might be called hybrid at a max but in general these blades were not made from scratch by following the technical Sôshû approach of steel combination and treatment. So Rai Kunitsugu was basically sticking to the Yamashiro Rai approach of forging and had Sôshû influence his ha. The tantô seen in picture 5 is again wide and sunnobi, but with a nagasa of 27.4 cm not as long as the kokuhô. It has a thick kasane and only a hint of sori, so clearly no Enbun-Jôji-sugata here. The kitae is a dense and finely forged ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a relative widely hardened and ko-nie-laden shallow notare-chô mixed with some gunome, ashi, fine sunagashi, and nie-suji. The nioiguchi is wide, bright, and clear and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri that tends a little bit to ô-maru on the omote side.

RaiKunitsugu5

Picture 5: tokubetsu-jûyô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunitsugu” (来国次), nagasa 27.4 cm, only a hint of sori, motohaba 2.6 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, the blade was once a heirloom of the Ôkubo (大久保) family, the daimyô of the Odawara fief

Finally, I would like to mention that Kunitsugu sometimes also “went full Rai,” for example as seen as in picture 6. This blade has an about jôsun nagasa of 25.3 cm and a hint of uchizori and is thus, also with the curved furisode-style nakago, classical Kamakura. The kitae is an itame mixed with mokume and some nagare and shows plenty of ji-nie and although it features some chikei, the jigane is very much Rai-like, also due to the presence of a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a calm and ko-nie-laden suguha that is mixed with some ko-ashi, some fine hotsure, and a little kuichiga-ba on the ura side. The bôshi is sugu too and runs back in a ko-maru-kaeri with some hakikake. If you bear in mind this and similar tantô and also the tachi in suguha-chô that are extant by Rai Kunitsugu, it is not at all like day and night between him and Kunimitsu as some of the older sources suggest.

RaiKunitsugu6RaiKunitsugu6a

Picture 6: tokubetsu-jûyô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunitsugu” (来国次), nagasa 25.3 cm, hint of uchizori, mihaba 2.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, the blade was once a heirloom of the Uesugi (上杉) family

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #18 – Rai (来) School 4

Rai Kunitoshi was succeeded by his son Kunimitsu (国光) who took over an already very much flourishing Rai School. Well, as so often when talking about such relative early smiths, there are several traditions extant, like that he was actually the younger brother, grandson, or mere a student of Kunitoshi but the widely accepted one is that he was straightforward his son. As for his active period, we know date signatures from Karyaku one (嘉暦, 1326) to Kan’ô two (観応, 1351) and the Kôsei Kotô Meikan introduces a dated blade from Shôwa two (正和, 1313). However, we can assume that he was mostly engaged assisting his father at that time, as daimei works from the first two decades of the 14th century show. Rai genealogies, historic documents, and certain blades (and signatures, more on this later) furthermore suggest that there was a second generation Kunimitsu, but we can’t say for sure when the shift of generations took place. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that the first generation Kunimitsu was born in Bun’ei one (文永, 1264) and died Shôkyô four (正慶, 1335) at the age of 72 but odd here is that the Shôkyô era only counted brief two years. Maybe the author mixed up the then partially overlapping and double counting of nengô eras of the Nanbokuchô era. Anyway, the source also says that the second generation was active around Kôei (康永, 1342-1345) and this approach is also followed by several experts, e.g. Satô Kanzan. Tanobe sensei in turn thinks that the differences in workmanship and signature style of the later works dated with Jôwa (貞和, 1345-1350) and Kan´ô (観応, 1350-1352) might just go back to the advanced age of the master, i.e. that there was maybe just one generation Kunimitsu. But when we take into consideration that his greatest masterworks are dated somewhere around Karyaku (嘉暦, 1326-1329) and Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331) and assume on the basis of that he had achieved full artistic maturity at that time, it really seems as if the blades made 20~25 years later go back to the hand of a successor. So, to recap: I think that Kunimitsu took over the Rai School pretty soon after the third year of Gen’ô (元応, 1321) as this is the last known dated blade of his father who was then already 82 years old. In case he was the biological son of Kunitoshi, he was already a fully trained master smith at the height of his career at the time he became the newly appointed head of the forge (remember, Kunitoshi was born in 1240). Thus he was able to continue without interruption to satisfy the exquisite customer base of Kunitoshi, therefore the masterwork output right after his succession. In other words, there was no “experimental” post-succession phase which gradually leads to artistic maturity, no, Kunimitsu took the reins being already an undisputed Rai grandmaster. He also ranks about equal to his father Kunitoshi when it comes to designations by the Agency of Cultural Affairs and the NBTHK, 26 in terms of the former (3 kokuhô and 23 jûyô-bunkazai), and slightly over 200 (about 180 jûyô and more than 20 tokubetsu-jûyô) in terms of the latter category.

Now to Kunimitsu’s workmanship, beginning again with long swords. Kunimitsu did make some classical and slender tachi with a ko or rather a smallish chû-kissaki but the majority shows a more or less elongated chû-kissaki and a mihaba that does not taper that much and as stated in some of the previous posts of this kantei series, I am a sugata guy and this is for me a key element in distinguishing him from Kunitoshi. In short, his tachi are just overall more magnificent and wide and give us some idea of what is coming, and that is the heyday Nanbokuchô trend to overall larger blades. No wonder, was most of his career taking place in the Nanbokuchô period anyway (i.e. Rai Kunimitsu was active from the very end of the Kamakura to the beginning of the mid-Nanbokuchô period). However, it is interesting to see that his signed blades are by trend from the more classical and elegant camp but this again is insofar actually not that odd as the wider and more magnificent blades were all of a longer nagasa too and got therefore shortened (and lost their mei).

Let me start with some of the signed works, with the most representative ones the two tachi that are designated as kokuhô (the third kokuhô is a tantô and will be introduced later). One is completely ubu and is dated in kakikudashi manner, a feature that is also seen at his father Kunitoshi, with “Karyaku ninen nigatsu hi” (嘉暦二年二月日, “a day in the second month Karyaku two [1327]”). The blade (see picture 1) has a normal mihaba, a deep toriizori with funbari, and a straightforward chû-kissaki, i.e. it maintains with the deep curvature and the noticeable taper still a certain elegance. The kitae is a very fine ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden hiro-suguha-chô that is mixed all over with ko-chôji, ko-gunome, plenty of ashi and connected , and some kinsuji. The nioiguchi is rather tight and the bôshi is a widely hardened sugu with a hint of notare and a ko-maru-kaeri. A bôhi is engraved on both sides that ends in kakudome at the machi. This is by the way the only known dated long sword of Rai Kunimitsu.

RaiKunimitsu1

RaiKunimitsu1a

Picture 1: kokuhô, tachi, mei “Rai Kunimitsu – Karyaku ninen nigatsu hi” (来国光  嘉暦二年二月日), nagasa 78.8 cm, sori 3.6 cm, motohaba 3.6 cm, sakihaba 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

The other signed kokuhô is seen in picture 2 and this one is suriage. This was once a very long blade as its shortened nagasa is still 80.6 cm! It shows a deep toriizori and a chû-kissaki and as it does not taper that much like the previous blade, it looks overall more magnificent and stout, i.e. with the chû-kissaki almost a little bit like ikubi at a glance. The kitae is a very dense ko-itame mixed with some masame and plenty of ji-nie. This blade and the previous one do not show any areas of weak or so-called Rai-hada. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chô mixed with ko-midare, ko-chôji, ko-gunome, plenty of ashi (mix of ko, chôji, and gunome-ashi), and . Please note that the hamon of this blade is sometimes described as hiro-suguha but it is in my opinion not that wide to pass as hiro. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and this time, the bôhi ends due to the shortening in marudome in the tang. Again, please remember that this blade had once a nagasa of over 90 cm! Some more info on it can be found on my “sister site” here.

RaiKunimitsu2

Picture 2: kokuhô, tachi, mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 80.6 cm, sori 3.3 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 2.2 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, preserved in the Kyûshû National Museum

As you can see in the oshigata to blade 1, the hamon is truly interpreted as suguha-chô, i.e. running straight but mixed with an abundance of ko-chôji and ko-gunome or rather with chôji-ashi and gunome-ashi for most of the time. But Rai Kunimitsu also worked in pure suguha, or to be more precise, in a somewhat undulating suguha, i.e. not in a perfectly straight suguha as for example seen on a Hizen blade. The blade shown in picture 3 is a good example for this field of his repertoire and I picked it not only because I had the opportunity to study it hands on but because it it shows two important characteristic features of Rai Kunimitsu, and that is isolated sections of njûba and brief kuichiga-ba. And not to forget, it also shows a feature that distinguishes him from Rai Kunitoshi, namely that his ha comes with a somewhat tighter and more “defined/precise” habuchi. The blade has a magnificent and wide sugata that so to speak anticipates the later grandeur from the heyday of the Nanbokuchô era and the kitae is this time a somewhat standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and that is not as tightly forged as at the two kokuhô. It also shows plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is as mentioned a suguha in ko-nie-deki that tends overall a little to notare and is mixed with ko-ashi and some nijûba towards the yokote. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and kuichigai-ba and both sides bear the so to speak “obligatory” Rai Kunimitsu bôhi that runs due to the ô-suriage as kaki-tôshi through the tang. Incidentally, the blade was once a heirloom of the Owari-Tokugawa family and Hon’ami Kôchû issued (in Genroku three, 1690) an origami for it, giving it a value of 500 kan.

RaiKunimitsu3

Picture 3: tokubetsu-jûyô, katana, mumei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 73.6 cm, sori 1.6 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Let’s talk about another typical interpretation from the oeuvre of Rai Kunimitsu, demonstrated via the katana shown in picture 4. This time the hamon is still a ko-nie-laden suguha-chô but which mixed with shallow but conspicuous notare waves. Apart from that, it is mixed with ko-gunome, ko-chôji, plenty of ashi and , muneyaki, and with some fine kinsuji and sunagashi. And with the appearance of hotsure, uchinoke, nijûba, and yubashiri and with the sugu-bôshi that shows hakikake and that runs out as yakitsume, we can even grasp a hint of Yamato. But the steel is different from Yamato and appears as very dense, fine, and beautifully forged ko-itame with ji-nie that truly speaks for Kyô.

RaiKunimitsu4

Picture 4: jûyô, katana, mumei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 71.8 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Before we continue with Rai Kunimitsu’s tantô, let me first repeat his three basic long sword styles and second, address the sensitive point of Rai-hada. One of his basic styles is the suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-chôji and ko-gunome or rather with chôji-ashi or gunome-ashi (picture 5 a). The other basic style is an almost pure suguha with just some ashi or slanting Kyô-saka-ashi and a little nijûba and/or kuichigaiba (picture 5 b). And the third one is an undulating suguha that shows horizontal, layered, “yamatoesque” hataraki (that remind if you want a little bit of Rai Kuniyuki) (picture 5 c).

RaiKunimitsu5

Picture 5.

As for Rai-hada, this is a feature which I would typically place with Rai Kunimitsu right away, or in other words, it is seen at Kunitoshi sometimes but hardly at all at Kunitsugu what means if you can make out Rai-hada on a blade that you can nail down as Rai main line work (i.e. obviously no Rai offshoot like Ryôkai or Enju) somewhere from the very end of the Kamakura to the early Nanbokuchô, I would recommend going for Kunimitsu right away. Now those weaker areas of Rai-hada usually appear for long swords somewhere from the monouchi to the yokoto, and for tantô often right where the grooves end, i.e. again more in the upper area. And apart from that we can say that this feature is generally more often seen on tantô than on tachi (at least as far as Rai Kunitoshi is concerned).

*

This brings us to Rai Kunimitsu’s tantô where we see again a wide variety of interpretations, for example classical ones in standard size, wider ones, wider and longer ones in sunnobi-style, and even a couple in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri, with the majority showing either a katana-hi or some other kind of horimono like gomabashi or suken (or both, i.e. gomabashi on one, and a suken on the other side). This means, we can not name one specific tantô style for Rai Kunimitsu. First I want to introduce the third kokuhô of Kunimitsu (see picture 6), and that is the meibutsu Uraku Rai Kunimitsu (有楽来国光), named after the fact that it had once been owned by Sen no Rikyû’s master tea student Oda Urakusai Nagamasu (織田有楽斎長益, 1547-1622). More info here. The blade is with a nagasa of 27.7 cm rather on the long side and is wide and thick but maintains an uchizori, i.e. the thickness of the kasane and the presence of uchizori as well as the nagasa being just not long enough tells us that we have still not arrived yet in the heyday of the Nanbokuchô period. Incidentally, the blade is dated around Karyaku (1326-1329). The kitae is a fine ko-itame with chikei and plenty of ji-nie and we also seem some Rai-hada here and there. The hamon is a wide and nie-laden notare mixed with gunome and ashi and comes with a wide and very bright and clear nioiguchi. The bôshi is a prominent midare-komi with a rather pointed and long running-back kaeri. The entire bôshi is quite nie-laden and tends with its kuzure to kaen. The blade is vigorous and powerful and as the mihaba is wider than usual and the hamon shows much midare, the blade can be mixed up with a work of Rai Kunitsugu at a glance but the wild bôshi shows the hand of Kunimitsu. That is, Kunitsugu did often harden a vivid midareba but it usually runs into a relative calm bôshi in notare with a ko-maru-kaeri whereas at Kunimitsu the bôshi is mostly emphasized.

RaiKunimitsu6

Picture 6: kokuhô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 27.7 cm, uchizori, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, the blade is owned by the NBTHK

Picture 7 shows one of the two Kunimitsu tantô that are interpreted in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri. It is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai and is also a meibutsu, namely the Ikeda Rai Kunimitsu (池田来国光) as it was once owned by Ikeda Sanzaemon Terumasa (池田三左衛門輝政, 1564-1613). The blade is rather wide, muzori, and shows again a thick kasane. The kitae is a dense and very uniformly forged ko-itame with ji-nie that does not show any weak areas of Rai-hada and apart from that, we see the Rai-typical nie-utsuri which focuses on the fukura/monouchi area. The hamon is a nie-laden shallow notare that is mixed with ko-gunome, ashi, , and kinsuji and the bôshi is slightly undulating, widely hardened, shows hakikake, and runs back in a long manner.

RaiKunimitsu7

Picture 7: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 26.3 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.5 cm, kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Now these two tantô have shown pretty much midare so let me introduce next an interpretation in suguha. The blade shown in picture 8 comes in a sunnobi-sugata, i.e. it is long and wide, but still does not show any sori and features a relative thick kasane. The kitae is a densely forged ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie, much fine chikei, and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a slightly undulating, ko-nie-laden suguha that is mixed with ko-ashi, fine kinsuji and sunagashi, and along the monouchi with some nijûba. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the bôshi appears as slightly widening sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. Now the nijûba elements might make one think of Awataguchi Kuniyoshi or Yoshimitsu but at the former, the nijûba would be much more prominent and appear in longer connected sections, and from the latter, we would expect that the ha gets thinner along the fukura. In addition, we would expect some connected ko-gunome and more nie-hataraki in the bôshi on a Yoshimitsu tantô but apart from that, the horimono are anyway too far from the mune for an Awataguchi work.

RaiKunimitsu8

Picture 8: jûyô, tantô, mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 29.15 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.8 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, this blade was once presented by shôgun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (徳川綱吉, 1646-1709) to Iechiyo (家千代, 1707), the second son of his adopted son Ienobu (徳川家宣, 1662-1712) who had died at the age of only two months .

As mentioned, Kunimitsu also made some classical tantô, for example the jûyô-bunkazai seen in picture 9. This blade has a so-called standard nagasa (jôsun) of 24.5 cm, uchizori, and is with the curved furisode-style nakago pretty conservative. It shows a fine ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri and the hamon is a very bright and clear chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that features a rather tight nioiguchi and a ko-maru bôshi with a long kaeri. The work is elegant and noble and reminds of his father Rai Kunitoshi.

RaiKunimitsu9

Picture 9: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 24.5 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, the blade was once owned by the Akimoto (秋元) family, the daimyô of the Tatebayashi fief

*

What about that 2nd generation Rai Kunimitsu? As indicated at the very beginning of this chapter, it is possible that the shift of generations took place somewhere around Kôei (康永, 1342-1345). When it comes to distinguishing features, many sources take the quality route, i.e. they say that late Rai Kunimitsu blades which are somewhat inferior in overall quality and which show a more smallish and thinly chiseled signature might be works of the second generation. That quality aspect is defined by a hamon that lacks both hataraki and that tight nioiguchi that is typical for Rai Kunimitsu and a kitae where the ko-itame stands more out and is mixed with some nagare and masame and which shows a hint of shirake rather than a nie-utsuri. Also possible supplements in the mei like “Yamashiro no Kuni-jû” (山城国住) or “Sahyôe no Jô” (左兵衛尉) are said to be associated with the second generation.

I want to introduce two blades which bear the latest known date signature of Rai Kunimitsu. Both are tantô and the first one is signed “Rai Kunimitsu – Kan’ô ninen rokugatsu” (来国光・観応二年六月, “sixth month of the second year of Kan’ô [1351]”) (see picture 10). It has a nagasa of 25.9 cm, is rather wide, has only a hint of sori, and features a thick kasane. Please note that this tantô has an iori-mune, what is uncommon as Rai Kunimitsu usually made tantô with a mitsu-mune. The kitae is a densely forged ko-itame that is mixed with some itame here and there and that shows ji-nie, fine chikei, and a faint nie-utsuri. The hamon is a bright and clear chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with some ashi, , and fine sunagashi. The bôshi is sugu with a little notare and turns back (on the omote) with a somewhat “awkward” ko-maru-kaeri (the ura shows a normal ko-maru-kaeri) but which is seen sometimes at tantô of Rai Kunimitsu. When introduced by the NBTHK in their kantei series, there was no mention of a second generation having a hand in this one and although not labelling it explicitly “Nidai” in the jûyô paper, we find the remark it “might be a work o the second generation when we follow the traditional classification via date signatures.”

RaiKunimitsu10

Picture 10: jûyô, tantô, mei see above, nagasa 25.9 cm, a little sorimotohaba 2.6 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

The second one (see picture 11) is signed “Rai Kunimitsu – Kan’ô ninen rokugatsu jûsannichi” (来国光・観応二年六月十三日, “13th day of the sixth month Kan’ô two [1351]”). The sugata and tang finish are about identical to the previous work and this one is labelled by the NBTHK as “Nidai” in their jûyô paper. The blade is a little longer but features a rather thin kasane (and again a mitsu-mune), and the hamon is not suguha but notare-chô mixed with gunome, ashi, , and sunagashi. It is a little suriage so that only the upper part of the character for “mitsu” is left and interesting here is that the date signature is chiselled in two rows.

RaiKunimitsu11

Picture 11: jûyô, tantô, mei see above, nagasa 28.2 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Then there is this tantô shown in picture 12 which is dated “Jôwa sannen rokugatsu ichinichi” (貞和三年六月一日, “first day of the sixth month Jôwa three [1347]”) and which is introduced by Satô Kanzan as “early work of the second generation.” It is with a nagasa of 24.8 cm somewhat smaller and has an overall rather classical sugata. The kitae is an itame-nagare with many weak areas and shirake and the hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with some shallow notare and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the bôshi is sugu with a standard ko-maru-kaeri.

RaiKunimitsu12

Picture 12: tantô, mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), date see text above, nagasa 24.8 cm, a hint of uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

And last but not least one of the very few long swords that I was able to find which might well be a work of the second generation. It is a tachi bearing an orikaeshi-mei that was once an ôdachi measuring somewhere around 90 cm. It was shortened to 71.4 cm, has a rather wide mihaba, despite the suriage a relative deep sori, and an elongated chû-kissaki. The kitae is a standing-out itame mixed with some nagare and ji-nie appears. The hamon is a shallow ko-notare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, gunome, ko-chôji, plenty of ko-ashi, sunagashi and kinsuji. The bôshi is a shallow notare-komi with a very brief ko-maru-kaeri and features nijûba. So probably the distinct midareba in combination with the somewhat inferior kitae and the smallish mei are the most important features for attributing this blade to the second generation.

RaiKunimitsu13

Picture 13: jûyô, katana, orikaeshi-mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 71.4 cm, sori 2.25 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune