Yamashiro Rai Kunitsugu (山城来国次)

Kunitsugu's swords looks like made under a strong Sōshū influence, because of his prominent and active nie structure; he was one of the "Masamune no Jittetsu" and bear the nickname "Kamakura-Rai".

The Rai (来) School was formed in Kyōto, Yamashiro (山城) province, in the middle of the Kamakura period (鎌倉, 1185-1333). It was a very successful and large swordsmith community with many disciples reached a very high level of skill. According to the old manuscripts, Kuniyoshi (国吉) was a legendary founder and predecessor of Rai School. He was born in a state that existed at that time on the part of the Korean peninsula with the name Koriyo (高麗). The Kotō Meizukushi Taizen (1792, Volume 2, p. 2/1) provides the following information about Kuniyoshi’s life: “he was born in the 1st year of the Shōji era (正治, 1199) and died in the 57th year of his life in the 7th year of the Kenchō era (建長, 1255)”. From Korea, Kuniyoshi had immigrated to Japan. It is believed that the name of the Rai School has a connection to the immigration of its founder. Kanji Rai” (来) can be translated as “arrive, come”.

However, in the most of modern sources, Raitaro Kuniyuki (来太郎国行, the eldest son of Kuniyoshi) is considered as the founder of the Rai School. This opinion, which undoubtedly ignores the information from old manuscripts records, has developed due to the fact that none of Kuniyoshi’s works has not survived. According to the Kotō Meizukushi Taizen (1792, Volume 2, p. 2/1), Kuniyuki was born in the 1st year of the Jōkyū era (承久, 1219) and died at the age of 79 in the 5th year of the Einnin era (永仁, 1297). Conflicting information has been preserved both about Kuniyuki’s place of residence and about his teacher. Thus, according to some sources, he lived in a settlement called Nishioka (西岡), located near the Mukai-Myōjin Temple (向井明神), according to others, Kuniyuki worked in the settlement of Chūdō-ji (中堂寺), located in the vicinity of the Kyōto ́s Shujaku Gate (朱雀門). Old chronicles preserved information about the secret signature of Kuniyuki: Daigenki (代元鬼) which could be his Buddhist name or so-called secret name (according some others versions). Regarding Kuniyuki's training as a swordsmith master, there is evidence that there is evidence that Ayanakoji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利) could be considered as his teacher.

It should be noted that some old sources mentions the name of another legendary predecessor of the Rai school: Kuniyori (国頼), who’s activity period could be marked as the Bunji era (1185-1190). Surprisingly, there are several surviving works by this master. In particular, two swords have survived: the first one is tantō with the signature “Rai Sama (no) Jō Minamoto Kuniyori” (徠左馬尉源国頼); dated "a day on the 2nd month of the Bunji 2 (1186) and the second one is tantō with the signature “Sama (no) Jō Kuniyori” (左馬徠国頼).

Figure 1. Nihontō Kōza (日本刀講座), 1966-1968, Volume 2, p. 52.

It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that in some manuscripts (Honchō Kaji Kō (本朝鍛冶考,1795, for example) one can find an information about another supposed forerunner and founder of the Rai school: Kuniaki (国明). His period of creative activity dates back to the Katei (嘉禎, 1235-1238) era, and according to this information, he was the father of Kuniyoshi.

Figure 2. Honchō Kaji Kō, Volume Ox, p.19/1.

It is noteworthy that in the first version of the signature contains a kanji "Rai", written in the archaic style: 徠. If we consider that the application of this kanji was intentional and was associated with the name of the school, then it must be recognized that the name of the Rai School has a much more ancient origin and is in no way connected with Kuniyoshi’s migration from Korea to Japan. Thus, according to this version, the roots of the Rai School have a completely national origin. However, modern sources rank Kuniyori among the founders of the Awataguchi School, and not Rai School at all. Modern authors prefer to interpret kanjiRai” as “Jin” (陣) and see in two surviving Kuniyori’s swords the similarity of the Awataguchi School’s manufacturing style. It must be admitted, that there are reasons for this, as the kanji "rai" in the signature on the Kuniyori's tantō, mentioned above, is read extremely poorly and can be interpreted in various ways (a more detailed information about the Rai kanji’s origin con be found in Markus Sesko article: ON THE RAI SCHOOL´S CHARACTER “RAI”).

In the Kokon Meizukushi Taizen (古今銘盡大全, 8-volume edition, 1778, Volume 1, pp. 3/2-4/1) we can see the genealogical line of Rai smiths, which looks like this:

Figure 3. Kokon Meizukushi Taizen, Volume 1, pp. 3/2-4/1.

According to the Kotō Meizukushi Taizen, Kunitsugu was son-in-law of Kunitoshi. In the 11the year of the Bun ́ei era (文永, 1274) in his 28th year, Kunitsugu arrived at Kamakura and became a disciple of Masamune. He returned back to Kyōto in the 1st year of the Kangen era (乾元, 1302) in his 56th year. Kunitsugu was born in the 1st year of the Hōji era (宝治, 1247) and died in his 78th in the 1st year of the Shōchū era (正中, 1324). 

Figure 4. Kotō Meizukushi Taizen, Volume 2, pp. 2/2, 3/1.

It is necessary to pay attention to the year (1274) when Kunitsugu became a Masamune’s student. Keeping in mind that Masamune was born in 1264, it’s very hard to believe in their relationships as teacher and student in that time. According to the manuscript, Kunitsugu spent a rather long period of time in Kamakura: about 28 years. There are a lot of information about origin and developing Sōshū School of the middle Kamakura period. We know well about activity of the so-called Sōshū-den predecessors such as Awataguchi Kunitsuna, Ichimonji Sukezane and Bizen Kunimune, that had been taking place precisely during this period of time. Probably, Kunitsugu became a disciple of the one of Sagami School’s predecessors and had been working together with Shintōgo Kunimitsu and Yukimitsu. 

Taking into examples extant Kunitsugu’s works the early artistic period, we can conclude that his deviation from the classic Rai style was not so substantial. Based on the Kunitsugu workmanship both of early and late period, we could say that he had been applying a classic Rai and Yamashiro technical approaches when working with core steel and ji. From the other side he was Sōshū-den influenced in his hardening methods when working with ha. The nickname of Kunitsugu is preserved in an old manuscripts: Kamakura-Rai (鎌倉来). It can be considered as a confirmation of his Soshu-den influenced artistic activity taking into account that in times of origin this nickname, the term Soshu-den din’t exist and swordsmiths related to Sagami School were called as Kamakura smiths.

This can be perceived as an indirect confirmation that the Sagami School, during the time period of its origin, does not appear as a “dynastic,” closed structure, like many other smith schools that were inaccessible to masters not related by kinship. It is very likely that Sagami in the Kamakura period was a center of attraction for talented smiths, who took worthy positions in the hierarchy of the school not because of their origin, but due to their skills. Therefore, a mainstream swordsmith fashion was concentrated here and the atmosphere itself was very prepossessing for any experiments, style’s mixes and combinations. 

It is possible to determine several main periods for Kunitsugu’s artistic activity and particularityies in forging style for his tachi and tantō (for more detail information please see Markus Sesko article: KANTEI 4 - YAMASHIRO # 19 - RAI (来􏰀) SCHOOL 5). Summing up all of the above-mentioned information about Kunitsugu’s artistic endeavors, we should note that, probably, he was forced out for unknown reasons from the mainline of the Rai School and moved to Kamakura for working in new arising Sōshū-den tradition. Changing style and new forging method applied, had spread a much more possibilities for Kunitsugu for better meets the changing customer requirements.

Some experts are of the opinion that Kunitsugu, never made swords in the Sōshū-den style, though he worked under the strong influence of the Sagami School. While the other experts, such as Albert Yamanaka , for example, attribute his works, especially made in the late period, to Sōshū-den style.

In the Albert Yamanaka's Nihonto Newsletter (NCJSC, 1994-2004, Volume 1, pp. 52-54), the main features of Kunitsugu’s works are described as follows:

Shape: In the tachi style of the late Kamakura period with hiraniku as well as in the ikubi kissaki tachi style of the mid Kamakura period.

Carvings: Mostly bō-hi. The tip of the hi is lowered slightly. The hi is made wide and a little shallow. The hi is flawless.

Hamon: The width of the hamon is wide and worked in nie with the pattern in suguha choji midare and the whole of the hamon will be in notare. There is much "life" in the nie all along the blade and this nie will be like those of the early Sōshū smiths like Yukimitsu and Masamune. There will be difference in the sizes of nie and the color from it will be very strong. The nie will cluster around the ashi which is made of nioi and the "workings" in the hamon from nie results in small patterns of sunagashi, kinsuji and inazuma. Some works will have variations in the wights of the hamon. There is a characteristic in Kunimitsu's nie. That is one side of the blade will be "rough" and the nie will cluster together, however on the exact reverse side the nie will be lacking and will look as though it is "stained".

Bōshi: Usually made in midarekomi and very deep ending either in yakizume or in kaeri.

Jitetsu & Hada: Very finely worked steel results in ko-mokume hada with itame hada mixed in places. Also ō-hada will show in places. Abundance of ji nie will result in yubashiri and chikei in places.

Nakago: Will be made a little short ending in kurijiri at the tip. File marks will be in kiri. Generally signed in three characters - Rai Kunitsugu (来国次).

There are two distinct styles in Kunitsugu's tantos. Those made in the takenoko zori style and the other in the Enbun-Jōji era style of sunnobi style.

Takenoko zori style tantō:

Shape: Hirazukuri, Josun in takenoko zori with hiraniku.

Carvings: Very rare.

Hamon: The width of the yakiba is made a little wide, in notare fashion and in nie. The pattern will be in suguha choji midare. The ashi running to the cutting tip will have the nie and the nioi clustering together. The color of the hamon from the nie, ashi with the nie and the nioi has much to be appreciated. There will be inazuma and kinsuji such as those found in the early Sōshū blades.

Bōshi: Will be in midarekomi ending in yakizume or in komaru with a little kaeri. There will be much nie, more so-than the lower part of the blade.

Jitetsu & Hada: There will be "uruoi" in the steel from the fine quality nie and the grain is made in ko-mokume hada. From the abundance of ji nie, yubashiri and chikei will be found.

Those worked in the Enbun-Jōji era style are:

Shape: In hirazukuri, sunnobi the length of about 1 shaku or thereabouts. The width (mihaba) is made wide and with sori and the thickness (kasane) is made little thin. There will be very little hiraniku and the fukura will not be pronounced.

Carvings: Katana-hi will be carved near the mune. Suken, gomabashi and other type of carvings will be seen.

Hamon: is worked in nie. The pattern is in suguha choji midare with ō-midare and there will be variations in the width. The nie, especially, has much life and vigor. The ashi running into the ha will have the nie and the nioi clustering together forming ashi. Inazuma and kinsuji will also be found, but in this instance they will be much larger than in his other type of works. Like in his tachi, on one side where nie clusters together on the other side the steel will be look as through it is stained from lack of nie.

Bōshi: Will be in midarekomi and where there is midare, the ashi from the midare will run towards the cutting edge and nie will especially be plentiful in this area.

Jitetsu & Hada: The steel is very finely worked which results in mokume hada with ō-hada showing in places. From the abundance of ji nie there will be yubashiri and chikei.

Nakago: Is made stubby and towards the tip, it will be made broader than average with the tip in kurijiri. File marks will be in kiri. The inscriptions will be made around the mekugi ana area in there characters... Rai Kunitsugu (来国次).

Figure 5. Rai Kunitsugui's elements of activity layout. Kokon Meizukushi Taizen, vol. 5, p. 9/1.

Rai Kunitsugu and Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō (享保 名物帳)

Figure 6. Zusetsu Token Meibutsu Chō by Tadao Tsujimoto. 1970, p. 39.

Inaba Tango no Kami (稲葉丹後守) residence        Nagasa: 7 sun 9 bu

Torigai Rai Kunitsugu (鳥養来国次)                 Value: 300 mai; 500 kan

This sword was once an heirloom of Torigai Sokey (鳥養屋宗慶) and was handed down to his son Yahey (与兵衛). Later, Yahey presented it to lord [Toyotomi] Hidetsugu (秀次). Nevertheless, the sword was lost for some time. Then a few years later, it came to us [Hon’ami family]. There were some doubts regarding identification this blade to its name. To resolve this doubts, it was decided to ask [Hon’ami] Kōho (光甫). He pointed out that Torigai Rai Kunitsugu has a small kizu on the back of bōshi on both sides of the blade.The kizu was found out on his own place and the identification confirmed. 

Later, lord Hidetsugu presented this sword to lord [Toyotomi] Hideyoshi (秀吉), then was given to Ucita Chunagon (浮田中納言) and finally was gifted to Tokugawa [Ieyasu]. It was stored in Kii [Tokugawa] and was presented to lord [Tokugawa] Hidetada (秀忠) and was given to lord [Maeda] Toshitsune (利常) after. 

At that time, Inaba Tango no Kami fell very seriously ill and it was suggested to give this sword to him for consolation. Оne of Inaba’s friends asked Toshitsuna to give this sword to Inaba. Toshitsuna laughed and passed Torigai sword to Inaba. This sword together with another one by Kunimitsu was given through Kōho’s intermediation. Hon’ami Kōseki confirmed this story also. 

Later, Hon’ami Kōshin (本阿弥光心) notes that Torigai Kunitsugu was listed amount the best swords of the eastern part of the country. At that time the sword’s estimation was established at 1,000 kan. The value was reduced to 100 mai for unknown reason. In the Kanbun (寛文, 1661-1673) era, [Inaba] Mino no Kami brought this sword to Hon’ami for appraisal and the valuation was raised to 3,000 kan.

Imperial Treasure (御物)                       Nagasa: 9 sun, 4 bu.

Aoki Rai Kunitsugu (青木来国次)                Value: 7,000 kan.

It was owned by Ajito Mangoro (阿閉万五郎) [Tomochika] initially. Later, in Bunroku (文禄, 1592-1596) era, it was owned by Aoki Kii no Kami (青木紀伊守) and it was given to Fukushima Saemon (福島左衛門) [no Jō Masanori] by Aoki’s son. After Masanori’s death the sword was given to Tokugawa Hidetada as a legacy of Masanori.

mperial Treasure (御物)                       Nagasa: 9 sun, 1,5 bu.

Sansai Rai Kunitsugu (三斎来国次) 

This sword was discovered in Nanto (南部), Yamato province. It was purchased by Hosokawa Sansai (細川三斎)[Tadaoki] and later presented to shōgunate.

Imperial Treasure (御物)                       Nagasa: 9 sun, 7 bu.

Togawa Rai Kunitsugu (戸川来国次)             Value: 200 mai.

This sword was owned by Togawa Higo no Kami (戸川肥後守) [Michiyasu] and was presented to shōgunate later.

Imperial Treasure (御物)                       Nagasa: 8 sun, 9 bu.

Masuda Rai Kunitsugu (増田来国次)             Value: 200 mai.

This sword was owned by Zenshoji (善正寺) [Kampaku Hidetsugu]. In Bunroku (文禄, 1592-1596) era, it was given to lord Hideyoshi [Toyotomi] by Kiya (ref. Kiya Oshigata) after they evaluated the sword at 8 Mai. Masuda Uemon no Jo (増田右衛門尉) [Nagamori] received this sword as a legacy of [Hideyoshi]. Later this sword was geven by Masuda to lord [Tokugawa] Ieyasu by Masuda and then was passed to Owari (尾張) [Tokugawa clan]. Katana-hi. [note: Imamura Chōga indicated Masuda Rai Kunitsugu as a fake sword in his Imamura Oshigata].

[Zusetsu Token Meibutsu Chō by Tadao Tsujimoto. 1970, pp. 38, 39, 413 and 414]

One of the most famous Rai Kunitsugu's tantō (nagasa: 32.7 cm) was a family heirloom of the Kishu Tokugawa clan. It has the Kokuhō status now. One can find an interesting photo of this blade published made in 1948.

Figure 7. Meitō Shubi by Dr. Honma and the NBTHK, 1948, plate 20.

Original content Copyright © 2019 Dmitry Pechalov