PUBLICATIONS: NIHONTO SHUBI
JUYO TANTO BY RAI KUNIMITSU
Rai Kunimitsu is conventionally understood to have been the son or student of Rai Kunitoshi. He worked from the end of the Kamakura era into the Nanbokucho
era. The earliest signed work by him has a date of Ka-reki 1 (1326) and the last known dated example has a nengo of Kano 2 (1351).
Rai Kunimitsu's workmanship is quite diversified. He produced the typically classical suguha as well as suguha mixed with ko-gunome and ko-choji, notare mixed with gunome, gunome-midare, and others. Rai Kunimitsu made tachi and tanto in a variety of shapes thus making him by far the most talented among the Rai smiths in terms of broadness of repertoire and applicability.
The style and characteristics of the works of Rai Kunimitsu changed over his lifetime. In fact, the changes toward the end of his career have caused some scholars to postulate that there might have been two generations of smiths by this name. This theory will require much more study in the future as there is no strong evidence to date to support it. That aside, there can be no argument that he worked in a variety of styles and produced swords with varying characteristics over his lifetime.
Sugata: We will break this feature down into three periods of production:
Early stage: They were made in the style of the mid-Kamakura period of the Yamashiro tradition. They have torii-zori with a hint of saki-zori. The mihaba was a little narrow, but they have hira-niku. Kasane is thick and the kissaki is made small and short. The hamon is in nie in chu-suguha, choji-midare with nie and nioi ashi.
Middle stage: The tachi will be the style of the late-Kamakura period with the sori made shallow. Hiraniku will be lacking and the kissaki will be made long. The hamon will be in nie in chu-suguha hotsure or chu-suguha hotsure with ko-midare and ashi. Nijuba will also be found and on occasion hiro-suguha with ko-midare. In such cases the nie will have a blotched effect in places.
Late stage: The tachi will be in the style of the Nanbokucho period with torii-zori with the sori made shallow. There will be hiraniku and the kasane will be thick and the kissaki long. The hamon will be in nie in midare or in notare-midare and the nie will have a blotched effect in places. There will be midare in the shape of hako-midare around the monouchi area.
Tanto: Many different styles of tanto were made
by Rai Kunimitsu.
1. Standard length in hira-zukuri with a takenoko-zori. The hamon will be made in chu-suguha with ko-nie. The hada will be a beautiful ko-mokome.
2. Hira-zukuri with mu-zori. Katana hi or suken and gomabashi or bonji carvings. The hamon will be in nie and in chu-suguha or chu-suguha with midare or in o-midare in which case the nie will be very rough. There will be ashi from the nioi and profuse nie.
3. These will be made in hira-zukuri with saki-zori with the length being made a little longer than the first two described above. The characteristics of the blade itself will be about the same as above.
4. These will be hira-zukuri and sun-nobi in length. They will have the sugata of tanto of the Nanbokucho period. The hamon will be made in chu-suguha and the boshi will be made in ko-maru. The steel is made exceptionally fine and will be in ko-mokume hada.
Jitetsu: Generally the hada of Rai Kunimitsu will be a refined and beautiful hada done in a ko-mokume or ko-itame hada. The ji-nie will be thick and contain chikei as well as powerful nie-utsuri. This will be especially true on his tanto. Occasionally what is known as "Rai hada" will be found. The term "Rai hada" refers to an area of weak jigane with a color and pattern different from the ordinary hada. This is not to be confused with openings in the blade due to excessive polishing.
Hamon: In addition to the individual hamon characteristics mentioned in the sugata section above, I would like to add the following general comment. His midare-ba tempered in his tanto consists of markedly stronger nie than on his tachi. There will also be much more profuse ji-nie on his tanto than his tachi. Just like in the works of Rai Kunitsugu, there are a great many Soshu traits added to the Yamashiro tradition thus creating a powerful impression. The nie utsuri in the ji showing somewhat like yubashiri make his works powerful.
Boshi: It will be in proportion to the hamon and will become nie-kuzuri, hakikake or kaen with abundant nie. Longer kaeri is sometimes seen.
Nakago: In tachi, the nakago features hira-niku and a little sori with the tip becoming narrow. Tanto nakago are without sori unless they are of the furisode type. The tip is a shallow kurijiri. The yasurime is kiri or a gentle katte sagari.
Mei: The signature usually has three characters with the first character being "Rai". Occasionally the date of forging is shown.
This tanto is a Juyo Token tanto signed Rai Kunimitsu. The following is a translation of the Juyo Token zufu for this tanto:
Designated Juyo Token at the 22nd Shinsa of June 1st the 49th year of Showa (1974)
Tanto, Signature: Rai Kunimitsu
Measurements: Length: 22.4 cent.; Curvature: none; Width at Base: 2.1 cent.; Nakago Length: 9.0 cent.; Nakago Curvature: 0.3.
Characteristics: The construction is hira-zukuri with an iori-mune. The blade is rather small sized. The kitae is very tight ko-itame-hada with a mixing in here and there of slightly o-hada that is covered in ji-nie. There is prominent nie-utsuri. The hamon is suguha, and near the monouchi, the yakihaba becomes narrow. There is a slight mixing in of ko-gunome. The habuchi is covered in ko-nie, and there is kinsuji activity. The boshi is sugu with a ko-maru. The nakago is ubu, and the tip is kurijiri. The yasurime are kiri, and there are three mekugi-ana. On the sashi-omote is a three-character signature that extends downward to the nakago-jiri.
Explanation: Rai Kunimitsu is one of the representative smiths of the Rai School during the late Kamakura period. There are tachi and tanto works that retain their signatures, and although there are both normal sized works as well as rather large sized works, this tanto has a shape that is rather small sized. This same school specialized in the tempering of a suguha with a slight mixing in of ko-gunome, and their ji-ha is superb.
This tanto is also exhibited in the new publication by Kawashima san and Tanobe san called Nihonto Shubi (A Collection of Beautiful Japanese Swords). The description of this tanto is as follows:
This tanto, during the feudal period, was in the possession of the Arima family, who were the lords of the Kurume fief in Chikugo Province.
It has a hira-zukuri construction, and the length is seven sun and four bu, which, for Rai Kunimitsu, is a small-sized blade. Moreover, because the sword is without curvature, we can surmise that this is an early period work of this same smith. Among the works of Rai Kunitoshi, there are also those that were signed by Kunimitsu (daimei), as well as those that were signed and made by Kunimitsu (daisaku-daimei), though with Rai Kunitoshi signatures. The nakago is ubu, and the condition is also excellent. The yasurime are clearly visible, and while we believe that this is an early period work, the characters in the signature are powerful, even now the tagane-makura (ridge left on the edge of the characters from the cut of the chisel) also remains. The jigane is very tight ko-itame-hada that is thickly covered in minute ji-nie, and there is chikei activity, making it beautiful and powerfully vivid. The hamon is tempered in suguha with slight notare, which is the hamon that was handed down from Rai Kunitoshi. The habuchi is well covered in ko-nie, and the nioiguchi is tight, bright and vivid. With Rai Kunimitsu, many of his work have a bit of a tinge of the Soshu-den similar to Rai Kunitsugu; however, this tanto has the feeling of following his father's (Rai Kunitoshi's) style of workmanship. The appearance of the shape is also close to that of Rai Kunitoshi's elegantly refined construction.
This tanto has an accompanying koshirae, which was made during the Edo period. The saya has a gold nashiji ground with a gold maki-e kurikara dragon executed on top of that. The exposed menuki are solid gold dragons, and the kozuka is shakudo with a nanako ground, and has a design of a dragon and tiger in gold iroe. The koshirae is extremely gorgeous, and it creates an impressive feeling.
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