Awataguchi lies on the main road which goes from Kyôto to Ômi province.  Many smiths settled there since the early Kamakura period of the late 12th century.  The term “Awataguchi mono” established itself as a kind of generic term for masterworks of this school which are characterized by a highly refined, noble workmanship.  Kuniie (国家) is considered to the founder of the Awataguchi school.  Unfortunately existing works by him are not found today.  He is known, however, to have had six sons, Kunitomo (国友), Hisakuni (久国), Kuniyasu (国安), Kunikiyo (国清) Arikuni (有国), and Kunitsuna (国綱), who worked around the early Kamakura period. We are fortunate that all of them have existing blades signed blades.

It was also a time when the retired Emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽,1180-1239)  invited smiths from all over the country to forge blades at the imperial palace and even to assist him in the application of the of the tempering (yaki-ire, 焼入れ).  These swordsmiths who were summoned to the palace by imperial order of retired emperor Gotoba were known as the “goban kaji”.  They worked for the retired emperor in monthly shifts and are believed to have been the finest swordsmiths of their day.  Only smiths from the Awataguchi school of Yamashiro province, the Ko-Ichimonji school of Bizen province, and the Ko-Aoe school of Bitchu province were selected for this honor.

From the six Awataguchi brothers, it seems that as many as three, Kunitomo, Hisakuni, and Kuniyasu were selected to join Gotoba’s “goban kaji”, a fact which further contributed to the fame of the Awataguchi school.  One of the oldest lists of the “goban kaji” sword smiths, the Showa Mei Zukushi, a document produced during the Showa era (1312-1317) lists Awataguchi Kuniyasu (国安) as being selected in the fourth month thus making him the fourth swordsmith selected for this honor and the first selected from the Awataguchi school.

All Awataguchi smiths have in common an excellently forged jigane which is seen in a beautiful structure of the hada called “nashiji hada” (梨子地肌).  The old sword document, “Kaifun-ki”, (解紛記) writes the following: “The kitae is very fine.  Some areas are itame but some are not identifiable.  The color of the steel is somewhat more bluish than that of the Rai school and looks wet but is very clear”.  That means that some itame areas are so densely forged that they can’t be made out as itame.  The hamon of the Awataguchi school is an elegant, classical suguha or suguha with ko-midare and ko-chôji in ko-nie-deki which shows as nijûba and which is altogether rather modest and noble.[1]

As noted the major attributes of the Awataguchi school consisted of the excellent quality of the kitae as well as the deeply dense nioiguchi.  The exquisitely fine jigane of nashiji hada got its name from the structure of the Japanese pear skin which shows exhibits extremely fine granules.

Their yakiba also consists of bright and thick nie producing a large variety of grain formations in the ha (tempered edge). Generally speaking, the quality of their workmanship is given a higher rating than the Rai school, which also prospered in the Yamashiro region.

Kuniyasu made elegant and slender but also relative wide and long tachi with a chû instead of a ko-kissaki, the former being close to works of his older brothers Kunitomo and Hisakuni. He also occasionally added bôhi. In addition, we know he made blades with a fine jigane but also made many with a rather standing-out itame that tends to nagare and even ô-hada in places. That is why Kuniyasu is known as forging the most outstanding jihada of all six Awataguchi brothers.

[1] This paragraph was taken from “A Journey to the Gokaden, The Workmanship and Development of the Yamashiro Tradition, Part 1 Sanjô and Gojô by Michihiro Tanobe

As shown in the illustration above, Kuniyasu hardened mostly a sugha-chô that is mixed with ko-midareko-chôji, and ko-gunome of which the individual elements are densely arranged and tend to appear in a connected manner, especially the ko-gunome. Besides that, we see kinsuji and sunagashi together with small uchinoke-like elements atop of the yaki-gashira which are referred to as karimata (雁股, bifurcated arrowheads). Kuniyasu’s bôshi is calm and appears as only slightly undulating sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. However, some blades of Kuniyasu also show hakikake and a more wide kaeri.  [2]

Today we are fortunate to have as our kantei blade a wonderful example of the Awataguchi school of the early Kamakura period.  This blade is ō-suriage mumei and is with its slender mihaba, deep sori that tends to toriizori, and ko-kissaki of an elegant shape. The kitae is an itame that features plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri, and the hamon is a chū-suguha-chō that is mixed with yubashiri and nijūba in places.

This blade has been attributed to the Awataguchi school and awarded the rank of Jûyô Tôken by the NBTHK in Japan.  Further it has been judged by Tanobe sensei, the foremost living sword expert, to be an example of the work of Awataguchi Kuniyasu (国安), the third son of Awataguchi Kuniie (粟田口国家) who is considered to the founder of the Awataguchi school.  As previously mentioned, Awataguchi Kuniyasu (国安)was the fourth of twelve smiths summoned by the retired Emperor to forge swords with the Emperor at the Imperial Palace around the year 1200.

The following is the translation of the sayagaki written by Tanobe Sensei formerly of the Director of Research for NBTHK in Japan.

 Dai rokujūgo-kai Jūyō-Tōken

 Jōshū Awataguchi

Ō-suriage mumei nari hosomi, ko-kissaki de imanao wazori takaku kyasha na keijō o teishi ji-nie o mijin ni shiku onjun naru hada-ai ni suguha ko-midare ni gunome, karimata o majieru hamon o yaki ashi hairi ko-nie atsuku tsuki tokorodokoro nie-kogori sunagashi, kinsuji kakari sara ni ha ni soite nijūba-fū ni yubashiri ga kuwawaru nado koyōsa to miyabisa ga sonawari dōha no tokushoku o tei-shi toriwake ichirui-chū Kuniyasu ni giserareru mono kore ari.

Nagasa ni-shaku issun bu han kore ari

Jizai Reiwa go mizunoto-usagidoshi kisaragi Tanzan mite narabi ni shirushite + kaō

 Jūyō-Tōken at 65th Jūyō Shinsa

Awataguchi from Yamashiro Province

[This blade is] ō-suriage mumei and is with its slender mihaba, ko-kissaki, and still deep wazori (toriizori) of a graceful shape. The “wet” looking forging structure is accompanied by fine ji-nie and the hardening is a ko-nie-laden suguha that is mixed with ko-midare, gunome, karimata, ashi, some nie-kogori, sunagashi, kinsuji, and nijūba-like yubashiri that occur parallel to the ha. The blade is thus of a classical and elegant interpretation that reflects very well the characteristics of the Awataguchi School, and within this group, Kuniyasu is likely to be the maker.

Blade length ~ 63.8 cm

Examined and written by Tanzan [Tanobe Michihiro] in February of Reiwa five (2023), year of the hare + monogram.

As previously noted, this blade was awarded Jûyô Tôken (Important Sword) status by the NBTHK at the 65 Jûyô shinsa on November 7, 2019.  A copy of the certification is as follows:

Jūyō-Tōken at the 65th Jūyō Shinsa from November 7, 2019

 Katana, mumei: Awataguchi (粟⽥⼝)


Nagasa 63.8 cm, sori 2.2 cm, motohaba 2.5 cm, sakihaba 1.55 cm, kissaki-nagasa 2.4 cm, nakago-nagasa 17.6 cm, nakago-sori 0.2 cm


Keijō: shinogi-zukuri iori-mune, slender mihaba, relatively noticeable taper, deep sori that tends to toriizori, ko-kissaki.

 Kitae: itame that is mixed with a little bit of mokume and that features plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and a nie-utsuri

Hamon: chū-suguha-chō in ko-nie-deki with a bright nioiguchi that is mixed with some kogunome, ko-midare, ashi, yubashiri in places, a little bit of nijūba, and with many fine kinsuji and sunagashi

 Bōshi: sugu with a brief ko-maru-kaeri

 Horimono: on both sides a bōhi that runs as kaki-nagashi into the tang

 Nakago: ō-suriage, kirijiri, sujikai-yasurime on the omote side, the ura side was polished and does not display yasurime, except for the very tip, which features sujikai-yasurime as well, three mekugi-ana, mumei


From the end of the Heian to the early Kamakura period, the Sanjō (三条) and Gojō (五条) schools existed in Yamashiro province, which are referred to as Ko-Kyō-mono (古京物, lit. “early Kyōto works”). After that, i.e., from the early to the mid-Kamakura period, the Awataguchi (粟⽥⼝) School emerged and thrived, which was then succeeded by the Rai (来) School, which prospered from the mid to late Kamakura to the Nanbokuchō period. Regarding the Awataguchi School, the Six Awataguchi Brothers – Kunitomo (国友) as the eldest, and his younger brothers Hisakuni (久国), Kuniyasu (国安), Kunikiyo (国清), Arikuni (有国), and Kunitsuna (国綱) – became famous as each of them was exceptionally skilled. Famous Awataguchi masters after their respective active period were, for example, Norikuni (則国), Kuniyoshi (国吉), Kunimitsu (国光), and Yoshimitsu (吉光). The school produced highest quality blades, which were appreciated ever since, and period sword text celebrate them as featuring “a blueish steel combined with a whitish ha.”

 This blade is ō-suriage mumei and is with its slender mihaba, deep sori that tends to toriizori, and ko-kissaki of an elegant shape. The kitae is an itame that features plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri, and the hamon is a chū-suguha-chō that is mixed with yubashiri and nijūba in places. Thus, we clearly recognize the characteristic features of the Awataguchi School, and particularly noteworthy are the many kinsuji and sunagashi, the abundance of hataraki within the ha, the fine ha-nie occurring all over the blade, and the bright nioiguchi. Consequently, we have here a highly elegant work with the typically excellent deki of this school.

This extraordinary blade comes with a fantastic koshirae from the Edo period.  The saya is something very special in that its wooden core is covered with a combination of diagonal pieces of leather and treated the skin of crane legs.  The tsuba is of the Umetada school.  It is made of iron with carvings and gold inlay.  The fuchi is yamagane with a pleasing design of Shoki slaying a demon.  It is signed Issando Joi.  I do not think it is a genuine signature, but it is very nice work.  The menuki are shakudo with gold and silver highlights.  It is from the Gôto school depicting an man riding a horse on one and a man riding a dragon on the other.  The kashira is horn.  Also there is a fine kurikata done in iron and carved to depict a Gumi-bukuro (flower basket) holding several types of flowers.  All in all a beautiful koshirae for a wonderful blade.

[2] From Kantei 4 – Yamashiro #8 – Awataguchi (粟田口) school 3  by Markus Sesko