The blade offered here is by the founder of the Nakajima Rai School, Rai Kuninaga (来国長) who was one of the top students of Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊). Perhaps the best place to start would be with some of the major characteristics of the blades of Rai Kuninaga’s teacher, Rai Kunitoshi and the traditional Rai school in general. The Rai school, together with the Awtaguchi school, is representative of Yamashiro blades and was active from the latter mid-Kamakura period through the Nanbokuchô period. Traditionally, Rai Kuniyuki (来国行) is considered to have been the founder of the Rai school. He was followed by his son, Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊) who has many fine examples of his work surviving today.
Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊) is considered to have been one of the premiere sword smiths of all time and he trained many fine students a few of which were Rai Kunimitsu (来国光), Rai Kunitsugu (来国次), and Rai Kuninaga (来国長). Written accounts and existing swords support the fact that Rai Kunitoshi had many fine students, and during his lifetime in the capital of Kyoto, he was famous. It is believed that Rai Kunitoshi’s top students made works under Rai Kunitoshi’s name (daisaku/daimei) including Kunitsugu (来国次) and his younger brother Kuninaga (来国長).
Some sword enthusiasts hold that the work of Kuninaga is somehow not up to the standard of Rai Kunitoshi, but this can be strongly debated as much of Kuninaga’s work may have been passed along as Kunitoshi’s work. The other important students were Ryokai, Rai Kunimitsu, Rai Kunisue, Rai Kunizane and Rai Mitsukane. The founder of the Enju line in Higo, Kunimura was believed to be a student of either of Rai Kunitoshi or Rai Kuniyuki. All factors considered, this is quite a prestigious group of swordsmiths.
Some of the major characteristics of the blades of Rai Kuninaga’s teacher, Rai Kunitoshi and the traditional Rai school in general are as follows:
Sugata: Tachi will be of the early Kamakura period in torii zori with the sori made a little shallow. The width of the blade, the shinogi, and the kissaki are all made koroai (“about right” for the overall size of the blade).
Hamon: The width of the yakiba is made narrow and done in nie deki. Mostly suguha based with ko-chôji midare mixed with ko-midare. Nie and nioi will be found clustering together all along the blade forming ashi. Inazuma and kinsuji are common and nijuba is also found at times.
Jitetsu: Generally a very fine ko-mokume with masame hada mixed in. There will be ji-nie which will result in chikei in places.
Bôshi: Komaru with a slight kaeri. Yakizume or kaen resulting in nie-kuzure.
Horimono: Usually very rare but occasionally bo-hi and futatsu-hi are occasionally seen.
Around 1329, Kuninaga moved to Nakajima in Settsu and became known as Nakajima-Rai, so Nakajima Rai and Rai Kuninaga were one and the same. Now the collective works of Nakajima Rai descendants are referred to as Den Nakajima Rai. Unfortunately Kuninaga left us very few signed examples of his work. Most of his signatures were lost when his swords were shortened.
The general working characteristics of Rai Kuninaga are as follows:
Sugata: Tachi will be in the style for the late Kamakura period in a shallow torii- zori. There will not be much difference in the width of the blade from the machi to the tip. Overall, the shape will be much like his teacher, Rai Kunitoshi.
Hamon: Nie-deki forming a chu-suguha hotsure with small gunome which will be made in a uniform pattern. The ashi, inazuma, kinsuji, and nijuba of Rai Kunitoshi will be, for the most part, lacking.
Jitetsu: The ko-mokume hada will have a “harder” feel that that of the works of Rai Kunitsugu. Like Kunitsugu, however, there will be masame-hada mixed in. Overall the hada will tend to stand out.
Bôshi: Komaru with a gentle kaeri.
Horimono: If there is horimono, mostly bo-hi can be found.
Rai Kuninaga’s work appears in the late Kamakura period and extends into the Nanbokuchô period. It has been suggested that there were up to three generations. So far, approximately a dozen signed Rai Kuninaga blades have passed Jûyô shinsa. However, there are around 45 unsigned blades that have been attributed to Rai Kuninaga and an additional 55 attributed to the Nakajima Rai school that have passed Jûyô Tôken.
Rai Kuninaga deserves respect as he was one of three significant smiths along with Rai Kunimitsu and Rai Kunitsugu who signed daimei for Rai Kunitoshi. About half of the signed work of Rai Kunitoshi that has passed Jûyô seem to be daimei by one of these three top students. Obviously, Rai Kunitoshi had confidence in the work of these three top students.
The blade presented here is a Jûyô Tôken katana attributed to Nakajima Rai. This blade passed the Jûyô shinsa in 1994 at the 40th session. Please note that the Jûyô papers do not designate Den Nakajima Rai, but simply Nakajima Rai. This would indicate that the shinsa team felt that the characteristics of this blade were clear enough to distinguish it from being a school blade by a later smith of this school; rather they considered it to be the work of Rai Kuninaga himself. Also, please take note in the photos that Rai utsuri can be clearly seen in this wonderful blade.
The translation of the Jûyô zufu is as follows:
Jūyō-tōken at the 40th jūyō shinsa held on November 11, 1994
Katana, mumei: Nakajima-Rai (中島来)
Nagasa 71.2 cm, sori 1.8 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, sakihaba 2.2 cm, kissaki-nagasa 4.0 cm, nakago-nagasa 19.6 cm,nakago-sori 0.1 cm.
Keijo: shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, relatively deep sori, not much taper, ō-kissaki.
Kitae: itame that is mixed with mokume and that shows ō-hada in the monouchi, in addition ji- nie and chikei.
Hamon: suguha-chō in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-chōji, ko-midare, ko-ashi, yō, sunagashi, kinsuji, and a few uchinoke and nijūba.
Bōshi: rather pointed ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake.
Horimono: on both sides a bōhi which runs with kaki-tōshi through the tang.
Nakago: ō-suriage, kirijiri, kiri-yasurime, four mekugi-ana, mumei.
Rai Kuninaga (来国⻑) was a student of Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊) and as he moved from Kyōto to Nakajima (中島) in Settsu province he is also referred to as Nakajima-Rai. The meikan list two generations Rai Kuninaga, with the first generation being active around Gentoku (元徳, 1329– 1331) and the second around Ōan (応安, 1368–1375). Signed Kuninaga works arerare but taking into consideration the entire known body of work, we recognize a continuation of the traditional Rai stylewith interpretations that remind us of Rai Kunimitsu (来国光) at first glance, but which are usually slightly inferior toworks of the latter.
This blade is ō-suriage mumei and displays a wide mihaba and an ō-kissaki. The interpretation of the jiba is similar to that of Rai Kunimitsu but, as indicated above, we do see a slight discrepancy in quality whereupon the attribution can be made to Nakajima-Rai. This is an excellent Nakajima-Rai work with a jiba in perfect condition (kenzen).
This blade comes with a nice Edo Period koshirae as can be seen in the photos below.