Awataguchi Kunimitsu Tanto

Awataguchi Kunimitsu

period:Kamakura Koto (dated 1288)
designation:NBTHK Juyo Token
nakago:ubu, 9.5 cm, two mekugiana, one overpunched
mei:(ura) Ko-an 11 nen (omote) Gogatsu Tuitachi Kunimitsu (May 1, 1288)
nagasa:21.7 cm
sori:uchi sori
motohaba:1.7 cm
price: -sold--

The story of Yamashiro begins in 987 with Munechika, the founder of the Sanjo school in Kyoto, and the nearby Gojo school that grew out of their work. These names refer to two streets in the old city (3rd and 5th, so the connection is very clear). It is with Munechika and his students that the tachi as we know it and the form of the Japanese sword was finally perfected. Their work formed the paradigm for the Japanese sword for the next thousand years.

Inheriting directly from the smiths of Sanjo and Gojo were the grand-masters of Awataguchi, starting with its founder Kuniie. Much like the relationship between Shintogo handing down his teachings to Masamune, the Awataguchi kaji took the brilliant foundation of the Ko-Yamashiro smiths before them and perfected their work bringing the tradition to its height in the middle Kamakura period.

As well, Awataguchi lies directly at the root of the Soshu den, as the Soshu founder Shintogo Kunimitsu produced work that was mostly Awataguchi in style. The similarities are so close, that some references insist that he was an Awataguchi smith who left for Kamakura and founded the Soshu style there, and in some cases insist that he is actually the smith we know as Awataguchi Kunimitsu or else a son of his. It does not help matters that Shintogo seems to have appeared suddenly in Kamakura making brilliant work, with no clean explanation of who is father and teacher was (some say Awataguchi Kunitsuna, but the distance in time is rather great for this), as this leaves the truth of his origin shrouded to us today. We do know that he had some connection though, because the proof of this is clearly illustrated in his work.

The Awataguchi smiths featured in the Goban Kaji, the swordsmiths chosen to serve ex-Emperor Gotoba in his study of sword forging. It is at the forge of Gotoba that the Golden Age of Swords has its origin, at the beginning of the Kamakura period in the light of the competition and technology sharing between the greatest swordsmiths in the country. One of the two leaders of the project was Awataguchi Hisakuni, and I would like to draw attention to the fact that the five highest rated swordsmiths (rated above Masamune) in the Toko Taikan are: Awataguchi Hisakuni, Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, Ko-Bizen Tomonari, Ko-Osafune Mitsutada and Ichimonji Yoshifusa. I think this illustrates clearly the importance and reverence given to the Awataguchi school.

Kuniie's famous six sons are Kunitomo, Hisakuni, Kuniyasu, Kunikiyo, Arikuni and Kunitsuna. Kunitsuna of course also retains fame for his move to Kamakura along with Kunimune and Sukezane of Bizen, the three of whom were the first major swordsmiths to work in Sagami province. The main line flows through Kunitomo to his son Norikuni, who in turn fathers three grand-master smiths: Kuniyoshi, Kunimitsu, and Kuninobu. Yoshimitsu would seem to inherit through Kuniyoshi and be both the greatest and last major smith of Awataguchi. Though the school would continue from here in Kyoto, but my own feeling is that the heart of the school transferred to Soshu through its emmissary Shintogo Kunimitsu. Through him Awataguchi became the driving force in the rise of the Soshu Den while the Rai school begain its ascendancy to become the premier force in Kyoto.

Juyo Token Awataguchi Kunimitsu

The work of Awataguchi Saheinojo Kunimitsu is extremely rare. There are a handful of unsigned swords attributed to him in the NBTHK Juyo index, along with one tanto dated 1321 signed Kunimitsu with the NBTHK notation that this is a work of the second generation working in Awataguchi. There are no other signed works either Shodai or Nidai listed in the index. We know of the Shodai Kunimitsu from two signed tachi that exist that are Juyo Bunkazai and a single signed ken. There are no other signed works, and none of these other three are dated. This leads to some difficulty in placing his work period and of course in establishing theories in regards to Shintogo Kunimitsu. Fujishiro does place Kunimitsu in Sho-o (1288-1292) and places Shintogo around 1312.

This tanto was discovered in Japan a few years ago and was a major discovery. To begin with, any signed and dated Kamakura work is a treasure for this reason only, but in this case it is the only signed and dated piece belonging to Awataguchi Kunimitsu. It is also the only signed tanto example, the others being tachi and Juyo Bunkazai. Because of their status, the Bunkazai pieces are not likely to ever reach the market and if they did they would not be able to leave Japan making this the only signed piece by the smith to enter the world. Totalling this column, it can be seen that this piece is unique three times over, and because of this it is important reference work and something to be cherished by a collector as the centerpiece of a collection.

Being over 700 years old this tanto shows some age in that it has had its horimono polished down. In spite of this, it is in one-piece construction so still vividly shows beautiful steel of impressive color and beauty. Such a highly unique work, by an important smith of the top school of the Yamashiro period is nearly impossible to find even just to have a chance to study. I believe this sword offers a fantastic opportunity for a collector who wishes to own something that nobody else in the world will have.

Awataguchi Kunimitsu Tanto Oshigata

Juyo Token Tanto

Appointed in 2003, on the 9th of October, Session 49


Hira zukuri, iori mune, slender body, kasane is thin, it is ko-buri (smallish), becomes an uchizori shape.


Hada is a mixture of nagare-masa in ko-itame, with abundant ji-nie, fine chikei is inserted, and the color of the steel is very clear and serene [TN: Like the moon on a cold Autumn night].


Suguba in a shallow notare, the ura has gunome mixed in, overall it has deep (wide) nioi, with thick ko-nie.


Ko-maru in suguba, with a rather long return.


There are tired traces of a suken on the omote, and there are tired traces of an engraving which can be viewed as gomabashi on the ura.


Ubu, saki is a kurijiri with a touch of ha-agari, yasurime is kiri, two mekugi ana, on the sashi omote in the center below the mekugi ana there is [KOAN] JUICHINEN (1288) done with a thick tagane, and on the ura there, done in the same manner, there is GOGATSU TUITACHI (1st Day of 5th Month), dividing the date of manufacture between the omote and ura, and below that on the ura the maker's name is inscribed. This piece is tanto that should be judged as being by AWATAGUCHI KUNIMITSU, and has a date of manufacture of KOAN JUICHINEN GOGATSU TUITACHI (1st Day of the 5th Month of 1288).

He (the maker) was a toko that was said to be the son of NORIKUNI and the younger brother of KUNIYOSHI, confirmed examples of work he left behind are rare, and besides this, there are but two Juyo Bunkazai tachi, and a ken which has SABEIJO (SABEJO) above his name, As for the portion of this tanto with the nijimei KUNIMITSU, commonalities with the Juyo Bunkazai can be seen. Furthermore, the beautiful points of Awataguchi works can be seen in the ji and ha, and nothing is of more value from a data standpoint the nenki of KOAN JUICHINEN. Because of the fact that the KUNIMITSU mei is cut on the sashi ura, there is the possibility that this is a METEZASHI [a tanto worn on the right side at the waist].

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