While it is firmly established in many reference books that Kunimichi(國路) was a student of Horikawa Kunihiro (堀川國廣), no records have been found detailing either his birthplace or his genealogy. However, thanks to the dated examples of his work that remain, we are able to piece together some biographical information about Kunimichi.
There is a sword by him dated Keian san-nen Kanoe-Tora Ku-gatsu Kichijitsu Shichijû-go-sai Saku (慶安三年庚虎九月吉日七十五才作). This translates as having been made in the fourth year of Keian (1651) at the age of 75. There is another dated Keian Go-nen Go-gatsu Shichijû-shichi-sai Saku (慶安五年五月七十七才作). This means made in the fifth month of the fifth year of Keian (1653) at the age of 77. From examples such as these we know that he was born in the fourth year of Tenshô (1576) and he died sometime after the second year of Kanbun (1662) which is the last known dated sword. It is dated as having been made in the second year of Kanbun (1662) when he was 87 years old.
Kunimichi’s workmanship displays the widest range of variations of all of Kunihiro’s students. It shows a great deal of influence derived from the Mino tradition. This is especially so with the hamon in the bôshi, it shows the Mino characteristics of notare and the tip in togari-gokoro followed by kaeri. These characteristics are common in the works of the swordsmiths coming out of the Mishina school. This bôshi is known as the san-pin or Mishina (三品) bôshi.
It should also be noted that Kunimichi’s earliest dated example is a tantô that is inscribed Heianjô Kunimichi (平安城國道) and dated Keichô Jûsan-nen Ku-gatsu Kichijitsu (慶長十三年九月吉日). This translates as being made on a lucky day in September of the thirteenth year of Keichô (1608) by Heianjô Kunimichi.
It should be noted, however, that in this example of his early work, the kanji character used for “michi” was different from the commonly known (路) but was another kanji character with the same reading but written (道). This suggests common ties in his name and the names of the Mishina smiths such as Kinmichi (金道) and Yoshimichi (吉道). Further, there is the fact that some mei in Kunimichi’s other works include the kanji, Rai, (来)as in Dewa-daijô Fujiwara Rai Kunimichi. This character, Rai, is also used by some of the Mishina smiths. This seems to add credibility to the theory that Kunimichi, though belonging to the Horikawa school, had some connection with the Mishina school at the same time. The fact that he was the only one of the many students of Horikawa Kunihiro who incorporated the Mishina stye bôshi into his works further advances this theory.
There has long been a theory expounding the possibility of Kunimichi being represented by two generations of smiths. Certain facts, however, are against this such as Kunimichi’s longevity, the long span of his productive period, and that in his very last years some swords were produced by his students having Kunimichi’s mei executed by the actual makers under Kunimichi’s authorization. This seems to make it more appropriate to accept the common theory of just one generation being represented by this professional name.
Kunimichi’s works are unique in containing both quiet and somewhat unclear areas as well as outstanding areas admirably sprinkled with nie grains. This creates a rather inconsistent style of tempering and is an unmistakable trait of Kunimichi.
Kuinimichi worked in both the Keichô Shinto shape and later in the Kanbun Shintô shape, but both shapes contained the unmistakable characteristics of the Horikawa school. Among the Horikawa smiths, Kunimichi enjoyed the most diverse styles of workmanship. He did well in almost anything except the Bizen style of sword making. His best works are considered to be his Sôshû style ones. They will have a hamon that is a florid midare formed in the Shizu style with a strong nie presence forming kinsuji and sunagashi in the ha reproducing the Sôshû tradition.
It is thought that Kunimichi probably received the title of Dewa no Daijô (出羽大掾)in the nineteenth year of Keichô (1614) after the death of his teacher, Kunihiro. Below are some of the more important characteristics of the works of Kunimichi:
SUGATA: There are katana, wakizashi, and tantô, and they are mostly the same as Kunihiro. Later in life, he did make a sugata that had traits of the Kanbun shinto style with a shallow sori and slightly compressed bôshi.
JITETSU: It is about the same as works made by Kunihiro during the Keichô period. Sometimes Kunimichi will have works wherein the masame hada stands out very much and also there are tantô of pure masame hada. Also, Kunimichi will have masame (straight) grain elements showing in areas of the bôshi and jigane close to the ha. Kunihiro will not have these characteristics.
HAMON: Generally his hamon are the same as Kunihiro, but his range of work is much broader. With Kunimichi the wildness of the hamon is very intense, therefore there is a great more nie and nioi than in Kunihiro’s works, and his swords will have a feeling of exuberance. Also, the nioiguchi is very fine with ko-nie, there are also works with the Shizu style of ko-notare and they are rare. Once in a while there is one done in saka midare, but, in this case, there is very little nie in the ha.
BÔSHI: Usually, there are both those that return in maru and those that are nie-kuzure. In those with the so-called Mishina bôshi, like that of Iga no Kami Kinmichi and Etchu no Kami Masatoshi, the ha becomes narrow at the yokote and becomes wide in the vicinity of the “fukura”. From there it becomes pointed toward the kissaki and thrusts up quite a bit returning in a ko-maru shape. This bôshi is especially common after he received his title of Dewa Daijô.
HORIMONO: Extremely rare in katana and tachi. Conversely, the horimono is comparatively plentiful in tantô.
NAKAGO: It is maru-mune, the saki is more rounded and slender than that of Kunihiro. The yasuri-mei is ô-sujikai, the same as Kunihiro. The finish is excellently executed.
MEI: The large deep strokes of his mei are strongly carved. He generally signed DEWA NO DAIJÔ Fujiwara Kunimichi (出羽大掾藤原國路). Rarely in his later years he inscribed DEWA NO DAIJÔ FUJIWARA RAI KUNIMICHI (出羽大掾藤原来國路).Earlier in this paper I mentioned how he used the Mishina kanji character for “michi” occasionally in some of his early works. In addition to that, it appears that he had a sense of humor and loved a good pun on occasion. There are signatures where he signed JÛ ICHI TSUJI (十一辻）on his swords. If you dissect this signature, you will notice that JÛ ICHI literally means 10+1 or eleven. Eleven can also be written as 9+2 or in Japanese KU (9) NI (2) and the kanji character, TSUJI (辻) is a way of writing the word “road” or street”. This has the same meaning as the word “MICHI”. Thus if we put it all together, JÛ ICHI TSUJI (十一辻）is another way expressing the same meaning as writing KUNIMICHI. Very Punny.