According to one theory, Kunimitsu (国光)is the son of Awtaguchi Kunitsuna(粟田口国綱) who temporarily lived in Kamakura. However, this theory seems a bit unreasonable, as Kunitsuna (国光)would have been about 88 years old when Kunimitsu (国光)was born. Another theory says that he was the grandson of Awtaguchi Kunitsuna (粟田口国綱). This is a more likely scenario. Whether either or neither of these theories is correct, there can be no doubt that Kunimitsu’s (国光)workmanship is rooted in the Awataguchi (粟田口) school of sword making. It is also said that when both Bizen Saburo Kunimune (三郎国宗) and Bizen Fukuoka Ichimonji Sukezane (福岡一文字助真) went to Kamakura to work, Kunimitsu (国光) was trained by one of them. This is not likely because of the great differences in their working styles. What we do know is that Kunimitsu (国光) was the first smith from this time period who actually inscribed “Kamakura Jû” (鎌倉住)on his dated nakago thus certifying him to be the earliest smith to have been established there.
It is a known fact, however, that he trained his sons, Kunihiro (国広), Kunishige (国重)and Kuniyasu (国泰) as well as the famous smiths, Yukimitsu (行光),Norishige (則重), and Masamune (正宗). For these reasons it is proper to call him the first pure Kamakura Kaji (Kamakura sword-smith 鎌倉鍛治) and to designate him as the founder of the Sôshû tradition of sword making.
As noted, he lived in Sagami Kamakura, is called Shintôgo Kunimitsu (新藤五国光)and Hasebe Kunimitsu (長谷部国光). His Bhuddist name was Kôshin. Because he left a good number of dated works, we can surmise that he had a working period of about thirty years covering the Einin (永仁1293-1299), Kagen (嘉元1303-1306), Enkyô (延慶(1308-1311), Shôwa (正和1312-1317), Bunpô (文保1317-1319), Gen’ô (元応1319-1321), Genkyo (元亨1321-1324), and Shôchû (正中1324-1326) eras.
Existing tachi by Kunimitsu (国光) are exceedingly scarce with only a few examples and his extant remaining works are in tantôform. His few tachiare inferior as compared to his many tantô. That is not to say that they are inferior swords, they merely pale in comparison to his tantô. He is considered to be one of the two most skillful tantômakers in Japanese sword history, the other being Awataguchi Yoshimitsu (粟田口吉光)of Yamashiro. Kunimitsu’s (国光)workmanship is very much like the Awataguchi style as it contains a great many chikeiin the ji. It differs, however, in that the hamonof Kunimitsu (国光) containsamost desirable and dignified type of kinsujiin an abundance that far surpasses the works from those of the Awataguchi smiths.
Kunimitsu (国光) is particularly praised for his ability to produce varied types of suguhasuch as ito-suguha(thread-thin), hoso-suguha (narrow), chû-suguha (medium-wide), and a wide hiro-suguha(only occasionally). The skill that is required to make suguhaso fine and consistent while containingkinsujiin abundance is a trademark of Kunimitsu (国光) and something that cannot be over-emphasized. He is truly unsurpassed in this area.
Another popular trademark of Kunimitsu (国光)for which he has been praised is his so-called okina-no-hige(old man’s beard). This expression has been used for hundreds of years to define the strong abundance of niein the bôshioverpowering the blade and “falling into the ji” to form streaks looking like an old man’s beard/whiskers.
Kunimitsu (国光) has left behind a large number of signed works from the Kamakura era. With a very few exceptions, all are tantô. Because of the large number of signed examples, he has been the object of study by sword experts for a very long time. For this reason, there have been theories as to whether there were actually two generations of smiths or even three who signed Kunimitsu (国光). It is said that all three of his offspring used their father’s mei, Kunimitsu (国光). In reality, there is no way that we can make clear distinctions between the mei of these four smiths. The styles of workmanship are so similar and while the various mei inscriptions have a few differing distinctions, they are overall very much alike. For these reasons, it is plausible that the three sons did substitute-mei(daimei代名) and substitute forging (daisaku代作) for Kunimitsu (国光) and that at least one of them succeeded to their father’s name. Since out of the three sons, Kunihiro (国広) was the only one who left signed works in his own name, it is plausible that either Kunishige (国重)or Kuniyasu (国泰)became the Nidai. This subject will, no doubt, be the object of further study for many years.
Characteristics of tantô of the Shintôgo (新藤五)school:
SUGATA: Most are around 24 cm in length. With very few exceptions, his tantôwill be hira-zukuriwith a mitsu-mune. A notable exception is the kokuhô tantôdone in kanmuri-otoshishape. They will be uchi-zori or just a hint of takenoko sori. There are some examples with a leaning toward mu-zori. The mihabais narrow, and there is a tendency for the fukurato be slightly flat, rather than full and rounded. The sugatais compact.
JITETSU: His typical jiganewould consist of a tight and very fine itame-hadasometimes containing a small amount of nagare-hada. The surface will be covered in thick ji-nieforming a great many chikei. The niegrains in the jiare outstanding containing somewhat coarse and bright grains forming a misty reflection-like radiant configuration (utsuri). It is said that this looks like clean sand on the bottom of a clear stream.
HAMON: His hamonwill be based in fine nie. It will be ito-suguha(thread-thin), hoso-suguha, chû-suguha, and hiro-suguha(only occasionally). The skill that is required to make suguhafine and consistent containing kinsujiin abundance is a trademark of Kunimitsu (国光). He made one known tantôin midareba, and it is known as the Meibutsu Midare Shintôgo (名物乱新藤五). The nieis stronger in the hathan it is in the ha-buchi, there are also some in which the yaki-hababecomes narrow in the vicinity of the fukura, and the activity in that region is especially abundant and vigorous. Often yakikomi(widening of the hamon) will be found at the habaki moto.
BÔSHI: Ko-maruwith abundant nieis the most common. The turn-back will vary with most being short but sometimes they will be longer. As noted above, one of Kunimitsu’s special traits is that the abundance of niewill often coagulate in the bôshiarea and “spill-out” into the jiforming lines creating what is known as the okina-no-hige(old man’s beard/whiskers).
NAKAGO: Long and straight nakagoare the most common, but furisode -gata(kimono sleeve) shaped ones can also be found. The nakago jiriwill be ha-agari-kurijiriorkuri-jirimost often. The yasuri-meiare kirior a shallow katte sagari.
MEI: Regarding the mei, ni-ji meiis the most common (two-character signature). Occasionally there is a naga-mei. Kunimitsu’s meiwas unique. The left-hand portion inside the kanji, “Kuni” is made by what looks like a backward romanji ‘S” shape. Additionally, the upper portion of the kanji, “Mitsu” looks like the sôshotai(grass writing style) for the kanji, “kita” meaning north.
HORIMONO: Those with horimonoof suken, bonji, gomabashi, or koshibiare the most common. There are also those with no horimono.