Kunitomo (国友)

The word "Kunitomo" referred to Kunitomo Village in Sakata County, Omi Province (present-day Kunitomo-cho, Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture), which was renowned for its production of firearms along with Sakai City during the Warring States period through to the end of the Edo period, and also to gunsmiths who worked in Kunitomo Village (called "Kunitomo Kaji" in Japanese).
The guns that were made there were known as 'Kunitomo Tsutsu.'
The gunsmiths all held the title of 'Kunitomo' and they included individuals such as Tobeshigeyuki KUNITOMO. The entire village operated in a manner similar to an industrial estate, with craftsmen all specializing in a particular facet of firearm production such as those who manufactured important components such as the barrels, others known as 'taishi' who crafted the stocks, and those called 'karakuri' who made the mechanical parts and various metal components as well as the decoration and inlaying that was applied to the barrel and base plate.

The taishi OSHIMA Kichibe and the inlayer Michitane RINKONDO were known as masters in their respective fields.
Ikkansai KUNITOMO (Tobeshigeyuki) was known for the development of high power telescopes and a compressed gas cylinder air gun called a 'kiho.'
Kunitomo was also the place where screws were invented in Japan.

Firearm production in Kunitomo is reputed to have begun in 1544 when samples were ordered by Shogun Yoshiharu ASHIKAGA. A close alliance with the shogunate during the Edo period led to orders being placed and workers being alternately seconded to Edo where they carried out firearm maintenance at Edo-jo Castle. Invitations from feudal lords throughout Japan meant many gunsmiths relocated to these areas, and many pieces produced by such individuals were inscribed both 'Kunimoto' and the gunsmith's real name. Some of the firearms that bear the name "Kunitomo" are believed to have been made by gunsmiths who were not born in Kunitomo Village but learned gunsmithing skills in the village, or called by the name simply to increase their commercial value.

Whereas guns made in Sakai City, which was also well known for the manufacture of firearms, were famous mainly for their artistic value, such as elaborate metal works and beautiful inlays, many of the firearms manufactured in Kunitomo were excellent works of functional beauty. Approximately 25% of the firearms in Japan during this period carried the Kunitomo inscription and these were equal in popularity to guns produced in Sakai.

Today firearm craftsmanship of Kunitomo is exhibited on the portable shrine used during festivals held by Nagahama Hachiman-gu Shrine as well as the metal fixtures adorning the Nagahama Butsudan altar.

[Original Japanese]