Armitage in Japan: Part 1

Kris Armitage, the Manager of our Edmonton shop, got to tag-along with Kevin on a pre-Garage Sale trip to Japan. The fellas visited several of our favourite blacksmiths, ate a tonne of food, drank all of the sake in several cities and sang some karaoke with Takamura-san.

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How is it that 12 days can feel like a year and a minute at the same time? An overdose of culture shock would be a good guess. When you are an Albertan, you haven’t got much choice but to feel like a foreigner while in Japan. Strangely enough, everywhere I went was extremely welcoming regardless of the fact I am a head taller than most and can’t speak a lick of Japanese.

 

In those 12 days, Kevin and I managed to cover a lot of ground. 2500km is a long way to go in under 2 weeks, but it allowed me to witness a great cross section of the country and its people. We spent the majority of our time in the more rural parts of Japan and it was the beginning of rice season. I got to see farmers tilling and prepping the fields in the North and the sprouts growing in the South. This is definitely a country fueled by gohan; we had rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. That being said, we didn’t travel to Japan to talk about rice, we traveled to Japan to witness the Blacksmiths in action.

 

Blacksmiths are badass, all of them. No exceptions.

 

Our first stop was in Yatsushiro, on the southern island of Kyushu, to visit the Moritaka family. This family as been making blades for over seven centuries and 27 generations. The workshop isn’t that old but it obviously isn’t a new build and is located within arms reach of the family home. This has helped the Moritaka blacksmiths achieve a healthy blend of work-life balance. It was great to see the kids come home from school and pop into the workshop to say hello; even during break-time everyone sat down for lunch and tea together.

 

As much fun as it was to get to play with a katana and chuck some shuriken, the highlight was easily getting to forge not 1 but 2 knives and trust me when I say that it isn't as easy as it looks. The masters make it look pretty effortless to grip a glowing chunk of steel in a pair of tongs and let a massive hammer smash it flat. The truth is you better be holding on damn tight because that hammer is going to toss you around or knock that scalding metal out of your tongs and across the room. It feels pretty good when you've got that thing banged into shape and a man with decades of experience gives you a thumbs up.

 

In their dimly lit and cramped shop the Moritakas do it all from forging their own Sanmai steel to the final grinding and sharpening of the blades. It was evident to me that there is a great deal of pride and care that not only go into their craftsmanship but also into their long family traditions. I've always found it easy to appreciate the beautiful knives that we carry at Knifewear but it changes everything once you shake the hands that actually do the work. It doesn't hurt either when they freely pour shochu (a distilled liquor of rice, barley and sweet potato) and serve you delicious basashi (horse meat)!

 

We missed being trapped on Kyushu by a large earthquake that rocked Kumamoto approximately 10 hours after we had left. Our friends were lucky to not be affected directly but some of their friends and family in Kumamoto were not so lucky and incurred some serious loss of property. 48 people in the area lost their lives. Very scary situation indeed.

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Parts 2 and 3 of Mr. Armitage’s Japan adventures will be posted in the near future. In the meantime enjoy 10% off Moritaka Knives the entire month of August to celebrate their Calgary and Vancouver visits on August 20 and 21 respectively. 


Kris Armitage
Kris Armitage

Author

A veteran of many great kitchens, Kris spent over a decade chained to stoves cranking out fine dining. After easing back into civil society by cheese mongering he found his way to Knifewear in the summer of 2014. Kris has a soft spot for 210mm Gyutos and an affinity for the amazing Aogami Super. He believes that no kitchen is complete without at least one Koishi.


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