At Knifewear, supporting the future of blacksmithing has always been one of our main goals. Fifteen years ago, many would have called knifemaking in Japan a “dying art”, with many older masters forging knives with very few young apprentices. Since then, the blossom of passion for knife making has blossomed among the youth, and blacksmithing now has a bright, vibrant future in Japan. Many older masters have taken on young apprentices, and some have even struck out on their own to start their own workshops. One such workshop I’m most excited about currently is Isamitsu Hamono.
Isamitsu Hamono is primarily operated by Yuki Abe-san and Gaku Kanatsu-san who were the former apprentices of legendary blacksmith in the region. Yuki Abe-san, head blacksmith of Isamitsu, was born and raised in Paris, France and is fluent in both French and Japanese. He possessed a great interest in knives since his youth and eventually knocked on the door of a legendary blacksmith to seek out an apprenticeship. After 15 years of apprenticeship and learning, Abe-san and his former colleague Kanatsu-san started Isamitsu Hamono in 2022.
Their motto is: We continue to doubt our past selves. We continue to pass on our failures to future generations. We continue to hope that those who follow will overtake us.
It may sound ominous, but this philosophy is one that suits knife making well. They reflect on their past mistakes, never resting on their laurels, always striving to craft better knives and improve their methods. They hope that one day their apprentices will outdo them and reach even higher heights. This is the kind of attitude that leads a person to create some of the best knives in the world, and surely it marks a promising future for Isamitsu Hamono.
Speaking of a promising future, just one year after they opened in 2022, Isamitsu took on their first apprentice to begin the process of passing on their skills to the future generation. Historically, women making knives in Japan is unheard of, but that’s starting to change, and their apprentice Naoko-san shows great promise. In addition to taking on a female apprentice, they are also breaking tradition by cross-polinating with other knife makers in Japan. Since striking out on their own, they’ve had the time to visit other craftspeople and learn from them, sharing ideas and adapting their knife-making style. This way they can take the best part of their training, combine it with their best ideas of other makers, and create something truly unique.
Isamitsu Hamono are based out of the city of Sakuragawa in Ibaraki about 2 ½ hours drive from Tokyo. It is surrounded by beautiful scenery of trees, mountains and rice fields, and their brand new workshop fits into the area well. Isamitsu blades feel familiar, yet are something entirely new. Abe-san and Kanatsu-san have given these a really simple, crisp kurouchi finish and sharpened them with a finer, flatter bevel so they glide beautifully through denser foods. Every step of the process has been carefully thought out and planned, incorporation skills learned and techniques picked up from other makers.
Yuki Abe:Born in Paris in 1979. After working in professional kitchens, he started working as a blacksmith's apprentice at the age of 27.
Naoko Abe: Wife of Yuki and the Padawan (apprentice) of Isamitsu.
Gaku Kanatsu:Born in Tokyo in 1980. After working for a PR company as a designer and director, he started working alongside Abe-san for their former master.
What got you into the knife making industry?
Yuki:I started cooking when I was 6, and I have really loved knives since I was a kid. I even drew some imaginary knife shapes on my notebooks. When I went to a knife store in Kyoto, I remembered how much I loved knives and decided to become one who make them.
Naoko: I started to work because I thought I can’t promote their (Isamitsu) knives without knowing how they are made.
Gaku: At my prior job, I was making some tools for company promotions and started to realize that I wanted to create more handcrafted items. I originally tried making things other than kitchen knives, but I ended up choosing this path because I have always loved cooking and to be quite frank, I saw a business opportunity in this industry as well.
I get to asked this question a lot and serious answers like the one above are not really fun, so I usually answer like “I started making knives because I thought I would be more attractive to women” lol
It has been a year since Isamitsu started, what has been the biggest challenge?
Yuki:It was setting up the equipment. Since there were no contractors who could make them for me, I had to do everything myself.
Naoko:Not being a company employee (from his wife).
Gaku: My father's care and my mother-in-law's care overlapped with my independence, so I just didn't have enough time.
Are you currently taking on any new challenges?
Yuki:I want to take the materials I'm currently handling to their limits and bring "Shirogami No.1" and "Aogami Super" steels to the best performance possible, while increasing my work speed. Furthermore, I want to make my own steel.
Naoko:I want to make kitchen knives for women and children at ISAMITSU.
Gaku:I'm currently setting up my workspace to be able to do more accurate work more efficiently.
What kind of craftsman do you want to become moving forward?
Yuki:I think it's natural for my skills to improve over time, in terms of speed, quality, and finish.
I want to be careful to avoid complacency, and to keep taking on new challenges and continue to work happily and enjoyably.
Naoko:It's a long way off, but right now, I think I can only do the work given to me carefully and diligently.
Gaku:I hope to have enough breathing room while working; I should look like I'm just goofing off but actually working seriously. When I'm occasionally photographed, I don't look very relaxed, and I don't think I'll be attractive if I look like I am under pressure.
Do you have any craftsmen you look up to? Who are they, and why?
Yuki: Unfortunately, there aren't any... my ideal craftsman is only within myself, so I'm trying to get closer to that image.
Naoko:Yuki Abe. I think it's amazing how he doesn't lose his sense of humour even in difficult situations.
Gaku: Although they're not in the same industry, I know a few creators who still have sparkling eyes even as they get older. I want to be like that.
What is your favourite part of this job?
Yuki:I can do it freely because I'm doing everything from start to finish.
Naoko: I enjoy being immersed in my work and feeling cool when sparks fly during processing.
Gaku:Not just in my work, but for some reason, I feel more fondness for the process than for the finished product.
In that sense, I'm always happy to be surrounded by things I like.
How do you spend your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
Yuki: Unfortunately, I haven't taken much time off for the past six months. On days off, I go out with my family.
Naoko: Going out with my family is the most fulfilling thing for me. As for hobbies... fashion, I guess.
Gaku: Cooking is my hobby, so I can refresh myself with it almost every day. I think it's delicious when I make it myself.
It's okay to praise myself since it's a hobby and not professional cook, right?
Naoto came to Canada several years ago and we aren't letting him go back. After getting angry with his roommate's dull knives, he started to dream of sharp Japanese knives. Naoto graduated from University of Calgary with a bachelor degree of art, majoring International Relations and finds that selling Japanese knives is his own way of doing international relations. Naoto is our Head of Shipping and receiving. You can also see him in SpringHammer looking cool and holding it all together.