Kris Armitage, the Manager of our Edmonton shop, got to tag-along with Kevin on a pre-Garage Sale trip to Japan. You can catch part 1 here and part 2 here. And now here's the conclusion to Kris’s adventure.
After an unforeseen stop-over in Kanazawa, we made our way to Tsubame Sanjo. It seems that they make everything in Niigata prefecture, factories making all sorts of stuff are everywhere you look. We visited all kinds including Iwasaki-san's cramped and cluttered shop to the multi-building machine that is Tojiro.
The thing that sticks with me most about this part of the trip though is how much human labour goes into what we call “factory knives”. Just because a knife is stamped, not hand-forged, doesn't mean that there isn't an actual person straightening the blade, grinding the bevel, polishing the edge, turning the handle or using some kind of electro-chemical magic to emboss a logo on the steel. Many hands touch a "factory knife” and we should be careful not to under-appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making each one.
Also worth noting is that Tojiro is the only place in our travels that we saw a woman doing blacksmithing work. When Sayaka-san started work at Tojiro she was uninterested in doing the jobs that women traditionally did in the factory, (handle making, polishing, etc.) she was more interested in learning to forge. She's only been working at it a short time, but even as an apprentice she's making waves.
Masashi-san is a badass, the lone wolf of blacksmithing. He has a little workshop with one employee... him. We sat around his desk, ate snacks and drank tea; it was like a cooler version of my grandfather’s garage. This dude has some serious swagger, he’s a perfectionist and a craftsman at heart but is well aware that attitude can sell knives. Lighting a cigarette with a glowing piece of steel or wearing flip-flops at the forge are just a couple of ways to show that you mean business.
Visiting the Hinouras was more than a little intimidating. The tiny office was adorned with many awards and had some very impressive knives displayed in it, they do much more than the beautiful River Jump knives. The younger Hinoura-san makes many types of hatchets and tools. The thing that impressed me the most was their sharpening room, there was enough stones that each of the Three Little Pigs could build a house and a custom sharpening sink with a cushioned bench. This room was clearly well used, some of the knives in their shop are the sharpest things I have ever touched.
Our last day was spent learning about Sake and making Miso in Suwa, Nagano prefecture. It was great to see how both products were made and the passion of the people behind them. It was also nice to have a bit of a relaxing last day in Japan. The overall experience left me with an even greater appreciation of the work that goes into the products we carry. Going to Japan and getting to witness the things we love being made reinforces why we do things differently. The pride that was shown by all of the blacksmiths I met was intense. Visiting Japan was an eye opening and enlightening experience. Easily the best work experience I have ever had.