August 23, 2017 4 min read
In July, we had a Japanese blacksmith, Masashi Yamamoto, visiting us from Sanjo city in Niigata Prefecture in Japan. He is one of my favourite blacksmiths because of the high level of his workmanship. His blades are crazy sharp and super pretty, we especially love the way he polishes his knives to bright shine. We carry 3 different lines from him, VS1 Tsuchime, SLD Mirror polishand SLD Damascus.
The city of Sanjo where he is from is very famous for kitchen knife making. The history of blacksmithing in the region goes back to the 17th Century. Sanjo farmers were suffering under a bad famine, so they began making carpentry nails in the traditional Japanese technique. Now Sanjo is the place where the best knives are created. Kosuke Iwasaki, father of famous straight razor maker Shigeyoshi Iwasaki, introduced scientific analysis to knife making by examining the way blacksmith techniques changed the molecular structure of steel.
Masashi Yamamoto-san is from a family that has 13 generations of blacksmithing tradition. His uncle, who was head of Yoshikane, is his master and teacher. He had trained and worked under his uncle at Yoshikane until he started his own workshop about 5 years ago. He has been making knives for 14 years. Despite his relatively short career as a blacksmith, we are constantly amazed by his workmanship and his perfectionism.
Masashi first visited Canada in 2014. Because of how well received he was and how much fun we had, we’ve always wanted him to come back for a second visit. This time we took him to town of Lethbridge where the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden was celebrating its 50th anniversary. With help of local blacksmith, Andy Samek, Masashi was able to do a knife forging demonstration. Masashi-san showed the public how forge welding is done, (the process by which the internal structure of the blade is created), and the actual forging, (creating the shape of the blade). He did all of this under the scorching hot sun.
After a long day at the forge, we took him to a Japanese restaurant in Lethbridge, Lighthouse. Something we found surprising was that Masashi san had never had North American sushi! Despite his frequent visit to Germany and other European countries, he had never bothered trying sushi there either. We managed to trick him into eating North American sushi — and he loved it!
After 2 days of knife forging demos in Lethbridge, we came back to Calgary for some Stampeding. As proud Calgarians, we wanted Masashi-san to have a taste of Calgary Stampede at least once. We managed to get him to try Deep Fried Reese and Oreo flavoured Churros and of course we got him a Cowboy hat.
Masashi-san spent the next day at the store engraving his knives. He managed to engrave knives for over 30 people, both long-time owners of his knives as well as those purchasing new ones. He even stayed a full hour and a half over his scheduled time, saying he was happy to make sure his customers were happy. What a nice guy!
Next city, Edmonton.
At the Edmonton store, Masashi san engraved well over 20 people’s knives and once again engraved long past the time he was meant to finish. He had a great time meeting with everyone that came in. Masashi-san was only staying in Edmonton one night, so he and Edmonton staff made the most of it and went out for the night. . Great food and Beer at Biera, and a very warm welcome by Acme Meats, who took us to behind the scenes and showed us around. Thanks!
Final stop, Ottawa.
We flew from Edmonton to Ottawa the next day. Because of it’s distance from the other stores, this is first time that the Ottawa store has welcomed a Japanese blacksmith, so we did an extended four day visit.
We had been in contact with the Japanese Embassy for this special occasion. The ambassador of Japan, Mr. Monji, even invited us for lunch at his official residence! It was such honour. They served us beautifully prepared Japanese food, along with various sakes selected by Mr. Monji, who calls himself a “Sake Samurai”. Masashi-san had prepared special gift for the ambassador and his chef (guess what? It was a knife!). Due to the informal nature of this visit, there are no photos to show off, but take our word for it, it was a beautiful experience.
CBC radio interviewed Masashi-san on Friday, his first night in town and it was aired right away on Saturday morning. He became a Ottawa-wide celebrity overnight! That same Saturday, Masashi-san was at the Ottawa store and engraved over twenty more people’s knives. Chris, the manager at our Ottawa store also got his knife engraved. He asked Masashi to think up something to put on his knife and he came up with this…
It reads…”A father who loves his daughter”. How sweet! To reward him for his hard work engraving, we made sure he saw the sights of Ottawa, including the Prime Minister’s home, Parliament Hill, the Governor General’s house, and more.
On Sunday we were off to the Ottawa Natsu Matsuri (Japanese Summer Festival). It was held at magnificent Mooney’s Bay. With help of an Ottawa blacksmith, Masashi-san did yet another knife forging demonstration. This was the first time that a Japanese blacksmith had done a knife making demonstration in Ottawa! As you can see from this photo (above), when he is working, he only wears flip flops, those are his safety “boots”. We don’t recommend this technique, but it seems to work for Masashi! The demonstration went well and the festival seemed to be a great success.
To wrap the whole Canadian experience up for Masashi-san, we took him to local pub and had him try poutine and nachos. The real Canadian Experience.
Masashi-san’s Canadian tour was a huge success. Customers got to see a Japanese blacksmith in action and our staff learned much from Masashi-san. We thank him for coming to Canada to help showcase Japanese culture as well as sharing his knowledge among our staff members. We are committed to continue bringing blacksmiths from Japan.
Who would you like to see in Canada next?
Naoto came to Canada in 2007 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 the 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 Cultural Ambassador bridging Japan and Canada. You can also see him in SpringHammer looking cool and holding it all together.