TOYOKUNI – A Japanese knife employing Katana technology

 

How to be a craftsman in success with his business

 

Makoto Hamaguchi is sharpening the Japanese kitchen knife (houchou), the long knife, and the short knife, and the spark flies everywhere. Soudou Kawaguchi, the photographer, is standing on the spark reachable area holding his camera in his hands, though Makoto doesn’t say Soudou that he should move away from the fire powder may be covering him. Makoto seems to be united to the knife being applied a rotary grinder, exposing himself to the flying sparks. On the other hand, Soudou is in absolutely serious moment to capture the best shot of the smith who is trying to produce the masterpiece. He was also united to his camera without protecting himself from a danger. Neither Makoto nor Soudou say anything.

 

Quite a few people misunderstand that the interview, so to speak, questions and answers can be a source of the article when writers / journalists visit the site for coverage. I wouldn’t say that is true. At first, you must feel the site by using your own five senses, observe someone’s handworks, as well as entering into their feelings. And then, you can ask the questions that appeared on the site or confirm the facts. That is why I was also determined to watch and not to miss the moments of the metal transformation or any small movements of Makoto’s body, hands, and fingers.

 

The blade is roughly sharpened by the fourth TOYOKUNI

The blade is roughly sharpened by the fourth TOYOKUNI

 

A blade is polished undergoing the processes starting from a rough grinder to the finer gradually. Makoto places the knife on a grindstone for finishing, throwing water on the stone. He doesn’t push the knife hard, but gently, finely he slips the knife as if it were floated in air. And the moment finally came when Makoto pressed the tip with his thumb, and after the seconds the tip was released from the stone as if a butterfly floating in the sky.

 

A knife maker dedicates all his strength without saying any words while he is shaping a blade.

A knife maker dedicates all his strength without saying any words while he is shaping a blade.

 

He said, “I must feel the thickness of a tip with your finger to give sharpness for a knife.’ The knife was now finished up, and he put the tip of the knife lightly on the back of his head. “If the blade catches the cuticles of my hair, it’s sharp enough. The sharpness could be examined by unevenness of the object at the level of a tenth of one millimeter.” That is the way how he checks the finished product by touching his hair, which proves that Makoto can control the difference at the level of a tenth of one millimeter by his hands, finger tips, and hair.
 
Makoto uses the phone book just left at the corner of the work shop to see how the knife can cut well. He stands the several pages of the phone book upright and cut the pages with the finished knife in S stroke. He never applies strong pressure on a blade, but the knife just moves like it has a will to become a snake. The sharpness of the blade must be stronger than that of a razor. This is not the demonstration made for us, but he does this check of ritual in his daily work.

 
 Finally sharpening enters the finishing stage.

Left: Finally sharpening enters the finishing stage.

Right: Makoto’s finger is wet, throwing water on the rotary grinding stone

 

No wonder Toyokuni produces the knives with Japanese sword sharpness. Makoto finally gave us a smile like a child when he entered into the stage to attach a handle to the blade.

 

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Left: Sharpness of a knife can be assured if it catches the cuticles of hair.

Right: A well-sharpened knife can easily cut the thin phone book in S stroke.

 

Makoto’s office stands adjacent to the factory and the room is incredibly astonishing. You may feel as if you were in a control tower surrounded by computers and equipment. According to the smith holding a mouse instead of hammer, he has been selling the products on the internet since 1998. He has been carrying on his market research, through the travelling all over Japan and overseas countries, by which not only existing demands but potential needs are found to put them into products. He gives back the ideas he collected to Japan and the rest of the world through the internet.

 

The fourth TOYOKUNI shows smile like a child after finishing the work, and expresses little seriousness on his face

Left: The fourth TOYOKUNI shows smile like a child after finishing the work, and expresses little seriousness on his face

 

Still now he is away from the factory sometimes and visits the site where a variety of knives are actually used. He says, “I go to the site of mountain stream fishing to see what kinds of knives are used there, or how knives are selected to preserve forests. I participate in camping as well as kid’s cooking classes.”

I adore the skilled worker who confines himself into his work shop and produce the masterpiece in the earnest manner, whereas I really support a worker travelling the outside world for hunting his future products being away from his home. A conventional skilled worker (Shokunin) can be further cool when he communicates with his customers to know their needs through the net, and later gives them right feedbacks. The authentic products having been cultivated by Shokunin since war battle days rely the new technology to circulate their characteristic features. I wonder where Makoto is travelling today.

 

Interviewer & Author:Akitoshi Urayama
Photographer:Sodo Kawaguchi

 


 

Inquiry:General Incorporated Foundation of Employment Advance Research Center
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