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From Value One, Summer 2011 No.33  

Mr. Masanobu Okada, one of the rare inheritors of masaoki-ho


Echizen City in Fukui Prefecture is famous for the excellent cutlery it produces, including cooking knives, farmers' sickles, hedge shears, and hoes. This tradition dates back to about seven centuries ago. When Chiyozuru Kuniyasu, a swordsmith in Kyoto, moved to Fuchu (today's Echizen City) in Echizen Province in 1337 in search of land suitable for sword making, he made sickles for farmers in the neighborhood, and this is said to be the beginning of cutlery production in the area. In the Edo period (1603–1867), kaji kabunakama (kabunakama is a guild of merchants or craftsmen) was organized under the patronage of the Fukui fief, and the foundation of cutlery-forging skills was thereby laid. The term Echizen cutlery became known across Japan because craftspeople who made lacquerware, which was a traditional industry of Echizen, carried with them and sold these cutlery items on their nationwide trips. Sickles made in Echizen became especially well-known as Echizen gama (sickles) and held a 30% share in the nation's output of sickles in the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912).


One of the significant features of making Echizen cutlery is a technique known as masaoki-ho. Forged cutlery is made by forge-welding steel, which will eventually constitute the edge, onto base iron. Under the masaoki-ho method, the steel is hammered into a rhombic shape from one corner onward. Because this can provide a thinner steel layer, the finished product is sharper and easier to sharpen. Mr. Masanobu Okada, one of a very few qualified traditional artisans who inherited masaoki-ho, is particularly good at forging such products as sickles and hedge shears. He emphatically said, "I have been engaged in this art for 45 years, but I still feel it is an endless world. Yet, basic skills never become outdated, and my role is to hand them down to the younger generation." Under Mr. Okada, two apprentices are now learning the best of thoroughly polished-up skills.

Amid a shrinking market for forged cutlery, including farmers' sickles, in 1992, younger craftspeople, having a sense of crisis, took the initiative and established an association called Takefu Knife Village with a view to enhancing the perceived value of Echizen forged cutlery and building up a cooperative production system. Today, approximately 20 craftspeople, including qualified traditional artisans, gather in a common workshop and try to develop knives of novel designs and hand down their skills to the younger generation.

Echizen forged cutlery, combining traditional skills with modern sensitivity, is certain to find its future in the next generation.



Younger craftsmen working together to polish up their skills at Takefu Knife Village's joint workshop



Sickles under the brand name Monjiro produced by Mr. Masanobu Okada



Knives and a pair of scissors of novel and unique designs





Takefu Knife Village
22-91 Yokawa-cho, Echizen-shi, Fukui
Tel: +81-778-27-7120
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (daily)
Admission: Free

Takefu Knife Village was launched about 20 years ago by Mr. Kazuo Kawasaki, a design director born in Fukui Prefecture, and younger craftspeople for the purpose of ensuring a viable future for Echizen forged cutlery. The association has set up a joint workshop, a rare production system even in Japan, and succeeded in handing down skills to younger craftspeople and reducing costs, both common challenges to all the production centers of traditional handicrafts. Visitors can try their hands at making knives and other cutlery items for themselves there (reservation required), which is a rare opportunity to learn traditional forging and polishing skills directly from craftspeople.

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