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From Value One, Autumn 2017, No. 58  

Tsugaru pruning shears are known for their uniquely beautiful shape

Traditional Skills and Crafts Sustain Japan’s Top Apple-Producing Town

Aomori is Japan’s top apple-producing prefecture, and Hirosaki City is proud of its annual output of around 180,000 tonnes, the top share in the far northern prefecture.

Apples are not native to Japan, and were only imported from the U.S. early in the Meiji Era (1868–1912). Growing them is a yearlong series of delicate and painstaking tasks. Leaves around the apples are plucked, and the fruits are periodically turned to ensure they are sufficiently exposed to sunlight, whose ultraviolet rays are indispensable to a good red color.

The pruning of the trees begins in the winter after the harvest. Pruning is considered the trickiest and most crucial part of tending the trees. To grow the best fruit, the twigs and branches of apple trees must be trimmed to let sunlight reach the space around them. This is a task so challenging that veterans say, “Until you’ve trimmed a thousand trees, you cannot become a master apple grower.”

A pair of pruning shears is an indispensable tool for trimming apple trees.

A blacksmith community arose in the castle town of the Hirosaki fief to produce swords and cooking knives during the Edo Period (1603–1868). These products constitute a traditional craft that is still thriving as Tsugaru uchihamono or cutlery (Tsugaru being the old name for the Aomori area). As apple production prospered in and after the Meiji years, a unique tool known as “Tsugaru-type” shears was developed using traditional local skills in cutlery.

The beautiful form of Tsugaru-type shears features an oblique curved cutting edge. Their functional beauty is the outcome of a long search for a shape that would protect the user from fatigue even after many hours of cutting. Only one side of the shears has a cutting edge, and there is a minute gap between one side and the other side. This structure improves the cutting performance of the shears as they are used over time.

Mikuni Uchihamono Ten (Mikuni Cutlery Shop), which was established about one hundred and thirty years ago, is a well-known name in this trade and a maker of apple-pruning shears, now rare even in Hirosaki. Toru Mikuni, the fifth-generation master of the shop, describes the depth of skills he inherited from his ancestors, saying: “The most important point is how well the edges engage with each other. Their delicate adjustment is so difficult.”

Tsugaru pruning shears have now become a national standard item. The more you use them, the better you find them fitting your hand. These traditional shears are constantly being improved together with the skills of Japan’s top apple growers, whose needs they satisfy.


Toru Mikuni strikes red-hot steel



Mikuni Uchihamono Ten is both a smithy and a retail store

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