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From Value One, Autumn 2014 No.46  

A traditional sickle made by Hitoyoshi smithing


Lying at the southern end of Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, Hitoyoshi City is located in a basin surrounded by mountains more than a thousand meters high, a land where forestry has thrived since ancient times.

The Sagara family, appointed in the Kamakura Period (roughly 1185 to 1333) to take charge of a lord’s manor in this region, came here accompanied by a number of swordsmiths from Enshu, their previous homeland in central Japan. These craftsmen merged their techniques with local traditional skills, and this marked the beginning of a unique forging method known as Hitoyoshi Kaji or "cutlery art." Their main products then were sickles, hoes, axes, hatchets and scissors mainly for forestry use, but now they fashion a much greater variety of cutlery, including knives for cooking and other purposes since demand for the more traditional tools has diminished.

The Minomo Blacksmiths shop, founded in 1796, has been making cutlery since the Edo Period (1603–1867). Eighth-generation smith Yutaka Minomo is 79 years old but still active in his workshop. "We use our brains to find the right way to make what we want," he says with a smile. "This is the tradition of Hitoyoshi blacksmithing. We were terribly busy when forestry was thriving." His son Minoru, the ninth generation of the cutlery-making family, keeps the tradition alive in close teamwork with his father.

What gives Hitoyoshi-wrought cutlery its edge is a superb technique known as warikomi tanzo or cut-in forging. Cuts are made into a red-hot piece of soft iron heated in the furnace, and rod-shaped steel pieces are inserted into the cuts together with adhesive. The material is struck with a hammer and drawn thin as it is put into and taken out of the furnace repeatedly. The material is quickly shaped into a knife.


While there are other well-known production centers of wrought cutlery such as Sakai, Miki and Tosa, they have a division of functions between smiths and wholesalers. In Hitoyoshi, however, there is no cutlery wholesaler, and smiths have retail stores of their own. Minomo Blacksmiths has an established sales presence on a main street in the city.

"Our customers come from Miyazaki and Kagoshima (also on Kyushu), too. Since I can talk with them directly, we can develop the shapes they really want and new products suitable for them," Minoru Minomo says. Smiths in Hitoyoshi have worked out forged cutlery more convenient for the users by making constant improvements.

Minoru Minomo forged an aesthetically beautiful and streamlined knife for a joint exhibition with his craftsman friends in the area. It symbolizes the pride of Hitoyoshi smiths who have further honed their traditional skills and continue to meet modern challenges without fearing changes in their art.

Minomo senior (Yutaka, left) and son (Minoru)


Cut-in forging, a traditional technique


The Minomo Blacksmiths store, located on a main street in Hitoyoshi




Hitoyoshi Craft Park Ishino Koen
1425-1 Akaikehara-machi, Hitoyoshi-shi, Kumamoto
Tel: +81-966-22-6700
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (applications for the craft experience course are accepted until 4:00 p.m.); closed during the year-end/New Year holidays (Dec. 29–Jan. 1)
Admission: free (a ¥3,000 fee is charged for the blacksmithing experience)

Hitoyoshi Craft Park Ishino Koen is a theme park where you can witness and even experience the making of Hitoyoshi cutlery. Opened in 1989, it is popular among tourists interested in obtaining various traditional handicraft items made in the Hitoyoshi and Kuma districts, including cutlery, wooden and ceramic items, glassware and leather products. "A theme park where you can experience the making of so wide a variety of handicrafts in a single place is rare, even in Japan," says Shogo Ogata, the park’s manager. Minomo senior and his son serve as teachers here, providing guidance on the crafting of cooking knives and other cutlery items.
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