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From Value One, Winter 2010-2011, No. 31  

 

Take a train trip of about one hour from Kobe. After going over a number of hills, you will arrive in Miki City, Hyogo Prefecture. Miki is known as a town of hardware, producing such carpenter tools as saws, chisels, planes, pocketknives, and trowels. It is one of the most important production centers of hardware in Japan along with Sanjo City in Niigata Prefecture.

Already in the late decades of the Edo period (1603–1867), hardware from Miki gained nationwide fame, underlying the active efforts of hardware wholesalers. Brokers specializing in the sales of products emerged out of carpenters and blacksmiths. When these wholesalers became organized and began dealing directly with buyers in Edo (today's Tokyo), Miki Hardware rapidly established its position as a national brand.

Today, five items—saws, chisels, planes, pocketknives, and trowels—are designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as traditional crafts constituting Banshu Miki Forged Blades. (Banshu is the old name of Southwest Hyogo.) Here and there in the city, some 360 hardware-related business establishments are located.

In Japan, more than 90% of trowels, which plasterers use when plastering walls, are made in Miki. Mr. Ryuzo Sugita, a trowel craftsman of Sugita Kogyo Corporation, is a long-time veteran with 56 years of experience in his craft. "There are trowels made by merely cutting a piece of steel sheet into a decent-looking shape, but they are entirely different from those that have been forged," he declares. The demand for trowels is much smaller now than it was at its peak because the number of Japanese-style houses has decreased, but he untiringly continues to make trowels one by one to meet orders coming in from all over Japan.


Chisels are used mainly in woodworking and sculpturing. There is a wide variety of their applications, which are claimed to be in the hundreds. Mr. Ryoichi Takahashi of Takahashi Special Chisel Works, who is the top craftsman of this item, is particularly good at making chisels for unusual purposes, such as carving ice sculptures displayed at parties. He emphasizes the depth of his art, saying, "If you think ice is soft, you are entirely wrong. To make an edge that can overcome the hardness of ice, temperature control in forge-welding base metal and steel is the decisive factor." According to Mr. Takahashi, more ice chisels are ordered from foreign countries, including the United States, France, and Hong Kong, than from within Japan.

Long-held traditions and skills underlie the superiority of Miki Hardware, the value of which is made known more and more widely in the world by many people involved in its production and marketing, including craftsmen and merchants.

Temperature control determines the success or failure of hardware making.




Trowels are available in hundreds of different types (Sugita Kogyo).





Miki Hardware Museum
5-43, Uenomaru-cho, Miki-shi, Hyogo
Tel: +81-794-83-1780
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed Mondays (open if Monday falls on a national holiday and closed on the following day) and during the year-end/New Year holidays (December 29 through January 3)
Admission: Free

The Higonokami knife, extensively used by people until as recently as the middle of the 1960s as their favorite folding knife, originated in Miki also. When a person brought back a Western-style knife from Kyushu and asked a craftsman in Miki to make something like it, this was the origin of the Higonokami knife, which made such a big a hit in the market that Higonokami became synonymous with pocketknife in Japanese. Valuable references regarding this and other items of Miki Hardware and actual products are preserved and exhibited at the Miki Hardware Museum. Local hardware manufacturers demonstrate their skills in turn to the public on the first Sunday of every month to make and keep better known the traditional art of blacksmiths.

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