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From Value One, Summer 2014 No.45  

Modern safety razors usually have from three to five blades

Seki City in Gifu Prefecture is one of the world's major blade production centers. It is so famous for producing blades, in fact, that it is known as the "City of Blades." A comparable blade-manufacturing center in the West is Solingen in Germany, which also has been called a "City of Blades." Blade making in Seki dates back to swordsmiths in the Kamakura Period (1185–1333), and the city is now the biggest production center of safety razors in Japan.

American inventor King C. Gillette reportedly created the safety razor in 1901. The safety razor's handle is attached at a ninety-degree angle to its head, which holds the blade(s) and a protective device that prevents cutting of the user's skin.

Both Kai Corporation and Feather Safety Razor Co., Ltd.—the big two in Japan's safety razor manufacturing industry—have their production bases in Seki. Both companies also have their origins in the Seki Safety Razor Joint-Stock Company, established in 1932. That company's founder, Saijiro Endo, succeeded in launching the domestic production of safety razors, which previously had to be imported, mostly from Germany. The company went on to apply traditional Japanese blade technology to a wide range of other products, including scissors, nail clippers and scalpels.
The material used for safety razor blades is specialty stainless steel, which can only be manufactured by three companies in the world. One of those companies is Hitachi Metals, Ltd. The 0.1 mm-thick stainless steel strips are first pressed and heat-treated, then sharpened at an angle precise down to the micron level. After that, the strips go through further fine surface treatment, including receiving a titanium coating for increased resistance to corrosion and resin applied for a softer feel on the skin.

"Our core technology is in blade making," declares Hiroaki Miyazaki, a director at Kai Industries Co., Ltd. "There will be no end to our pursuit of even better techniques for sharpening blades, including heat treatment."

In the Meiji Period (1868–1912), most swordsmiths began producing blades for household use, such as cooking knives and scissors. In no time, these products embodying sophisticated traditional technology received high praise in the market and were exported to many countries around the world. Seki-made swords had a reputation for having a sharp edge with high resistance to breaking and bending. The core of this technology lives on in diverse products for our everyday use, with safety razors a prime example.
Specialty stainless steel is pressed



A sharpened blade is cut into two pieces



Scalpels for use in ophthalmology (Kai-made) require particularly high precision


Feather Museum
1-17 Hinode-machi, Seki-shi, Gifu
Tel: +81-575-22-1923
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; closed on Tuesdays
Admission: Free (if you plan to visit in a group of seven or more, please give the museum advance notice)

Feather Safety Razor opened the Feather Museum—which focuses on the tradition of razors—in 2000 at its Seki factory. A museum specializing in razors is unparalleled not only in Japan but also in the rest of the world. Five thousand items out of its collection of some ten thousand, which include ancient razors and related tools, are regularly exhibited here. The collection ranges from historical pieces—such as a replica of an ancient Egyptian razor—to Feather Safety Razor's products at the time of its founding and the razor manufacturing process, supplemented with actual products.

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