The mass ease in owning daily cutlery necessities — a kitchen knife to slice an apple or shears to prune a floral arrangement, for example — can be owed to modern industrialisation. The manufacturing of everyday blades are left to machines; a guarantee for speed and quantity in production. In subsequent consequence, the practice of traditional blacksmithing continues to deteriorate, inevitably belittled in its relevance.
Yet that’s not the case in the southwestern part of Japan’s Hyogo prefecture. Well-obscured from the modern world’s pressing push for speed exists the Banshu Hamono craft — Banshu is the name of the region, while Hamono means knife. It’s a 274-year-old bladesmithing technique that favours the time-intensiveness of blade-making where each product — be it a pair of tailor scissors or pocket knife — is hand-forged individually from start to finish, sometimes needing several days to complete.
The genesis of the art can be traced back to Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a warlord who reigned over the tumultuous war-ridden era of 16th century Japan. Hideyoshi was known for his excessive lavishness, and in the beginning of his attack against the Miki castle, the ruler commissioned blacksmiths in the Banshu region to cast the thousands of katanas deemed necessary to secure a blood-shedding victory. As history would have it, the decisive battle unified the warring provinces into the nation that was to become modern Japan. And the Banshu native swordsmiths flourished.
Fast forward to the 18th century, the demand for katanas dwindled, and swordsmiths applied their know-how to the making of kamisoris — everyday straight razors, used by men and geishas to shave fine hair and apply makeup — before expanding its product line to a melange of cutting tools. Today, it ranges from a complete set of hair-cutting scissors to specialised cutlery for specific floriculture needs, which are carried by the likes of The Louvre and Berlin’s AM+.
What exactly goes behind the craft remains an undisclosed trade secret, but what makes a Banshu Hamono tool different is palpably evident. Moulded by seasoned craftsmen with exacting expertise that have been passed down for generations, the blades are katana-sharp. And for that, the higonokami folding pocket knife, dubbed the little brother of the katana, remains a classic collectable. Portable and durable, its design has never been altered from its original form since the Meiji period. The maker’s name always inscribed onto its sheath.
All Banshu blades are made to withstand the test of time. The blade’s impeccability in quality means it can be re-sharpened for decades. In fact, the originating factory welcomes re-sharpening requests after purchase, with no time limit.
Only a handful of Banshu blacksmiths are currently left — a majority of them seniors. The fact that less young natives are interested in picking up the craft can, too, be read between the lines of the Banshu site’s callout for blacksmith successors.
Here, in tribute of the unsung craft, an exhibit of Banshu Hamono at its ASMR finest.
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