Banshu Hamono - the Secret Behind the Excellent Cutting Edge
Since ancient times, the Banshu region of southwest Hyogo Prefecture has been a producer of iron sand. It was here that the culture of the sword smith was developed. Within the region, the city of Ono is famed as an area that spearheaded its own unique development of the cutlery industry, producing everyday items such as razors, scissors, knives and scythes for agricultural use. The origins of this development lie in the Sword Abolishment Edict* of 1876, when craftspeople who had lost their trade as sword smiths gradually turned their hand instead to the production of everyday utensils.
The secret behind the excellent cutting edge of Banshu hamono (Banshu cutlery) is the forging process that sees the steel repeatedly beaten out finely, and then sharpened by hand. This forging technique is unique to Japan and it is no exaggeration to say that it has helped to create razors and scissors that have a truly world-class cutting edge.
As the needs of the times have changed, so too has the number of craftspeople dwindled. Today, among those few that remain, Osami Mizuike is the only fourth generation craftsman. He continues to create cutlery using tools that have survived from 120 years ago, following processes and techniques that have remained unchanged since olden days. To make a razor blade, the steel is heated at 800 degrees Celsius, beaten into shape and then painstakingly sharpened by an experienced craftsman. To make a pair of grip scissors (known as nigiri-basami), the craftsman uses a hammer to beat out each deformity in the metal by hand, ensuring that the edges of both blades are in perfect alignment. This results in scissors that are both supple and sharp. The sharper the blade becomes, the more it comes to resemble a Japanese sword in miniature; a fine piece of craftsmanship that is pliant and beautiful to behold.
Against this backdrop of a long and distinguished history, Banshu hamono items are now entering a new era. With demand for high-value, hand- crafted blades dwindling due to the mechanization of agricultural tools and mass production, efforts were initiated to rediscover the value of items that could only be crafted by the hands of the artisans of Banshu and create a new sense of awareness of the Banshu hamono brand. It is ironic that a young designer, who was a native of the region and was invited to provide advice on redesigning items of cutlery, concluded that the best solution was to leave the items in their traditional form. He identified that what is important is not to recklessly pursue modernization, but to convey the unique and irreplaceable value that these traditional blades possess. The divine nature that has been imbued in Japanese swords since ancient times is thus passed down to the milieu of our daily lives.
This tool, which bends rods of steel based on the principle of leverage, has been passed down since the Meiji period (1868-1911). Bending the scissors with exquisite sensitivity, the craftsmen then uses a diamond sharpening stone to hone the blades of the grip scissors to ensure they are straight and aligned.
Centering on the efforts of the Ono City Hardware Wholesalers Association, a project was launched in 2013 to pass down skills and techniques, and to come up with proposals for products. Osami Mizuike, who has been making grip scissors for many years, belongs to a family that has lived in the Banshu region for approximately the last 1,200 years. In recent years, he has inherited the skills associated with the creation of Japanese razors from a master craftsman, and has become a bearer of this tradition too.
These grips are used for sewing, cutting intricate pieces of thread, the sharpness is necessary so as not to pull at the cloth or in any way damage the fabric. These are used by both professionals and at home.
Please visit our store and try them out for yourself. They come in various sizes and occasionally we carry special edition colors.