Good to hear from you, I am convinced that things are going well with you, and suspect that you have created a lifestyle that is a blend of the homey backwoods and a cool little business community.
The little blacksmiths mark usually found at the top right of a kanna blade ura side is called a Bonji, a small personal mark that can be stamp or hand engraved into the metal which some blacksmiths use year after year or may even be passed on through multiple generations.
A lot of people do not know this but bonji is one of the Sanskrit alphabets called Siddham that was transmitted to Japan through China in the early Buddhist eras of around the year 800.
I became more aware of this when I brought one of my samuri swords for examination to a traditionally trained sword polisher by the name of Hayashi Shigekazu-san who before he unsheathed the katana took a long moment to pray to it. A non-Buddist would not necessarily do this but as you know Buddism and Shintoism suggest that spirts can reside in or as objects. So you will find in the sword world a certain reverence, and the bonji is an acknowledgment of that culture which also spills over into the tool world where many of the older blacksmithing families like Ishido-san were sword makers who continue to attatch to their bonji as a tie-in with their past ancestors and as a show for the reverence of their craft that directly ties them to their ancestors.
I see the bonji as used by a craftsperson as an acknowledgement of an influential force beyond his/her own powers to craft an object.
I hope this helps somehow, Warmly yours, Alex
There are 2 main types of layers in the Kyoto mines, and each type contains several varieties of stone. The Tomae type has dozens of individual layers. The Suita type has several different individual layers. Within those layers are varieties of stone which are specific to the type. For instance the Tomae type has layers of kiita, asagi, karasu, goshu, iro, namito, asia and so forth. The Suita type has layers of those named like tenjyou, hon, shiki, shiro and so forth. So there’s no renge in tomae, and no kiita within the suita layers.
Asagi is one of the more common Tomae layers. Asa means pale, Gi (same as Ki in kiita) means yellow, so literally asagi means light or pale yellow. So within the mine systems at different depths you will find asagi with more or less Gi. It is the clays or binder that possess the color which adds color casts to the stone, the cutting silica grit particles in the pure form are essentially clear or colorless. Therefore Continue reading
To begin with since the World War 2 a lot of the strictly defined relationships between maker/wholesaler/retailer have become fuzzy.
It used to be before 1950 or so, that each had his own niche and that was where you remained just as your father did in the trades.
The miners were at the low end, the retailers at the upper and the wholesalers made their profit in volume. Each party graded the stones as they went along, the miners in piles, the wholesalers in stacks Continue reading
In the past few years I have noticed a large influx of hard gray stones marked Oozuko (Ozuko) flooding the U.S. market that have come from one particular wholesaler in Kyoto. Although the Ozuko mine has been closed for 90 years these stones appear to be newly slabbed and freshly ink stamped (Ozuko never stamped their stones) and then retailed to the various blade forum members by one particular retailer/importer. This influx of stone just so happened to coincide with the recent English translation of Honing Razors and Nihon Kamisori , a booklet written in the 1950’s for the Japanese Barber Trades by the renowned blacksmith Iwasaki Kousuki of Sanjo.
At the time when Iwasaki-san wrote his pamphlet for the barber school, the most famous of all the awasedo bearing mines, the Nakayama was just then digging their last tunnels for extraction. All of the other major and famous mines had closed some 50 years earlier, but still Iwasaki-sans greater interest was in providing Continue reading
I am continually amazed at how many of these gray stones now new on the market are stamped Ozuku. Brand new stamps, brand new paper labels on what look like brand new stones all attributed to a mine that was closed in about 1920. Someone has an enormous stockpile of stone in storage and brand new generic stamps (Ozuku never stamped their stones) and I suspect that not all the stones are from the Ozuku. When these fresh to the market stones are simply gray with no skin on the back it is hard to tell which mine they are actually from. I would like to explain something about hard gray stones.
Think compaction. All of those famous mines, now closed, began digging and extraction at the very upper elevations at the mountain tops where the stone was easily found as the strata lay bare and not below the topsoil. As the shaft was dug and the vein depleated the miners were forced to move down the mountain side (actually steep hills) in order Continue reading
Nakayama is the most famous of the mines in part because; of the ancient history surrounding the mine, the previous owners marketing skills, and the extremely fine quality of the stones from that mine.
Kato-san who owned the mine from the 1920s into the late 1960s stamped many of his stones with his own personal ink stamp while most of the other miners simply wholesaled in bulk their stones with no mine markings or ink stamps to consolidators who marketed them with ink stamps registered to the wholesaler without regard to mine they originally came from.
Kato-san was particular about the Continue reading
Maybe you have read that the sediment that formed these sharpening stones mined for 800 years in the outskirts of Kyoto was spewed as dust from a volcano. I have not, nor do I have the means to prove for sure that the particles were spewed into the open during a Pilinian event as airborne dust, or as some have said they were dispensed as floating dust particles ejected from an underwater volanic vent. In anycase the fact that the heavier and larger particles settled first or closest to the source is logical and that the smaller finer particles settled last or farthest away. It has been stated that the layering of these sediments took a very long time to accomplish, somewhere in the 1mm per 1,000 year range.
I am a theorist, not a trained scientist in any specific field like geology, and my gut feeling or speculation tells me that the particles were released into the air in an event similar to the Pompeii Herculaneum Mount Vesuvius incident (an excellent explanation here), Continue reading
On the Japan Sea coast in western Japan near Matsue in Shimane prefecture is the small but important steel town of Yasugi, the home of Hitachi Metal speciality steel works. Every spring a few square blocks of Yasugi are set aside to host a blades show, and sellers and buyers come from all over to mingle and renew old relationships and to buy and sell vast quantities of anything to do with knives.
This is mostly a knife show with some tools and sharpening media, food & drink and even a classic car show thrown in to boot. Besides the streets which are lined with booths of sellers and craftsmen sharpening and restoring knives the Hitachi Museum also hosts a group of highly skilled custom knife makers for an indoor venue within walking distance on the Hitachi property nearby.
At this show about 25 custom knife makers displayed a wide variety of both folding and fixed blade knives in a gallery type setting of booths and displays. A few of the bladesmiths as I found out also sell at overseas shows like the popular Atlanta Knife Show.
Because I am keen on the sharpening aspects, at the outdoor show I mostly followed the stone path and vistied with the stone dealers. I also observed a lot of sharpening going on and especially in the one alley that was set aside specifically for restoring and sharpening kitchen knives.
This space was manned by a host of blacksmiths and bladesmiths who would for a nominal fee totally finish off any knife in a professional manner.
Almost everyone at the sharpening station had some form of a syntheitc and a natural stone, all shaped and rounded or flattened to their own specifications and there was not a lot of chit-chat going on, just focused sharpening. There was also an area set aside for heat treating knives using small charcoal fired kilns and anvils for shaping and forming.
There was also a lot of sharpening going on in the street booths both as sharpening services or as demonstrations by vendors with varied sharpeing stations including power wheels and hand stones. I did not see any of the craftsmen flattening their stones on site with diamond plates but I did see lots of bowed and cambered stones.
I really missed out on taking more photos of the knives at both the outdoor and the indoor show but here is a sample.
A couple of conclussions here. Although I did not take any photos at the indoor museum show I did notice that many of the blades shown, although handmade and fancy, were patterned on outdoor survival type knives with roots in the classic swords and daggers of ancient Japan. The treatments were updated and refined but the shapes and sizes were definitly symphathetic to the old shapes. Also I noticed that, and I am going to use this word again, the root stone or base stones that knife sharpeners use are not based entirely on the image of truly flat, and that as you can see some are to the contrary. Although they may have been there tucked away, and there was the wholesaler for Tsunesaburo selling them in a booth, I did not see any diamond plates being used. Here again I suspect that the old timer sharpeners cherished his best stones enough to refrain from grinding off haphazardly good userful grit. A flat stone must be important in some knife honing tasks, but curved seems to be OK to some degree for general work.
All in all it was a good show, it rained but with some retreat it did continue. It began with families and early birds blessed with a clear sky at the crack of dawn, and faded to covered booths and talk amongst the hardy of hand and spirit. Alx
The very first time I ever shaved in Japan was New Years Day 1979 and it was in a public bath in a small city named Komastu, yes the tractor companies home base. It was a little tense at first, not because I was again like in a high school shower, no it was because most of the guys here in this bath house were yakuza, and they knew that I knew who they were. Lots and lots of body tatoos just like your would imagine. The thing is that the ofuro bath house was just down the street and around the corner from their office building, and it was the nearest one to my house. I ended up going there at least 3 times a week for 6 months and off and on for the next few years.
I shaved with a straight razor back then, and old German blade with a natural color bone handle, I still have it. And this was the razor I took to the ofuro. I was the only one there with a western straight but a lot of men did and still do shave with these little, but very sharp disposable straights. Of course I had a small strop with me too, no tatoos but at least I had a strop. Well, a small strop. But they didn’t have one!
From that very first day until today I have felt that shaving at a japanese bath house is one of the very best places on earth to shave, and I always get an excellent shave when I do. To begin with you have just soaked for 10-15 minutes in abnormally hot, hot water. Usually in the 42-46 degrees Celsius (110-115F) range, so talk about hydrated beard stubble. Then you got the endless supply of even hotter water if you want it to rinse in, choices in free shaving cream and your own little sit down to shave at mirror. Have you ever sat down to shave? Here are photos of where I bathed and shaved today on the 17th floor of my hotel. click on the photos for larger versions.
The soothing mineral water, an outdoor pool where I sat in the rain, and again I got a excellent relaxing shave afterwards. Alx