3,000 Ri* in Search of a Blacksmith

by Keisuke Uchihashi (adapted from The Wooden Post, vol 8, September 2017. Reproduced with permission from Kezurou-kai Japan. This article originally appeared in the Kezurou-kai Japan newsletter Vol. 66 of June 2013. Translated by Noriko McAneny).

Mori-gii (old Mr. Mori) of Awaji

The master standing at his forge

The master standing at his forge

It was the early 1980’s when a children’s song called ‘A Blacksmith of the Village’, which begins with “Sound of pounding never stops and scattered sparks…”, disappeared gradually from the elementary school textbook. That’s because children can’t imagine the scene anymore. It has been more than 30 years since, so it can’t be helped now. Yet it is unfortunate that the knowledge and the technique were lost without passing them down to today.

It was skill acquired by individual with his effort, so it was up to him what to do with it. But majority of the skill must have been obtained from someone else. And someone else also learned from a different person.

One’s skill is like a thin top layer of huge effort made by people since ancient days. So losing the skill means losing the long history behind it. It is sad thing.

You shouldn’t feel bad about your lack of skill compared to others. I believe your continued effort is enough power.

On March 16th, (2013) I went to see a lecture, “Exploring for a Solution: Report of How to Preserve Modern Blacksmith Technique,” given by Syuichi Ishikoso to Takenaka Carpentry Tool Museum. After the lecture, Takahiro Okuhama, a paperer from Awaji, wanted me to observe tool displays by a blacksmith of Awaji, Masao Mori. Since I’ve met him few times, I looked at them fondly. Then Mr. Ishikoso asked me to write an article for next Kezurokai publication, 3,000 Leagues in Search of a Blacksmith. That’s how I ended up writing this article.

When Masao Mori was younger

When Masao Mori was younger

It has been over ten years since I first met Mr. Mori. My carpenter friends told me there was a blacksmith in Awaji who could make any tool very well, so I decided to visit him by my bicycle at a round trip distance of 120 km. The factory was located at Tsuna-cho, the northerly middle part and western coast of Awaji Island. I remembered the sign said “O(maru) moto seisakujo.” Despite my surprise visit, he was pleased to talk to me. He was the third generation of Inokichi Mori (trade name) and O (maru) moto (inscription). His grandfather (Inokichi) and father (Rizaburo) were specialized for ship making woodworking tools, but he has been taking orders for other woodworking tools in late years. Although he was over 70 years old then, there were rarely any machines in the shop and tools were made by hand pounding using coal as fuel. He showed me his work: ship making woodworking tools such as tsuba nomi, gennou, kanazuchi, te-ono, ono, nata, hocho, kama, kugi nuki (nail puller), and kanna. He did rounding and corner shaping especially well, and his forge welding was exceptional above all. He forged tsuba nomi with 3 point eutectoid steel (head, tsuba part, and blade tip) at ease, and you couldn’t tell where the seam was.

Mori-gii, however, passed away in 2004 at the age of 79, and no one took over his work. And the shop isn’t there any longer. Here I’ll share what I remember along with photos from Mr. Okuhama.

chouna ryoba 3 sun, 3 bu
kugi-nuki, kugi-shime
genno 220 monme, 135, 50
kanna 1 sun, 6 bu

Remarks from a blacksmith of Awaji Island, Masao Mori (森政雄):

  • I worked at a steel making company in Wakayama Prefecture when I was young and learned scientific knowledge there.
  • My father was much more skilled than me. I wondered how he could harden steel at such low temperatures.
  • Tools pounded more last longer.
  • Steel materials extracted from sunken ships in the past had higher quality. I made a kanazuchi out of it for a shop making artificial legs, and the customer was happy since it didn’t wear down much.
  • Kanna made of blue steel lasts longer. (Kanna I keep from Mr. Masakazu Nishimura at kanna dai shop in Miki is also blue steel one. I think Mr. Mori thought tools lasted longer were better.)
  • Good blades hardened at lower temperature still remain magnetic, so iron powder is attracted to the steel side.
  • Steel side faces downward at hardening. (It’s very difficult since you can’t check the color of it.)
  • He started using the other inscription “O (maru) sei” since 1985.
  • Awaji produced roofing tiles historically, and he was using the by-product, charcoal. It’s been getting harder to obtain it any longer, so he made charcoal by himself. The quality was not as good since the salt content that imported timber contains may be higher.

Here was his remark that really impressed me:

“When I run into difficulties on work, I climb up the hill and look at flowers, feel the wind, and gaze at the sea. And, I feel energy coming up again when I pick up a kanna made by Kanbei and look at it.”

At that time when he told me this I was young and more interested in skills and techniques of making tools. Now when I have my own factory, his words leave a deep impression on me.

I don’t know why he liked Kanbei’s kanna which was well used and short, perhaps its design, feel of the steel, or a certain memory associated with it. I heard the kanna he really treasured was lost when the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake happened (1995). I feel the pathos of things natural.

Keisuke Uchihashi is a traditional blacksmith, maker of Keizaburou (圭三郎) brand tools. The photos for this article were originally provided by Mr. Takahiro Okuhama.

* 1 ri = 3.927 km
1 monme = 3.75 grams

One of the many inspiring tool displays at the new Takenaka Carpentry Tool Museum in Shin-Osaka, Japan. This is the museum mentioned in the above article by Keisuke Uchihashi. Photo by Peter McAneny