Articles

3,000 Ri* in Search of a Blacksmith

Mori-gii (old Mr. Mori) of Awaji. 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. Read More …

Serendipity

When Makoto Imai came to the U.S.in the early 1970’s, he brought with him the extensive training he had received in Japan. When he arrived, he was part of a crew that was reconstructing a meditation hall in Northern California. He had started his carpentry training in the Gifu Prefecture/Takayama area as a high school student working on the early morning crew. After a few successful years, the moved down the river to Kyoto area where he completed training in the Ura Senke tea construction tradition. Read More …

Hamono-no-mikata (Supporters of Woodworking Tools)

Blacksmith(s) and Economy: There was a war over a half a century ago, and Japan lost a lot of time by ruining the modernization done after Meiji (Meiji era ended in June 1912). Everything from technologies to natural resources had been spent on the war. It is said that (during the war) there was a period of price control of nokogiri (saws) and nomi (chisels)- regardless of the quality. Any iron available was to be used to make weapons, so that couldn’t be helped at the time. Read More …

The struggle is now-my friend

Life offers many paths of adventure. Some or most end up as entertaining distractions or worse. Others offer activities opening up new horizons and life-changing challenges – ways to working and experiencing deeper modes of learning- offering challenges that require clearing our awareness with fuller engagements of ones curiosity, with endless opportunities to develop the discipline needed to follow personal insights to their completion. Read More …

Sometimes, Seeing is Believing

What is learned by observing craftsmen more skilled than yourself comes with certain surprises. First is how easy, comfortable and relaxed they seem to be while working. From personal experience of 40 years, this comfort and ease are hard fought challenges to be won. Learning to get out of your own way is not always easy or obvious. Figuring out the intricate steps of procedures and techniques are usually seen as “in the way of getting done” – sharpening a chisel/plane blade when way past due. Read More …

The Path to Japan Winds Through My Grandfather’s Tool Chest

My grandparents’ farmhouse in Stockton had a dirt cellar. In it were many things: jars of pickles, crocks of dried fruit, paint cans – the usual stuff. But what drew me like a magnet was my grandfather’s tool chest. Because he was extremely protective of it and its contents, I learned from my older cousins that the chest was to be treated like a sacred object. I remember sneaking into the cellar to examine the mysterious artifacts in the chest. To my regret, the barriers of language and the generations kept me from learning more. I could only guess what they were and what could be done with them. Yet these were the tools that he packed across the Pacific Ocean to a strange land with the hope that with his hands and tools he could earn enough to live and to send home to his wife and family. Sixty years later grandpa’s tool chest lives with me. Read More …

Self Introduction by Shohei Araki (Daiku-san from Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture)

Kimoriya The basis of the traditional Japanese life style is the desire to co-exist with nature. The workings of nature and of the human relationship with the forest-built house is older and closer due to the agricultural base of Japan. We are interested in the many kinds of trees which make up the traditional home and, as a carpenter, it is my mission to make the “future home of the tree” using the traditional construction methods by-hand with nomi and saw. Everyone knows that the traditional construction methods, combined with knowledge of the careful use of the forest resources, has influenced the way houses were designed and built. If there is support for the continued skills of carpentry and methods allowing direct communication with (woodcutter’s) aimed to foster the forest and create wooden homes, more and better homes will be designed as the result. Read More …

What Way

The matter of how best to do a thing, any given thing, seems to come up quite often. In almost every walk of life, even regarding the most mundane things, most of us have fairly strong opinions as to the best, or right, way to do almost everything. As a young martial arts student I struggled to practice form in the precise manner that my masters insisted, sometimes with great difficulty and sometimes with less than satisfactory results. At that time most styles were taught in a very rigid, systematic manner and deviation from form was considered failure. The same could be said for a wide variety of activities or pursuits, even today. When I began using Japanese tools and techniques I was still of the mind that there would be a right way to work using them and set about to find it. I never did. Read More …

Japanese Wisteria Arbor: A Traditional Concept Described

This year (2016) Hakone Garden is replacing its 60 year old wisteria azumaya. Described below is the most traditional way for suspending wisteria vines over a viewing platform. Function and form combined: It’s only on very close observation that the spanning proportions reveal the logic of this elegant structure, used in holding up the ancient twisted and heavy wisteria vines. Read More …

Flattening the ura (backside) of Japanese chisels

When a blade’s cutting edge is badly cracked or chipped a grinder can be used to speed the process of removing metal and getting the edge angle back to what the user feels is right for the type of wood being worked. I have always favored a hand-cranked grinder. It is slower and takes a bit of hand control to achieve good results but there is very little risk of the hard steel getting too hot and possibly drawing the temper out. Grinding causes a hollow grind on the bevel, which should be removed by sharpening on water stones, before attempting to tap out. This insures that the hard steel is well supported by the softer iron above it. Read More …