Hamono-no-mikata (Supporters of Woodworking Tools)

by Tsuchida Noboru (adapted from The Wooden Post, vol 7, June 2017)

Tsuchida Noboru (土田 昇) is the 3rd generation proprietor of the tool shop Tsuchida Hamono-ya (土田刃物店, or roughly Tsuchida blade shop) in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. That in itself is of interest, but Mr. Tsuchida is also an author of books about carpenter’s tools and their history. His latest book is 職人の近代 (roughly—Shokunin’s Modern Times). One of his specialties is the life and toolmaking work of the legendary blacksmith Chiyozuru Korehide (千代鶴是秀 1874-1957). This focus is the continuation of the research and writing of Noboru’s father, Ichirou, who was the author of Japanese Traditional Tools (日本の伝統工具 or Nihon no dentou kougu).

The following article by Noboru appeared in the Kezurou-kai Japan newsletter No. 66 from June, 2013. (translated by Noriko McAneny)

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.

Although no one ignored the price control on the surface, quality tools were priced higher and were traded. Since it was illegal, you would be punished if found out.

A famous blacksmith of Sanjo in Niigata prefecture, Nakaya Inosuke (saw maker), was found to be guilty of it and had to pay huge fine and was forced to sell real estate he owned. It was a hard time to make quality tools.

The better the quality of farming and woodworking tools blacksmiths made during the war, the harder their lives became. So many of them changed to become swordsmiths instead. You couldn’t win the modern war with more swords, but they were considered spiritually necessary to continue the war.

Kikuchi Seiichi (Ishido Teruhide) who worked at Ebisu, Tokyo made a lot of Showa era swords for the military. The first time Tsuchida Ichiro (author’s father) visited him to ask him about where Chiyozuru Korehide lived, Teruhide teased him that people who were talking about nomi and kanna were betrayers of the country. His (Teruhide’s) master was Ishido Hidekazu and Hidekazu’s father was Ishido Toshinaga. His predecessor was Ishido Unjyu Korekazu, the famous swordsmith. So it might have been a rather natural thing for Teruhide to make swords during the war. Although he learned swordsmithing technique from Hidekazu and his swords might have been better than ones made by other blacksmiths, he was not experienced. So it was said that he needed to ask guidance from a famous swordsmith, Tsukamoto Ikkansai Okimasa. Nonetheless sword production was very active at that time.

However, the situation drastically changed after losing the war. Quite the opposite way it changed. There was no demand for swords any more, instead the demand for non-military tools increased tremendously to rebuild the country. Those who changed to become swordsmiths became blacksmiths again and started making farming and woodworking tools. Swordsmiths started making those tools, too. It was said that Tsukamoto Ikkansai Okimasa who taught Teruhide swordmaking got lessons from Teruhide on how to make kanna blades.

One may not be able to make things he wants in any trade, even though he has skills to do so. During wars or recessions, such things are not necessary and one can’t live making them since there is no demand.

Although Chiyozuru Korehide made some swords for his acquaintances who went to the war, he didn’t strive for making swords like many blacksmiths did back then. He declined the offer to be chief of a planned workshop that would teach traditional Japanese sword making despite the backing of politicians such as Touyama Mitsuru and Sunada Shigemasa saying that he was a blacksmith. When Tsuchida Ichiro visited Teruhide, Teruhide was wondering if Korehide was still working as a blacksmith. His attitude was so much against the situation. In fact Korehide was working. He was making woodworking blades in a small way. Probably there was not much demand at all for quality nomi or kanna then, but he had been making a very limited number of blades anyway. He was very poor and could hardly keep alive but worked every day. Blades he made at the time had carved inscriptions, “Shinkoku” (land of the gods = Japan) and “AD 2600”. So he got involved in the decoration style of the time even if it might have been a customer’s order. As the air raids were getting harder, his customers and supporters evacuated from Tokyo. Even then he was making blades. There is a blade inscribed with “enemy airplanes in the sky and anvil on the ground…” Rarely anyone visited him. His apprentice, Ochiai Uichi (Chiyozuru Nobukuni ), brought him charcoal by hand cart so that his master could continue his work. And Tsuchida Ichiro visited and showed him old blades, hammers, or squares found somewhere. He didn’t have much to eat but kept pounding red hot iron.

After the war, his pieces created with his steady effort and obsession have been recognized splendidly. His “Tenshaku” inscription nomi which was more diligently made than Shinryo (Jinryo or Shinrei?) inscription o-tsuki nomi made in Taisho period came out after the war. He could create better blades as if there was no war related delay. Although it didn’t happen, he had a new plan making an oire-nomi set that had not been made since 1931. The war time was difficult time, but he didn’t stop his work and continued making blades as much as possible.

Even though he continued working and learning during the war, very few pieces were made; it’s almost as if it were a period of no work. The demand of woodworking tools at the beginning of the Showa era (1926-1989) was also pretty low due to the worldwide depression. Korehide was afraid of not being able to support his family and set up a sign reading, “I sharpen anything”. He wanted to make up for lost income as a blacksmith. Since all his pieces were delivered to clients after sharpening, he had many sharpening stones for the supplemental business. It was better than not doing anything but it wasn’t easy work. Some customers brought in badly chipped blades. Since he didn’t own a machine grinder, it would have taken many days to fix it by hand sharpening. So he reforged it, formed it again, and tempered it again, sharpened, prepared, and handed it to the customer. This way of fixing was faster than hand sharpening. It was an era in which you needed to do such things to survive. Then what about other blacksmiths? What did they do to survive during the hard depression time before the war?

Nomi blacksmith Yamazaki Kyujiro (sp?) of Yoita, Niigata was an apprentice of Sukekuni (sp? Okisuke or Okusuke) Hisui of Tokyo. Sukekuni, like Kunihide, created high quality blades with excellent forging technique. Yamazaki was a good blacksmith like his master. No matter how high the quality was, there simply wasn’t much demand during the depression.

Chisels Showa nomi

Chisels Showa nomi

Yamazaki decided to make an elaborately designed nomi. Nomi is a utilitarian tool, so there wasn’t much room to maneuver. What he made was nomi with multiple hollow depressions on the back. It took a lot longer to make than a regular nomi since the depressions were carved by sen (scraper), not by machine.

It didn’t matter to him since no tools were selling at that time anyway. But some were sold despite the depression because they were very unique looking and people talked about them. The price couldn’t be set very high. So to him making something although not profitable was better to doing nothing.

What he made then were good examples of early Showa nomi, but I can’t deny they were rather bizarre pieces as utility woodworking tools. It seems that he was wasting his excellent skill just like the blacksmiths during the war were making swords.

Tsukamoto Ikkansai Okimasa (swordmaker) who lost his job after the war made squares (sashigane) for Tsuchida Ichiro out of tamahagane.

After the war, Okimasa, getting instruction from Teruhide Ishido, was making kanna blades. Of course tamahagane was not used to make the kanna blades. It was illegal to make swords, so tamahagane, Japanese traditional high carbon steel made using the Tatara method, didn’t have any demand. Those who helped to make tamahagane for Okimasa didn’t think it was for squares. Squares made out of tamahagane forged by Okimasa were graduated and finished at Karasawa Doki Factory. It was quite anachronistic to make a square with tamahagane since the practice had ended in the Meiji period. Swords, saws, and squares have similar methods of production, forging steel only unlike forge welding base metal and steel. But I don’t know if a skilled swordsmith like him poured his devotion to make a difficult project to make squares.

In any age and for any craftsman, there is no easy answer to whether one should live to work or work to live.



Square (right) made by Karasawa Doki Factory using tamahagane steel forged by Tsukamoto Ikkansai Okimasa. Although it never happened, a chaser, Ikkoku Kashima who later became a National Living Treasure of Japan, offered gold inlaying and black texturing. It doesn’t have a verification mark since Tsuchida (Ichirou) was planning to get it after the inlay work. It was forged in Showa 20’s (1945-54) and finished in 1955. Hand notched. Two finished products. One was given to a carpenter who helped him out.

Kanna blades of Tsukamoto Ikkansai Okimasa

Blades (left) he made around 1947 or 48. Made of white paper steel. Yoshizawa Riki of Shibuya asked him to make a kanna blade with tamahagane, but he couldn’t make satisfactory blades. So no tamahagane kanna blades were delivered. Once sword making was again allowed, he along with his younger brother Kotaro, returned to swordsmithing.

Kanna blades

Kanna blades