Translated by Ken
Sasuke: Witness The Art Of Japanese Blacksmithing In Osaka
Written by Yuji
Sakai is a 25-minute train ride from Namba Station, Osaka. This is where Sasuke, a renowned blacksmith shop, was founded in 1867. Here, you can witness the art of Japanese blacksmithing and find unique souvenirs to take home. It's a must-visit location when traveling around Kyoto and Osaka.
Sasuke: A Blacksmith Shop Operating Since the 19th Century
Osaka Prefecture's Sakai City is famous for its cutlery. The history dates as far back as the 5th century, when blacksmiths were in high demand to craft tools for kofun tombs (*). Starting in the 16th century, as Japan experienced a period of war and unrest, blacksmiths made samurai katana swords and matchlock rifles. They started making knives and other cutlery following the end of a civil war in the 19th century.
Sasuke is a blacksmith shop founded in 1867. The only officially recognized traditional scissor craftsperson in Japan, fifth-generation owner Yasuhiro Hirakawa runs the family business with his wife Tomiko, preserving and innovating the tradition of scissor production.
*Kofun tombs are ancient burial mounds created for aristocrats during the Kofun Period. They vary in size from small to large.
See the Epitome of Sharpness
Sasuke cutlery is best known for its sharp blades. When we tried one of Sasuke's scissors, we felt no contact between the blades and no resistance when cutting a piece of paper. The cut was incredibly smooth and effortless––unlike anything we had experienced before.
A typical scissor has two blades that come together in a straight line. Meanwhile, Sasuke's scissors are made with a propeller-like bend in their blades. They come together in a single point, enabling them to achieve a sharpness unmatched by competitors.
Significant time and energy spent in perfecting the individual blades are needed to achieve this industry-leading sharpness. Made entirely by hand, this attention to detail is a critical part of the process. It takes over a week to craft and perfect a single pair of scissors!
The unrivaled skills of Sasuke are highly evaluated overseas. At an exhibition in France, attendees expressed their awe at the impressive sharpness of the scissors.
"Production takes time, but I am glad our scissors have been recognized outside of Japan," comments Hirakawa. Blacksmiths from around the world order scissors from Sasuke, some even visiting the shop to see him at work.
Sakai: The Japanese Capital of Blacksmithing
Make a reservation in advance to observe the blacksmithing process at Sasuke. This is an excellent opportunity to take in the unique sights, sounds, and smells of the workshop.
Email the shop with your requested date and the number of planned attendees to make a reservation. While the production process is only explained in Japanese, the owners can use translation apps for simple conversations.
Six steps must be completed to make a pair of scissors.
1. The blade and scissor mold are made during the jigane/hagane-tsukuri (metal-making) stage.
2. The blades are attached onto the mold during the hagane-tsuke (metal-attachment) stage.
3. The blade is shaped during the shiage-uchi (finishing) stage.
4. The curved handle is formed during the mage (bending) stage.
5. The scissors are heated and cooled to harden during the yaki-ire (tempering) stage.
6. The scissor blades are finally sharpened during the togi (sharpening) stage.
For this article, we got to see the hagane-tsuke and shiage-uchi stages.
Hagane-Tsuke: Watch Sparks Fly!
The body of the scissor is made from a malleable metal called jigane (surface steel), to which the blade made from hagane (edge) is attached. Combining two different materials is a traditional Japanese manufacturing method. Doing so ensures greater durability and sharpness. This same method is used to make katanas (single-edged samurai sword).
The jigane and hagane are placed inside a furnace, taken out, and hammered repeatedly. The metals are removed from the furnace once the jigane reaches 1,000 °C. An experienced blacksmith like Hirakawa can discern the timing by inspecting the metal's color.
The most exciting part of the process is seeing sparks fly when the hot metal is hammered. Make sure not to miss this spectacle if you've come to observe the hagane-tsuke.
Shiage-Uchi: Wishing Their Customer's a Knife for Life
In traditional swordmaking, a hammer is used to shape the blade. We visited the shop during the shiage-uchi process. The knives are sharpened after they are purchased.
The blades are shaped to make contact with sharpening stones at an ideal angle. The blade's shape allows anyone to sharpen their knives effectively.
Taking Home the Craft
Katana-Like Japanese Knives
A variety of knives are on sale at the shop, including the petty knife (from 23,100 yen) and peeling knife (from 19,800 yen). This is an opportunity to pick up a traditional artifact from the Edo Period. Some knives are even designed with visible ink marbling on the katana blades.
Must-Have Scissors for Gardening
For anyone into gardening, a pair of shears is a must-buy item! You can purchase scissors for gardening starting from 126,500 yen. The order may take a while, so we suggest confirming the delivery date before your purchase.
How to Access Sasuke
Sasuke is a great place to visit if you're planning to visit the Osaka and Kyoto areas. Asakayama Station, the closest station to the shop, is accessible via a local train on the Nankai Koya Line from Namba Station.
It's a three-minute walk from Asakayama Station to Sasuke. After exiting the ticket gate, take the stairs to your right, then take a right turn before continuing down the road. Take a left at the next intersection and keep walking straight until you find the shop to your right.
The Art of Japanese Blacksmithing
Hirakawa is always innovating to pursue higher standards for his blacksmithing work. Visiting the shop made us excited to see how Sasuke's unrivaled craft will be shared with the world.
Sasuke is dedicated to showing visitors an authentic workplace and is an ideal visit for anyone interested in Japanese blacksmithing and classic metalwork.
We highly recommend stopping by during your next travels. Witness firsthand the cutlery perfected by generations of the Hirakawa family!
In cooperation with Sasuke