Shinshu cutlery Shinshu uchihamono
Useful crafts loved by artisans
Top-level craftsmanship in the thin blades
What is Shinshu cutlery ?
Shinshu Uchihamono are metalwork produced around Nagano City, Nagano Prefecture. As this area is the former Shinano Province once called Shinshu, these blades are known under the name of “Shinshu Uchihamono." They are distinguished by their toughness, high sharpness and ability to hold an edge, which are the result of the skilled hand beating of each individual blade. The main products of Shinshu Uchihamono include sickles, hoes and farming implements, hatchets, axes and forestry tools, and kitchen knives.
Shinshukama is the most well-known of Shinshu Uchihamono and have earned a high reputation for their grass sickles because Shinshukama have several unique features much appreciated by farmers. These include a shibazuke feature by which grass is moved closer to a mower’s hand, and tsuri in which the blade surface is curved inward so that a mower doesn’t miss their aim even if the blade becomes thin. Furthermore, another attractive feature is with a single-edged thin blade, it is light and easy to use. It is said that the techniques of Shinshukama were fully developed in the first half of the 19th century, and today Shinshukama are produced by blacksmiths still carrying on the time-honored skills.
The origins of Shinshu Uchihamono are thought to be connected to the battle of Kawanakajima when blacksmiths who moved to Nagano city to maintain the arms and swords of samurai involved in the conflict stayed on and taught the local folk the forging techniques during the Sengoku period, in the middle of the 16th century. The forging techniques contributed to the production of farming implements and forestry tools, and later have been handed down and evolved over the generations.
Furthermore, since this area was located along the Hokkokukaido Road, it was easy to bring in iron and steel produced in the Sanin area via Naoetsu port. In addition, the area was blessed with an abundance of pine woods providing the raw materials for pine charcoal which is softer than regular charcoal, and ideally suited for forging the characteristic thin blades of Shinshu Uchihamono. The road that brought in the raw materials, also served to distribute the finished blades across the whole country.
In the first half of the19th century of the Bunka/Bunsei era, one blacksmith making grass sickles invented the shibazuke and tsuri features which are characteristic of Shinshukama, while another blacksmith refined the double-edged sickle to a single-edge. These two kinds of sickle are the original styles of Shinshukama. Later the techniques of blade production were further developed and passed down through the generations to the current Shinshu Uchihamono artisans.
General Production Process
- 1. Forge welding
After preparing the steel and iron base, the steel for the edge of blade is forged with the iron base by heating to a high temperature and then hammering the cherry red metals to make a blade.
Steel measuring 2 mm in thickness is forged with an iron base measuring 9 mm in thickness.
- 2. Curving the komi part
The komi is like a tang on a knife and is fitted to the handle. The part designed to be a komi is beaten and curved.
- 3. Stretching the komi part
The curved komi part is beaten and stretched.
- 4. Stretching the blade
The blade is carefully beaten and stretched to a rough sickle shape.
- 5. Oshikiri
The edge of the blade is adjusted to size.
- 6. Making the komi
The komi part is adjusted.
- 7. Rough beating
After the sickle is heated in a furnace at a temperature of about 700°C, it is beaten with a hand hammer and a hammer until the hira has an even thickness; this requires a great deal of skill.
- 8. Rough polishing
The surface of the sickle is cleaned up by removing iron oxide and slag
- 9. Hallmarking
Trademarks or hallmarks indicating quality are stamped into the metal.
- 10. Smoothing
Smoothing gives toughness, a characteristic of Shinshu Uchihamono; the sickle is heated in a furnace at a temperature of about 500°C, and then beaten with a hand hammer to flatten. After smoothing, shibazuke and tsuri, which are features of Shinshukama, are created. Shibazuke angles the sickle body and komi so that the mowed grass is moved closer to a mower’s hand, and tsuri curves the blade surface inward so that a mower doesn’t miss their aim even if the blade becomes thin.
- 11. Sharpening with a medium grade grindstone
The steel part is sharpened on a medium grade grindstone.
- 12. Quenching
After the sickle is coated with mud to ensure even cooling, it is heated and kept at a temperature of about 780°C, and plunged into a water tank to quickly cool. Quenching changes and hardens the steel structure; it is said that by hardening, “the soul is put into the blade."
- 13. Tempering
As the blade gets nicked if it is too hard, this process makes the steel tough an durable to prevent nicking and helps to keep a sharp edge.
- 14. Removing distortions
Iron and steel contract and expand at different rates, which may result in warping and curving after quenching; any distortions are worked out.
- 15. Sharpening and burnishing
The blade is burnished with a buffing cloth.
- 16. Resisting rust
The blade is coated with varnish or camellia oil to resist rust.
- 17. Mounting on the handle
The blade of the sickle is mounted on the handle.
Where to Buy & More Information
Iiyama Dento Sangyo Kaikan
ClosedMondays (open if Monday is holiday and closed the next day), December 29 to January 3
Business Hours9am to 5pm （shorter business hours from the middle of December to the middle of March)
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