If you have a taste for the buckwheat noodle “soba” from Japan and you like it so much that you find dining on it at a restaurant occasionally does not satisfy you, then it could be time for you to start making your own soba at home. The alluring smell of freshly made soba, its texture and taste are true bliss and it can be experienced whenever you desire by making your own soba. Essential to the preparation of soba, you will need to use a professional broad knife especially made for cutting soba by a master craftsman. The soba knife with Kuroda-shiage (black finish) is made by sharpening only the blade leaving the upper part with its original black color. It uses Yasuki Hagane White Steel, premium silver high carbon steel, which is suitable for cutting noodles into thin slices. It weighs 650g so pressing down on the dough to cut it into noodles is easy. The price is not too high but they are professional quality. It is always a good item to have in your kitchen.
The town of Osafune, in Okayama Prefecture, thrived as the land of swordsmiths from the Kamakura period. The Bizen Osafune Touken Village is a unique museum specializing in Japanese swords, a once flourishing craft that continues today.
At Bizen Osafune Touken Village, each process relating to swordmaking can be seen closely. There is a forge, for example, where the 'tamahagane' metal is heated and extended at a temperature of 1,300℃. There is also a sword craft center, where swords are sharpened and sword hilts are made.
The reason why Bizen thrived as an area for sword production was, firstly, because high-quality materials and fuel were easily found here. Secondly, Bizen lay at a key junction for transportation between the Sanin and Sanyo areas. The iron sand found in the Chugoku Mountains was good for swordmaking, while the local sawtooth oak trees provided good fuel for the strong fires needed for the forges. In addition, the Sanyo-do highway running east-west was a major transportation route at that time. This enabled the easy circulation of materials and fuel for swordmaking.
The Wakasa-nuri lacquer technique was started in the early Edo period 400 years ago by a lacquer artist from the Ohama feudal clan. He was influenced by lacquer making techniques from China and began making designs that interpreted the ocean floor. Years of refinement over generations have given rise to the unique technique we see today. Tadakatsu Sakai, the feudal lord of the Ohama clan, named it “Wakasa-nuri”, and he nurtured and promoted the art. The technique was so unique that Lord Sakai not only made it the family’s treasure but he banned it from being emulated by other clans. Unlike other lacquer art such as Raden, Makie, and Chinkin, pine needles and cypress leaf are laid on the base and embedded materials such as eggshell and seashell in the lacquer and then sanded down and polished to reveal deep layers of intricately speckled color and pattern. One of the best known designs is “Kikusui-oboshi”. The Wakasa-nuri requires many hours of subtle crafting by artisans and can take up to a year to complete a piece. As well as being extraordinarily beautiful to behold, the lacquer technique gives the finished pieces a high durability against moisture and heat. They are valued for their practical use well as objects of art.
Wakasa Agate Work, highly regarded internationally, is thought to have originated in the Nara period (710-794AD) when a sea-faring people known as the Wani Tribe entered Onyu, an old village in the Wakasa region of Fukui Pref. They built Wani-Kaido, a road in front of a shrine, which bordered Wakasaichi Buddhist statue, and started producing jade objects.
In the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868), a technique to burn ore and enhance the color of agate was perfected. However it was not until the Meiji period (1868-1912) that the sculptural technique of agate was introduced and perfected as a craft art.
It employs the firing techniques that are unique to Wakasa agate work and, then, hardened ores that glow with beautiful color are cut and painstakingly polished to create such things as Buddhist statues, animal ornaments, incense burners, plummets for hanging scroll, clips for obi (kimono belt), and broaches.
Wakasa agate work requires incredible proficiency and patience taking a minimum of three years to master the polishing technique and another five or six years to be able to fully work the pieces. The apprenticeship can take up to fifteen years, only then will a craftsman be considered a true artist. However, once mastered, the beauty of the clear delicate gloss can be found nowhere but Wakasa agate.
Shinshu forged blade is a handicraft in Shinshu-Shinano-machi, Nagano Pref. It was designated as a Traditional Craft Product by Minister of International Trade and Industry in 1982. Forging skills were introduced into this area during the warring state period in the latter half of the 16th Century, when swordsmiths came to this area and repaired weapons. The local people saw their work and learned the skills. Their forged weapons were used in many battles throughout the warring state period, and the swordsmiths made improvement in their techniques. Extremely soft steel is used as the base whereas high purity carbon steel is used for the blade, the combination of which produces appropriate hardness and persistent strength. The technique has been handed down for 450 years and is still producing excellent blades, which are wide, durable, and cuts clearly.
Tsugaru lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft that has been handed down for over 300 years. It is famous for its distinctive polychrome pattern created by the technique called kawarinuri (singular lacquering) or sayanuri, which is the lacquer coating with various textures and colors. This technique was originally developed to decorate saya (scabbards) of swords in the Edo period. As there were so many variations in the technique and finished patterns, it was given the name of kawarinuri to distinguish from the conventional techniques. The material used in Tsugaru lacquer ware is the liquid extracted from a varnish tree, which is then purified or blended according to its intended use or technique. There are as many as 48 processes, none of which allow compromise. First the lacquer is applied dozens of times and then the layers of lacquer are burnished down, after which the lacquer is applied again and burnished until the characteristic mottled patterning appears. It usually takes several months to finish one item that deserves the name of “Tsugaru Lacquer Ware.”
Echizen forged blades, one of the traditional handicrafts of Echizen City,
Fukui Pref., has its own distinctive sharpness produced through 700 years of
its history, where craftsmen have competed in refining their skills. The
history dates back to the Nanbokucho period (1336−1392), when a swordsmith
from Kyoto came to this area. This swordsmith, Chiyotsuru Kuniyasu visited
Fuchu (present Takeo City, Fukui Pref.) in search of a suitable place for
sword-making. He also made grain sickles for the local farmers and this
evolved into forging in the area. Since then Takeo is a big producing area
of edged farming tools, which were spread throughout the country by peddlers
unique to Hokuriku region. Using aged-old Japanese forging skills before
being finished by hand, kitchen knives, sickles and trimmers are now
produced. Echizen forged blades were awarded the nationally recognized
Traditional Craft Product in 1980, as daily commodities combined with
accomplished skills and artistic sensitivity.
Hearing of “a dharma doll” people usually imagine something red and round,
however, Urushi Dharma specially made in Obama City, Fukui Pref. is largely
different form this image. It is colorfully painted triangular pyramid
dharma. This kind of dharma doll is very unique and cannot be found anywhere
else in Japan. It is made out of a block of famous colorful lacquer of
Wakasa lacquer, which is clotted in a vessel, cut into a small piece and
grinded to finish. Its strength and gloss unique to urushi lacquer, original
coloration and shape has received high recognition. Made of 100 % lacquer,
it looks solid, its base is firm, and it never turns over. As it never turns
over or “fall over”, this dharma is very popular among students taking
entrance exams for universities as a lucky talisman. Urushi Dharma is
specified as the folk craft product of Fukui Pref..