Japan Trip, July 2019, Day 2: Echizen (Takefu)
We left Osaka early for Echizen (Takefu) today. Echizen is a very important knife producing region not only because they have many famous makers like Takeshi Saji, Kurosaki and reputable brands like RyuSen and Takamura, they are in fact the largest handmade, double bevel (Gyuto, Sujihiki, etc) knife making center in Japan.
(On the way to Echizen)
I don’t have a solid figure to support my claim however I can confidently say so as a knife vendor dealing with all three major knife making regions: Sakai, Echizen (Takefu) and Sanjo. I have to discount Seki here since Seki mainly produces stamped knives which I won’t call those handmade.
Among the three knife making centers, Sakai is more focused on single bevel knives and in fact they are probably the only place that have any meaningful supply of single bevels in Japan. Sanjo produces double bevels and have many cool names like Hinoura, Shigefusa and Yoshikane yet they are production rate is very low. Echizen in contrast is mostly focused on double bevels and has a lot of people working in the knife making industry (not far behind Sakai and certainly more than Sanjo).
Takefu Special Steel, which produces VG10 and SG2 steel, is in town giving the makers there a tremendous support. Echizen also has the famous “Double Forge” technique (forge two blanks at the time) which I will cover in a separate post.
As a knife enthusiast, I bet you probably have one or two knives produced by the Takefu makers.
How to Get There
Echizen is a city in Fukui Prefecture. The north of Fukui is the Japan sea, and the south boarders Shiga Prefecture and Gifu Prefecture. Echizen is in the middle-south of Fukui prefecture, Takefu town (part of Echizen) can be accessed by Hokuriku Express Motorway and the Kokuriku Railway line. Given Takefu itself is quite a small town so public transport is not what you would expect in cities like Osaka or Tokyo. The only feasible means of getting around is by taxi or drive.
(Direction to Takefu by Train from Osaka and Tokyo, Google.com)
If you are departing from Osaka, the Thunderbird Limited Express leaves from JR Osaka, and will get you to Takefu in a little less than 2 hours; you can hop onto the Thunderbird Express from Kyoto as well. If you are coming from Nagoya or even Tokyo, the Shinkansen bullet train will get you to Maibara (make sure you take selected Hiraki or Kodama but not Nozomi train as it won’t stop at Maibara), from Maibara take the Shirasagi Limited Express to Takefu. From Takefu, call a taxi (Takefu Taxi TEL: 07-7822-0012).
We departed Osaka early for Maibara via Shinkansen and rented a car there, since we are having a one-way road trip to Sanjo, stopping at Echizen and Toyama.
Takefu Knife Village
The Takefu Knife Village is a knife manufacturing plant under the Takefu Knife Village Cooperative Association. Craftsmen under the cooperative share the same facility, resource and work with others, the cooperative oversees the collective marketing and the showroom.
(Takeful Knife Village, Many of us probably recognize the Takefu Knife Village by its unique cylindrical shaped building, which is essentially a giant showroom.)
(Inside the showroom is all sorts of merchandise)
From the showroom, you can access the large workshop at the back. The workshop is pretty much a one-stop manufacturing plant, that is comprised of forging stations, heat treatment area, rough shaping stations and sharpening stations. It has pretty much everything to turn a piece of billet in a completed knife. This is vastly different from Sakai which are mostly smaller, family-based independent workshops supplying to the brands like Takayuki (they do run their own factory as well), Yoshihiro, and alike; or in the case of Sanjo, small independent workshops manufacturing as well as selling their own brands: Hinoura, Yoshinake, Shigefusa, etc.
(Inside the workshop, with forging station on the left and shaping stations on the right)
So what is the the advantage of the Takefu Cooperative? The way I see it, Sakai have some added cost due to the larger brands running the show hence added labor and marketing overhead. Workshops in Sanjo have virtually no cooperation, everyone minds their own business in turn means they have to also worry about facility maintenance, supplies, expenditure, marketing among other things, again this leads to higher overhead and reduced production.
Arriving at the Takefu Knife Village, Yoshihiro Yauji was there to greet us. I congratulated him for attending the title of Dentokougeshi this year (link), he then guided our group around the workshop. I have been here quite a few times yet it is always fascinating to see the highly skilled craftsman forging and sharpening.
(Master Blacksmith Katsushige Anryu is forging a small knife)
(A Tempering machine, with the craftsman loading fresh hardened knives into it)
(Once a knife blank is heat treated, it is rough shaped and straightened with hanmmer)
(Finally a knife blank is sharpened on these giant water grinders)
This is a slow motion clip that got from the same maker above :)
Kurosaki is out in the US so I can’t catch up with him (again), and Master Shiro Kamo is not in town so I can’t tell him how everyone really love the Bang for the Buck King: Shinko Selian.
Master Takeshi Saji
A person that I always visit in Echizen is Master Takeshi Saji. Saji-san is perhaps one of the most important persons in the establishment of Knives and Stones. Being a prominent figure of the Takefu Knife Village Cooperation, Saji-san introduced us to Kurosaki-san along with the rest of the Takefu makers.
Saji-san’s approach to kitchen knife design is unique, bold, rustic yet elegant. Originally an outdoor knife maker, Saji-san fused the elements of outdoor knives with kitchen knife, his diamond Damascus SG2 desert ironwood western handle was considered a unicorn back in late 2000s and I always wanted one but was always out-of-stock everywhere. Even at K&S we struggle to get enough stock of the Saji Ironwood Gyuto.
(Saji R2 diamond Damascus with desert ironwood handle)
As an established craftsman, Saji-san has his own workshop. It is about 10 minutes’ drive from Takefu Knife Village. Saji-san works with his son-in-law Nomura-san and a few other craftsmen. Saji-san personally showed us around his workshop this time around because my associates are first time visiting his workshop.
(Saji-san holding a knife, describing how to shape the handle)
(Saji's signature diamond damascus knife blades)
(A corner of Saji's showroom, lots of awards!)
Our last stop in Takefu is Ryusen Hamono. Ryusen is literally 100 meters from Saji-san and right next to Takamura). Ryusen recently built a showroom so we have to check it out.
The new showroom is super stylish, and I just love how Ryusen can manage the details in a way that it is modern European look yet the details are full of Japanese elements, just like their knives. The details are very subtle, yet customers often are blown away by the design, craftsmanship and performance.
President Masutani was kind enough to host the meeting at the showroom, and I thoroughly enjoyed every second there.
(The main feature of Ryusen's new showroom, a painting of a Japanese dragon)
(The elegant display of Ryusen's steak knives)
We left Echizen early in the afternoon for Toyama as my good friend Kurosaki-san was in the US so I missed him (again), oh well at least he sent me the 450mm R2 Sakimaru Sujihiki. It is always great to catch up with friends in Echizen and see the new knives they are making.
Next stop: Toyama