By Sara Motomura-Broida
It has been a while since our last blog entry…. Sorry. This was a little unexpected… we thought we would have time at night to update our blogs and answer e-mails. We were wrong. We have been very lucky to be so busy though. Being busy is very much of a privilege, especially because our experience has been such a unique one. Our Japan trip has been amazing so far… meetings with amazing craftsmen, participating in the firing of a wood burning kiln, and visiting amazing places.
Since we arrived in Japan, it’s been a non-stop whirlwind. We met with Jin Knives and Fujiwara-san in Tokyo, and found several other companies that we will be picking up new products from (and be adding a little variety to our store). Unfortunately, our 4 days visit to Fukui prefecture was cancelled because I (Sara) developed some sort of allergy and we decided to go home to Yamagata and rest… well, at least we thought we would get some rest.
My parents, who make traditional Japanese pottery, fire up a wood burning kiln about once a year. Putting the pottery in the kiln and preparing all of the wood takes a long time, not to mention the time it takes to make all of the pottery. This year, the firing of the kiln continued for a full 5 days and the temperature of the kiln peaked at 1225 degrees Celsius. Everyone in the family took shifts staying up to keep the fire burning 24 hours a day. Jonathan even had the honor of pulling several pieces (called “setoguro”) from the kiln as fire was burning in his face. After the firing finished, the kiln had to cool for about 6 days before we opened it up. The pottery my parents makes symbolizes their philosophy and lifestyle. We come together around the kiln, and work together through difficult times. Our life in Yamagata wasn’t exactly restful, but it was very refreshing and inspiring.
While in Yamagata, we met up with some of our good friends from local restaurants (Iseki-san, Nyoi-san, Dolce’s Katsuo-san and Rie-san, and Ravi-san), Jon’s “family” at Beniya (Japanese restaurant), a local wood worker (Togashi-san), and a sword maker (Kanbayashi-san and his wife) ,as well as many other friends. We spent every day with my family and family friends. Kosuke-san from Konosuke Sakai even came up to visit us together with his family. We spent two days together – it was great to see them outside of a business environment and enjoy hanging out as friends. As I think back, I honestly can’t think of a single day we didn’t go somewhere or have someone visiting us.
We left Yamagata on October 31 for the Tosa region in Kochi prefecture. Kochi has always been known for its wisdom and foresight (well, knives too I guess ;) ). Tosa has been the home to many influential politicians – Ryuma Sakamoto, Jon Manjiro, etc. Ryuma Sakamoto is known as the “father” of Japan’s modernization (the Meiji Restoration) and his photos were everywhere in Kochi. People still talk about him with great fondness.
Of course, our big meeting in Tosa was with ZAKURI’s members and their representative, Tamura-san. They have always been extremely nice to work with. While there, we had an opportunity to see some new products, not only fromZAKURI, but also from many other makers in the area. Being able to meet with the makers in person is a completely different experience from leaning about them and their products in catalogues and photos. Meeting with the makers helps us get a better sense of who they are, what their philosophy is, and what kind of products they make. We found that the majority of Tosa’s blacksmiths run their businesses together with their families… literally everyone participates. We were also fortunate enough to be invited to a few workshops where we had a chance to see some of the makers forge and sharpen blades. Tosa has a very unique style of working… it was clearly different from other places we have visited. We were honored to be able to stand there to watch them as they worked. Tamura-san, ZAKURI’s representative, spent 2 days with us. He was a very gracious host and took the time to educate us about Tosa and Tosa’s craftsman. We cannot thank him enough for his generosity.
While in Kochi, we had a little time to be tourists. We went to see Kochi castle (twice) during out stay, and walked around the area. We also had great luck in finding good places to eat – we had some great Italian food and Katsuo no Tataki (I know… who goes to Japan for Italian food… but it was really good The owner studied in Italy for 3 years and the flavor was spot on for what we would have expected in Italy. FWIW, the restaurant’s name was La Luna nel Pozzo).
We left Kochi on Sunday morning for Kyoto. While in Kyoto (one of our favorite cities), we will be meeting with a few toishi companies (sharpening stone companies) and knife makers. Keeping with the trend so far, we will be extremely busy, but are really looking forward to it. We have meetings nearly every day – not only are we looking to find new products, but we are also taking this time to learn more about knives and sharpening stones. While in Kyoto, we will be particularly focused on learning as much as possible about tennen toishi. We hope to be able pass down this knowledge and experience to you guys. We really hope that a large part of our business can be focused on creating an environment where we can teach, learn from, and support each other.
Anyways, we’ll try to get back to a more regular schedule with our Blog posts. As always, thanks for reading.
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