the trip is going smoothly. We all arrived at the airport on time, got
a rental car, a rental cell phone and then drove to our hotel. The
"Car-Navi" in the car is incredible; all I have to do is type in the
destination's phone number and it takes us right where we want to go.
Driving all around Tokyo has never been easier.
we all enjoyed a long breakfast, then drove to Kazou Okayasu's steel
shop near Ueno Park. After some filming of him giving us a history of
the Japanese knife culture, we went to Kaiten sushi (cheap at 600
yen/person, but good), then on to the Shozaburo factory in Adachi-ku.
The big boss there showed us all around while we filmed, then he had me
grind and assemble some scissors. After that we all went out to eat
Shabu Shabu, and Shozaburo paid for all of us, which no doubt cost
about $500. Shamus and the guys are real sports, eating many kinds of
new stuff, like natto, squid, quail eggs and fish with their heads
still attached. Jean, Michael Balamuth's wife, is also a real
adventurer, and has been a blessing to the group by adding a woman's
touch to our activities. Last night she hugged and kissed Shozaburo's
president goodbye, which for a Japanese 75-year-old craftsman, must
have been a really touching moment.
boys, eat this morsel here. It'll put hair on your chest for sure!"
(Ginnan nut from the bottom of a dish of chawan mushi egg dish)
night we stayed in a hotel very near Ueno Station, and after checking
in, Shamus, John Thurmond and I went for a long walk, taking in the
sounds and sights of the Japanese nightlife. The boys really like the
excitement of Tokyo. Today, after breakfast at the hotel, we will start
our journey towards Osaka, but first I have to make several phone calls
to arrange our itinerary.
"Pay your money and take your chances" - A typical city night life
scene in Tokyo
Wednesday, after a nice breakfast in the hotel, we set sail for Sakai,
Osaka, by the toll highway. We were going along smoothly until we hit
some heavy traffic, which we encountered off and on for most of the 545
km journey due to one of only two lanes being closed down for
construction. Instead of taking six hours to reach our destination, it
took a grueling 10 hours, and as the driver, I was quite exhausted by
the time we reached Osaka. We did however have some fun stopping at
various rest areas along the highway, where Shamus could eagerly search
for a new example of his newfound eating passion... Melon Pan! (a type
continued to (slowly) roll along the highway, Shamus and Jean snapped
pictures non-stop out of the windows at everything out of the ordinary.
With darkness fast approaching, we decided to take the next exit off
the highway, and find a hotel. We found ourselves in Ibaragi, Osaka at
a business hotel near the local train station. That evening we strolled
around the block, taking in the sights and sounds, and enjoyed some
friendly conversation with the locals over "TakoYaki" (round fried
dumpling treats with bits of octopus included).
next morning we set out to cover the last hour's drive to get to Sakai,
where we finally met up with Mr. Shiraki, the world's finest Japanese
bladesmith and a long-time teacher to Murray. Mr. Shiraki was engaged
in some very fast and furious forging when we entered his shop, and all
of us were memorized by the flying molten flux as he forge welded one
blade after another and then forged the billets into kata-ha blades.
The speed and accuracy of this bladesmith is amazing. Leaving him to
his important work, we climbed the stairs to where Mr. Kawakita, his
brother and his son had a grinding and polishing operation. After a
reunion of warm greetings, each member of our group was invited to
participate in various ways in the grinding operations. What an amazing
opportunity to practice beside real masters.
A visit to the world's best Japanese kata-ha bladesmith, Mr. Shiraki,
and knife purveyor, Mrs. Kohashi
traveled on to Mr. Ashi's bladesmithing shop, where we met up and then
took Mr. Ashi with us for a wonderful lunch of "Kaiten Sushi." After
lunch, we visited the Sakai Cutlery Museum, where we bumped into
several internationally known cutlers and blade enthusiasts. Then we
returned to his shop and got a guided tour of how to finish and polish
High Grade style of knives. During a coffee break, he also shared with
us a beautiful photo album full of snapshots of some of his most
artistic works to date. We were all taken with his generosity and
kindness. After checking in to a local hotel, we set out for our
evening adventure. That consisted of eating dinner in an open
restaurant (yatai) specializing in fish dishes, followed by a short
stop to a pachinko parlor (soft Japanese gambling) where we blew
through $50 like it was going out of style.
A pleasant visit with Mr. Ashi, bladesmith and artist extraordinaire
morning was marked by a memorable trip to the local bank to exchange
some dollars to yen, followed by a return visit to Mr. Shiraki's to
observe some heat-treating in pine charcoal. After he was finished we
had a very memorable visit, and some members were able to purchase
heat-treated blades from him to finish up later for personal use.
Following that visit, we were treated to a most special dining
experience to an exotic Soba-ya noodle restaurant, accompanied by a
former model, flamenco dancer and knife purveyor. After a truly
satisfying meal, we set out on our journey for Seki City. The driving
this time was smooth, and we made it just in time to join Yuhei Sakai
and his family for a twenty course BBQ.
the impending excitement of Japan's most thrilling cutlery event, Seki
Knife Show, which was to commence the next day (Saturday), we retired
to our accommodations at a private residence belonging to the Sakai
family. The traditional Japanese residence, which was to be our
accommodations for the next three nights, was our first exposure to
living life as the Japanese do, with tatami mats, paper doors, futons
and no furniture. To the sound of crickets chirping, we all fell asleep
with visions of folding knives and chef's blades dancing in our heads.
AM came at five, and after running several errands prior to the gang
waking up, we set out and grabbed a quick bite at McDonald's. Then we
arrived at the Seki City Knife Center and toured the facility. The
assortment and wide variety of Seki City cutlery products was
impressive, and we had some heart-felt communication with some staff
members as well. The group members were by this time, becoming quite
adept at communicating with the locals, using every word and phrase of
Japanese we had learned and practiced along the way.
with celebrities at the Seki Knife Show - Mr. Hattori, Mr. Sakai and
two other prominent men in the industry who requested to remain
ventured over to the old G. Sakai factory and Knife Museum, where we
met up with a few of Murray's old acquaintances. The talk traversed
from steel and blades to Japanese natural water stones, and much note
taking was done as a result of talking extensively to the two stone
vendors who were present at this location. Murray purchased a selection
of the finest stones that were for sale, and accepted an offer to
return next February and spend several days with the stone vendor
exploring all facets of natural stone sales -- from excavation to
selection, shaping, grading and price determination. I'll report more
on the new stone adventure in the future (Feb/March 2011).
other spectacle at the Knife Museum was a falconer. We enjoyed a
demonstration of falconry (which is rare in Japan), and then each got
to don a leather gauntlet and hold the falcon ourselves. The predator’s
eyes were steely keen, and would look straight into our eyes as we were
holding it, and was very unnerving. The eyes seemed to say "I'd eat you
too if I as big enough to do it!" What an amazing bird.
there we made our way to the annual knife show at the exhibition
center. It was cool to see the latest knives being offered by Japanese
custom knifemakers, and it was a wonderful time of reunion between
Murray and friends that he had not seen in over five years. Among other
things, Murray initiated business talk with several top-quality knife
manufacturers about the possibility of working on future projects.
Several promising conversations were the result.
an exquisite traditional meal of Shabu Shabu with our hosts, Mr. Miura
senior and junior, accompanied by our lovely kimono clad waitress
old Seki Knife Show tradition, our party made way for a distinctive
Seki cuisine specialty: Unagi (BBQ river eel). We arrived as the first
customers and so thoroughly enjoyed the experience that we stayed all
the way until closing time. Included in the exotic menu were fresh BBQ
eel over rice, eel liver soup, deep fried eel spine segments, deep
fried eel salad and stewed rice paddy crickets (yummy). At the end of
the evening the restaurant master was kind enough to take our group
into the kitchen and show us what happens behind the scenes. He took a
live eel, and in about 20 seconds flat, showed us how he holds the eel
down, stabs it just behind the head, fillets it and removes the
backbone, all while the eel is still squirming! John, our group
gourmet, was especially interested in the set-up of burning coals and
the hand-made wooden air vent. We then went back to our accommodations
and retired for the night.
we started the day by visiting the Seki Samurai Sword museum. This is,
bar none, the finest sword museum and descriptive display in all of
Japan. What's more, we watched an authentic sword forging demonstration
by a genuine swordsmith and three apprentices, all striking the hot
steel in sequence. The cadence of the four hammer blows (master first,
followed by three strikers) was captivating, and the crowd couldn't
help from bursting out in applause after each forging sequence. At the
end of the demo, Murray struck up a conversation with Mr. Takaba, a
second-generation swordsmith and his son Ryu, soon to be the third
generation smith. We found out they were also holding a display of
their work at a local knife shop, Yamahide, and we made our way there
after another short visit to the knife show to continue some business
conversations Murray started on Saturday.
A visit to the Japanese Pro Series handle maker
visit to Yamahide was chock-full of more pleasant surprises as we
bumped into several of Murray's closest friends at the shop. The
conversations that followed promised more good things to come when
Murray visits Japan again in 2011. After departing the shop, we all
walked down the street market fair located in the old section of town,
sampling various regional treats and searching for cutlery bargains
that were too good to pass up. After scoring some goodies, we settled
on a simple convenience store dinner before retiring for the day. Of
course, by this time, it was a well-established tradition for the
younger travelers to take an evening stroll to take in the local sights
and sounds of regional nightlife. We ended up interacting with four
locals over green tea as they explained their plan for their new health
"Yeah man, this is what we came to see!"
thorough clean up of our host's accommodations and a blitzkrieg dash to
the local market for a fruit basket gift, we paid our respects to our
hosts and then hit the road for Yokohama. We were glad we left early,
because though the trip was less than 300 km, it took us six hours to
reach our destination due to the increased traffic on account of the
three-day vacation all Japanese nationals were returning from. Once in
Yokohama, we settled into a hotel and headed out for dinner at a sushi
shop. After that we discovered a darts bar, and had some friendly fun
competing in throwing plastic tipped darts.
Murray and Mr. and Mrs. Balamuth in Shibuya, Tokyo
morning we took a train (not rush hour, thankfully) to Shibuya and went
shopping. The sea of people was breath-taking and we enjoyed the lively
atmosphere. After a semi-crowded return train ride, we met up with
Murray's in-laws and enjoyed a lovely dinner together. After sweet
good-byes, we made our way to an airport near Narita airport. The
illuminated views along the way and the trip over the Tokyo Bay Bridge
were spectacular, and we got some incredible snapshots. What a lovely
last memory of Tokyo.
Murray and group with Murray's in-laws, Yokohama, Japan
airport the next morning, we went through the song and dance of
re-arranging our suitcases to meet the weight restriction requirements,
and then after we were checked in, we met up with Murray's Japanese
mentor, 16th-generation Yoshimoto Bladesmith, Mr. Yasuyuki Sakemoto.
Over a tasty meal and coffee, we got well acquainted with this
delightful man who has been so instrumental to Murray's development as
a bladesmith. After pictures and farewells, we shuffled to our
departure gates to board the planes that would take us back to the life
we left ten days earlier. It was a remarkable life-changing trip and
the memories will replay in our hearts and minds for years to come.
Murray with Mr. Yasuyuki Sakemoto, 16th-generation Yoshimoto Bladesmith