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Special Japan Report

Dear Patrons,

To say that our recent cutlery tour to Japan was a success would be a gross understatement. Not only did Murray accomplish every item of important business on his agenda, and the four guests accompanying him had the trip of a lifetime, but also new doors never thought possible were opened, putting Carter Cutlery in a truly remarkable advantage over all other cutlery-related businesses dealing with Japan. All five of the travelers, including Murray, returned home with a sense of awe and inspiration. We took upwards of 40 hours of exclusive video footage of key components of the Japanese cutlery industry, as well as over 3,000 still photos. Over the next few months, we will edit, compile and present our informative media to you. The return trip scheduled for next February/March, will provide even more media to compliment what we already have.

After reading more about this past trip, if you want to be one of only four lucky patrons to join me on the next trip, don't hesitate to contact me right away. Space is limited to only four guests -- see details in column on the right.

 Daily Report from Carter Cutlery Japan Tour, October 2010

So far 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.

Yesterday 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.

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"Hey 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)

Last 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.

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"Pay your money and take your chances" - A typical city night life scene in Tokyo

On 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 of pastry).

As we 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).

The 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.

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A visit to the world's best Japanese kata-ha bladesmith, Mr. Shiraki, and knife purveyor, Mrs. Kohashi

We then 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.

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A pleasant visit with Mr. Ashi, bladesmith and artist extraordinaire

Thursday 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.

With 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.

Saturday 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.

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Sitting with celebrities at the Seki Knife Show - Mr. Hattori, Mr. Sakai and two other prominent men in the industry who requested to remain anonymous

We then 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).

One 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.

From 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.

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After an exquisite traditional meal of Shabu Shabu with our hosts, Mr. Miura senior and junior, accompanied by our lovely kimono clad waitress

In the 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.

Sunday, 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.

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A visit to the Japanese Pro Series handle maker

The 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 food store.

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"Yeah man, this is what we came to see!"

After a 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.

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Murray and Mr. and Mrs. Balamuth in Shibuya, Tokyo

Tuesday 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.

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Murray and group with Murray's in-laws, Yokohama, Japan

At the 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.

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Murray with Mr. Yasuyuki Sakemoto, 16th-generation Yoshimoto Bladesmith (Murray's Teacher)


Until our next email news, stay sharp and may God richly bless you!

Carter Cutlery

P.O.Box 307
Vernonia, OR 97064 (MAP)
phone 503-429-0447
Carter Cutlery
murray@cartercutlery.com

 
 
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Japan Cutlery Tour 2011

The upcoming February / March Japan Cutlery Tour will include travel to Tokyo, Osaka, Seki City, Kyoto, Aichi and Fukui. The exact tour dates will be determined by group consensus.

Murray will be able to take along four travel companions for the trip. Inner Circle members will be given preference, but any other interested patrons can contact us for more details. Traveling through Japan with Murray is an awesome experience as he knows the language and culture like a native. Readers will remember what kind of treasures Murray finds because of his unique position within their culture.

The cost of the trip will be actual costs of flights, accommodation and transportation* plus a gratuity of $2500 to Murray for his services. You will need to have a current passport and a heart for adventure! An international drivers license is encouraged, and each traveler should bring at least 250,000 Japanese yen to pay for daily expenses such as hotel, food and daily transportation costs.

Thanks for following along with our adventures. Keep tuned for our next mailing where we will offer you an incredible opportunity to get a free knife, product or service up to $6000 in value, to reward our most loyal patrons who keep up with the newsletters.

*Costs should be well below "tourist package" rates as we will be traveling and eating like the natives, comfortably but without 5-star costly luxuries.



Carter Cutlery, 981 Fairway Lane, PO Box 307, Vernonia, OR 97064, USA
 
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