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The Japanese Artisans Behind Wazakura Bonsai Cutters

Artisans: Wazakura Japanese Bonsai Cutters

The city of Sanjo, in Niigata prefecture, has been called for centuries the 'Town of Metal'.

Located in the rural and peaceful are of Tsubame-Sanjo, the seasonal floodings of Shinano River made necessary for its citizens to find an occupation different than agriculture in order to survive. Luckily, the city was built on land where mineral resources have always been abundant, so it was easy to find a livelihood from occupations related to the coal and metal obtains from the surrounding mountains. Because of all this, metalworking became the main industry.

Despite this and being considered one of Japan's leading manufacturing towns, nowadays there are not many blacksmiths still business in this once bustling city. Fortunately, here in Wazakura we are lucky to have found the manufacturer of our bonsai cutters in one of the remaining workshops. Founded in 1912, they are one of the oldest workshops still functioning after operating for more than 110 years, which is not that common in the area.

Third generation of a family of Japanese blacksmiths, Mr. Yuki used to sneak and play around the workshop in Sanjo since he was a little kid. Back then, he did not have access to quality materials, so he was told his scissors were not god enough and did not work well. These words got stuck with him and, as a proud blacksmith and craftsman, he started to improve his technique and find which materials and metals performed best in order to create the best bonsai scissors possible. As a result of constant self-improvement and many years of technique development, he even carves the mold for his tools himself instead of using a pre-made one. "When I make a mold, I think about how the tool would feels when used and what would be the shape of the finished product", he comments.

Artisans: Wazakura Japanese Bonsai CuttersArtisans: Wazakura Japanese Bonsai CuttersArtisans: Wazakura Japanese Bonsai Cutters

"There might be cheaper bonsai scissors that look similar, but usability and performance are completely different", he explains, "I carefully select quality materials such as Yasugi Steel that are more suitable for bonsai tools. I also heat the steel at about 1,000 ℃ (1832 °F) and apply rapid pressure to make the steel stronger and thinner". Mr. Yuki adds that by improving the source metals with this process, the sharpness exponentially increases.
This third generation Japanese blacksmith also attaches the blades himself so both left and right blades close without gaps. If there is a mistake in this process, the blades will cross and cannot cut. And once they are in that state, they cannot be repaired, so it is a task that requires skill and precision.

Artisans: Wazakura Japanese Bonsai Cutters
Mr. Yuki explains that the number of different processes like these that need to be carried out in order to finish 1 pair of scissors is between 50 and 60. And a total of 5 or 6 people will work on the same tool. As you can see, it is a laborious task that takes time and effort, but the merit of it is that in the end you can have a unique product created by a craftsman that has personally checked it while creating it using traditional and artisanal manufacturing methods.



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