I've been so very remiss. I had completely forgotten to write about my May trip to the annual Yasuki Blade Festival...how silly of me! I did go, and not only did I see lots of knives, and get very cold and rained-upon, I also met Alex Gilmore and his lovely wife, of The Japan Blade.
The Yasugi Blade Festival is held every year in early May, in the city of Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture. Yasugi is the home of Hitachi Materials' Yasuki Steel works, which produces all of your Hitachi Blue, White and Yellow paper steel, as well as hosting Japan's biggest tatara steel smelting--the primary source of Tamahagane steel for Japan's remaining swordsmiths. So Yasugi has a real shot at being called Japan's blade capitol (although Miki, Sakai, Tsubame-Sanjo and others would probably argue the fact pretty strongly.)
I've known about the festival for a few years, but the 4-hour drive across the island has always deterred me. However, an email from Alex asking if I might be able to meet him there proved the necessary impetus, and I (along with my buddy Darcy) hit the road early on the morning of May 3.
The drive through Hiroshima prefecture into Shimane is one I've taken before, and one I love, but this time, as we crossed the mountains, we drove into dreary rain and wind. I, having dressed for the balmy spring of the Sanyo coast, was disappoint. And cold.
We arrived in Yasuki well ahead of schedule, and went to explore the festival before we were scheduled to meet Alex and his wife.
We wandered up and down the street, snacking at food stalls and perusing the blades and stones on display. The weather was terrible, spitting rain and cold wind, so it wasn't all that pleasant for me in my shorts and t-shirt, but there was some interesting stuff on display. The stones were, overall, uninspiring--one man tried to sell me a Maruka stone that was broken into three small chunks for around US$75--but there were plenty of nice blades on display. I stopped at one stand,manned by Iguchi-sensei, and looked at paper-knives that had been made from Edo-era nails.
When I asked if I could take a picture, he seemed amused, and for some unfathomable reason gave me a tiny wooden top. So I bought one of his knives. Good job, Iguchi-sama!
The only other thing I bought was a beautiful titanium-hagane sandwich knife. The rainbow tinting of the titanium is amazing, and it is light as a feather. The edge, of course, is impeccable.
The festival was surprisingly dominated by Miki craftsmen. I didn't see any Niigata blades on display, sadly, though I had hoped Mizuochi-san from the Iwasaki forge would be in attendance. Sakai was also, oddly, unrepresented. Perhaps there is some animosity between all these blade-making cities that I'm not aware of, or perhaps my unhappiness with the weather blinded me to some unseen part of the festival. It certainly prevented me from attempting to make my own knife at the little forges they had going, that's for sure.
After perusing the wares for a while, we headed to the "Wa-kou" or "Japanese Iron" museum. The source of the name is clear from the massive "Kera" outside, as well as some chunks of iron cannon.
It hosts not only a nice display on Tatara and Katana, but also had a special exhibit of the very oldest Japanese swords and steel, from the Yayoi era, and on that day it also had some "outdoor knife" stands, with hunting and camping knives on display. These were really works of art, and I would have loved to take pictures but when I tried I was scowled at rather fiercely by some staff so you'll just have to take our word for it.
Alex and I had a good tame talking about razors, stones and his fascinating life. It was great to finally get to meet him, as well as his lovely wife, and I hope the next time he makes it to Japan we can talk in more comfortable circumstances.