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Tanaka Kama Kogyo / Nagasaki Matsubara-cho

Master craftsman Katsuto Tanaka

Matsubara knives are characterized by a slender spine; this means they're comparatively light for their length. Traditional lightness in combination with Tanaka Kama Kogyo's high-grade handles, quality steels and Japanese sharpness adds up to a lot of cutting pleasure in the kitchen.

On a road trip to Nagasaki you could flash past Matsubara on the shiny new section of Route 38 in less than than half a minute (barring a stop at the traffic lights), but for a knife fan that would be a missed opportunity. Pull off the road on a weekday and you'll find third- and fourth-generation craftsmen Katsuto Tanaka and son employing traditional Matsubara forging techniques in their popular line of hand-forged knives, meeting the steady stream of orders for Matsubara Hamono that come through the door. For customers of Knife Japan this may mean a period of three weeks to a month between order and delivery in your country. We like to think of it as good things coming to those who wait - a good thing forged especially for you.

It's worth relating the historic roots of knife-making in Matsubara-cho, which lie in the conflict between the Genji and Heike clans in the 12th century. In 1185 the two clans came together for a history-changing naval battle; the Genji were victorious and let's just say it was an unfortunate time to have been making swords for their enemies. Yamato swordsmith and Heike man Naminohira Yukiyasu escaped to a remote part of the land of Hyugo in eastern Kyushu, where he continued his family craft.

In 1474 his descendants settled in Matsubara, which became a thriving station town on the old Edo highway. There the success of the family's edge tools developed into a local industry that has existed for over five hundred years. Matsubara-cho's steel story encompasses the most beautiful of swords, utilitarian agricultural blades and sword-like kitchen knives. We're most interested in the latter, which certainly justify a stop on your next drive along the Nagasaki coast.

In 2014 local video production company Tidepool Studio recorded Tanaka san at work. The second video below runs to a shade over fifteen minutes and shows his full process.