Japan trip – the second
I spent the first week of my trip with my friends Kazu, Chiharu and their 3 year old daughter, Hana at their place in Kamigori. This is a small town that is close to the castle town of Himeji but almost into the next prefecture of Okayama. It’s a fabulous, quiet town and I’m fairly certain I was the only Westerner in the town the entire time I was there.
Kazu is my sword-making friend. His full name is Kazuyoshi but when dealing with clients, he uses his professional name, Kuniichi. I managed to spend a lot of time with him and continued to photograph him while he was involved in creating swords. The first day that I went with him to his workshop was a pretty special day; the polisher was bringing his sword for this year’s competition and he was seeing for the first time. Needless to say, he was quite nervous about it but very happy with it once he got a good look at it. Last year, he won first prize and was aiming for another first this year.
Having photographed him for several years now, I have seen almost all of the steps required in the creation of a blade. For those of you wondering, it takes about a month to create just one blade. He has several private clients but he, as do many sword makers in Japan, also gets commissioned from museums around the world in order to add to their collections.
On the last day I was to spend with them, we made a long road trip (about 3 ½ hours) out to his Oyakata’s place in Nara prefecture. An Oyakata is essentially a teacher. His Oyakata holds Mukansa status which has him classified as an Intangible Cultural Property in Japan due to his expertise in the art of sword making. I had met his Oyakata before but this was the first time I had been out to his workshop. It’s definitely old-school and about 4 times the size of Kazu’s workplace. You know, most Japanese people never get to be in the presence of an actual Japanese sword and here I was, a Westerner in the presence of 4 different swords and two swordsmiths, one of which is classified as an Intangible Cultural Property. Pretty lucky, I’d say.