Manufacturer: Nigara Hamono (二唐作)
Blacksmith: Tsuyoshi Yoshizawa (吉澤 剛)
Region: Hirosaki, Aomori
Type of steel: Carbon steel
Steel: Yasuki Aogami Super, Coated with flexible stainless steel
Length of blade: 180mm
Finish: Kurouchi, Tsuchime
Hardness: 63-64 HRC
There is something that distinguishes Nigara Hamono from other cutlery families in Japan. One could first point out that this is the 350-year history, starting with the making of swords for the Tsugaru clan at the beginning of the Edo period. The transmission of know-how and skills over the past eight generations has undoubtedly given Nigara knives their cultureD DNA, but the long history is not unique to Nigara.
One could say that having a legendary fifth-generation blacksmith – Japan’s national treasure, Mr. Kunitoshi Nigara (二 唐 – 俊) – gives the family brand a high status. Kunitoshi’s works were commissioned by Ise Shrine and Meiji Shrine during the Showa period, which earned him a long list of distinctions, honorary titles and royalty chivalry (he was even invited by the U.S. Army after the war to document and record historical swords as part of the cultural heritage conservation effort). But that still doesn’t explain why Nigara is still so remarkable decades later.
The best way to understand why Nigara stands out is in the eyes of the current blacksmith (8th) generation – Mr. Tsuyoshi Yoshizawa (澤 剛). While standing in the workshop of the family business, with his younger brother and two young craftsmen, feeling inspired to create the most remarkable knives in the world, he actually has two things that no other brand can offer him.
The first is his father/boss, the current president of Nigara – the owner of the 7th generation, Mr. Toshiju Yoshizawa (澤 俊 寿). With designer glasses and a nonchalant hairstyle, Mr. Yoshizawa would feel out of place in a design company in Europe. A lover of arts, music and literature, Mr. Yoshizawa does not fit the typical profile of a cutler. He believes that a broad perspective opens new doors and studying the arts and music refines his sensitivity to the world around him. In 2008, he created the Anmon motif, based on the printing of the Anmon waterfalls, cascading from the foot of the World Heritage-listed Shirakami Mountains, next to the town of Hirosaki, where the family business is based. “But in fact, the first inspiration for Anmon came from Andy Warhol’s paintings of John Lennon. I love them both. John’s glasses look like waves. Mr. Yoshizawa once said in an interview. Having a father like Mr. Yoshizawa gives Tsuyoshi a huge amount of inspiration and creative freedom, and he is too encouraged to have a broader perspective, far beyond the walls of the blade-making workshop.
The second element of Tsuyoshi’s arsenal is the deep know-how of the family business in the steel mills. The Nigara family has long since expanded into the days of sword forging – in construction steel mills, steel beam technologies, and restorations of historic metal structures. In a nutshell, Nigara is the steel guru. When Tsuyoshi wanted to create a particular Damascus finish on his blade, he did not go to the steelmaker for a well-made solution. He heads to the other divisions of the family business where experts propose internal solutions. While many knife manufacturers rely on steel companies to manufacture Damascus logs, Nigara appropriates it with dozens of finishes from technologies often used in the production of steel frames. With guru-level manipulations on steels and a boss who loves pop arts as much as thermal steel treatment, Nigara’s 8th-generation blacksmith does work that no one else could.