There’s something that sets Nigara Hamono apart from other knife-making families in Japan. One might argue that it is the 350 years of history, starting from making swords for Tsugaru clan in the early Edo period. Passing down the know-how and skills for eight generations has no doubt given Nigara knives their culture DNA, but long history is not unique to Nigara.
One might argue that having a legendary fifth-generation blacksmith — Japan’s national treasure Mr Kunitoshi Nigara (二唐 國俊) — gives the family-brand a high status. Kunitoshi’s works were commissioned by Ise Shrine and Meiji Shrine in Showa Period, earning him a long list of accolades, honorary titles and knighthood of royals (he was even invited by the US Army after the War to document and register historical swords as part of the cultural heritage conservation effort). But that still doesn’t explain why Nigara is still so outstanding decades later.
The best way to understand why Nigara sets itself apart is from the eyes of the current (8th) generation blacksmith — Mr Tsuyoshi Yoshizawa (吉澤 剛). As he stands in the family business’s workshop, with his younger brother and two young craftsmen, feeling inspired to create the most outstanding knives for the world, he’s in fact given two things no other brands can give him.
First is his father/boss, the current president of Nigara — the 7th generation owner Mr Toshiju Yoshizawa (吉澤 俊寿). With designer eyeglasses and a nonchalant hairstyle — Mr Yoshizawa would not feel out of place in a design firm in Europe. A fan of arts, music and literature, Mr Yoshizawa does not fit the typical profile of a knife maker. He believes a broad perspective opens new doors, and studying arts and music hones his sensitivity to the world around him. In 2008, he created the Anmon pattern, based on the impression of the Anmon Waterfalls, cascading from the foot of the World Heritage Shirakami Mountains adjacent to the city 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 both of them. John’s glasses look like waves.” Mr Yoshizawa once said in an interview. Having a father like Mr Yoshizawa gives Tsuyoshi an enormous amount of inspiration and creative freedom, and he is too encouraged to have a broader perspective, one that’s far beyond the walls of the blade-smithing workshop.
The second thing in Tsuyoshi’s arsenal is the family business’s deep knowhow in steelworks. Nigara family has long expanded since the days of sword-smithing — into construction steelworks, steel beam technologies, as well as historical metal structure restorations. In a nutshell, Nigara is the steel guru. When Tsuyoshi wanted to create a particular Damascus finish on his blade, he does not go to the steelmaker for a ready-made solution. He walks over to the family business’s other divisions where experts come up with in-house solutions. While lots of knife makers rely on steel companies to make them Damascus billets, Nigara makes it own with dozens of finishings involving technologies often used in steel frame production.
With guru level manipulations on steels and a boss that loves pop arts as much as heat treating steel, the 8th generation blacksmith at Nigara is doing works that nobody else could.