Top > Japanese Scissors

Difference between a Japanese edged tool and a European and American edged tool:

japanese_scissors01

When discussing Japanese scissors, it is first necessary to explain the fundamental difference between Japanese and Western blades.In contrast to the blades made in most other countries, Japanese blades are a composite of at least two different types of steel of differing hardness.

Soft metal is used for most of the blade, and only the edge, which must be hard to maintain sharpness, is made of hard metal.Alternatively, the soft metal can be furrowed so that expensive, high-carbon steel is inserted only in the places where it is necessary.

The result of this layered construction is a blade that is hard and holds a sharp edge but is also resilient to chipping and will bend rather than break.Finishing the blade with a sharpening stone produces a sharp edge with an acute angle.

Contrast this with Western blades, which, due to their single-metal construction, must be made of relatively soft steel if they are to resist breaking, and therefore cannot hold as sharp an edge.

This is why it is said that foreigners who visited Japan in the mid 1800s are said to have fearfully claimed that "Japanese swords are as sharp as razors. They can cut with nothing more than a touch."

The history of Japanese scissors:

japanese_scissors02

In Japan, you can still find the U-shaped scissors (called Nigiri scissors) that date back to the second half of the 6th century and are thought to have given rise to modern scissors.The oldest extant U-shaped scissors in Japan are stored in the Tsuruoka Tenmangu Temple. They date to around the year 1200 and were used by Masako Hojo, legal wife of Yoritomo Minamoto, who founded the Kamakura Shogunate, as part of her cosmetics set. The world's oldest scissors are also of the U-shaped type, and are said to have been used to cut sheep's wool or as a surgeon's knife.

Despite the fact that U-shaped scissors have the longest history and that vestiges of their use can be found throughout the world, their present day use is almost completely confined to Japan.Therefore, Nigiri scissors are also known as Wa (Japanese) scissors.Despite their simple design, there are many subtle variations that have been developed to suit different purposes.In contrast to X-shaped scissors that are operated by opening and closing the handles, U-shaped scissors only require the user to provide the closing movement.Moreover, their ease of use for cutting fine details has contributed to their lasting value.

The widespread use of X-shaped scissors in Japan dates back to the 18th century when they were adopted as an essential tool for ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement).In the latter half of the 19th century, in the twilight years of samurai society, the proclamation of the Danpatsu Edict (an ordinance that removed restrictions on hairstyles) led to the proliferation of scissors by allowing bangs to come into vogue.

Around the same time, the isolationist policies that Japan had followed since the 1600s were ended, and various goods and cultural influences arrived from the West.One of these was a woolen cloth known as rasha.Imported rasha scissors were used to cut this cloth.However, Japanese people found these scissors to be too heavy for easy use.At the time, the Haitorei Edict forbid the descendants of the samurai from wearing a sword.The decreased demand for swords caused many swordsmiths to switch to scissor-making, giving rise to the practice of using Japanese sword-making techniques in the manufacture of scissors.

Scissor producing regions:

While Seki City in Gifu Prefecture, Sakai City in Osaka Prefecture, and Tsubame Sanjo in Niigata Prefecture are known as the three main regions that make Japanese scissors, there is also a long history and tradition of scissor manufacturing in the Banshu Ono, Tosa, Tanegashima, and Tokyo areas.

Seki City, Gifu Prefecture
The history of sword production dates back 800 years to when the swordsmith Motoshige moved to the city from Kyushu.Subsequently, numerous famous swordsmiths made use of the ready supply of high quality soil, charcoal, and water.Production shifted toward household blades after the Haitorei edict, and was characterized by large variety coupled with small production volumes. Items such as knifes and shaving blades were also frequently exported abroad.
Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture
The demand for blacksmiths originated around AD 400, when the large number of kofun (burial mounds) constructed in the region including for Emporer Nintoku required the production of many items such as bellows.Due to these advanced metalworking techniques, the region also became important in the production of guns during the Sengoku Period.Moreover, Japanese sword making in the region dates back to the second half of the 11th century, and the incredible sharpness of the knives produced for cutting tobacco led to the region becoming known nationwide as the sole provider of tobacco-cutting knives for the Shogunate.
Tsubame Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture
The beginnings of blade making in this region date back to the 1600s, when the magistrate Seibei Otani brought nail-making craftsmen from Edo as a way to help impoverished farmers by teaching them a new craft.This led to the establishment of groups who specialized in blacksmithing, and gave rise to the Sanjo blade-producing region as we know it today.
Banshu Ono
This region makes the largest number of Nigiri scissors in Japan.Moreover, it is also the most well-known region for the manufacture of woodworking tools.The Nigiri scissor-making tradition in this region is more than 200 years old, stretching back to the year 1783 when Sobei Morimachi first returned from his training in Osaka City.
Tosa
The knife-making tradition in this region began when the swordsmith Yoshimitsu Gorozaemon moved to the region from the country of Yamato (present day Nara Prefecture) around the year 1300, and flourished due to the high demand for swords and armor.Beginning in the Edo period, production centered around agricultural and forestry implements, and established the tradition of Tosa blade-making.Typically, Tosa blade makers work on everything from the forging to the finishing of blade, and the freedom that this affords the craftsmen has given rise to the term "free forging."
Tanegashima
The first introduction of scissor-making techniques happened in 1540 when Chinese blacksmiths arrived on the island together with Portuguese sailors bearing matchlock rifles. The combination of these techniques with the sword-making techniques already present on the island gave rise to what we know of as Tanegashima scissors.It is said that Tanegashima scissors made up 40% of the market share for Japanese scissors around the year 1900, and consequently many craftsmen from Sakai and Niigata traveled to Tanegashima to learn from their techniques.
Tokyo
Yakichi Yoshida was the craftsman who first modified the heavy and unwieldy rasha scissors, which arrived from abroad along with rasha cloth in the latter half of the 19th century, for easier use. His apprentices inherited and further developed what became known as the rasha-giri scissors, or tachi scissors.Today, the most famous brand of tachi scissors is made by Shozaburo.This was also around the time when clothes became standardized, and the swordsmiths who lost work due to the Haitorei Edict began to apply the techniques that they had used to produce sharp blades to the manufacture of Japanese-type scissors.You can still find many top-quality rasha-giri scissors being made in Tokyo.