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Learning Edo-era blade polishing techniques from a Japanese master

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RocketNews 24:

We recently visited Tokyo Polishing Master Craftsmen Institution in the Asakusa area of Tokyo where they are celebrating their 20th year. The school has seen more than 700 graduates go through the program to become professional sharpeners in their own right.

The president of the school, 83-year-old Kosho Fujiami, is the very definition of a sharpening master, having practiced the craft since he was 5 years old. He learned polishing styles that people have been using since the Edo period when the art form was mainly used by samurai to sharpen their swords.

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Fujiami told us that samurai took great care to learn how to sharpen their swords and keep them polished. Their swords were one of their most important tools and had to be kept in the best of shape. For people now, cooking knives are one of the most important things we use on an everyday basis, he said. So this ancient practice of blade sharpening is still very relevant to the modern world.

There used to be lots of professional blade sharpeners in Tokyo during the Edo period and even in the early Showa era. Now there are hardly any left and this school is one of the few places to learn techniques that have been practiced for over 300 years.

We asked Fujiami about the skills required to polish a blade. “The act itself is very simple. You hold the blade to the sharpening stone at a certain angle and scrape it against the stone…that’s it,” he told us.

But to truly master this skill, Fujiami stressed that you need to practice it over and over again.

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There are three kinds of polishing stones and which one you use depends on the type of blade you want to sharpen. After figuring out which stone to use, you then have to figure out what the original angle of the blade was. Taking that angle into account, you firmly grasp the handle of the blade with your right hand and place the face of the blade onto the polishing stone. Put a lot of pressure onto the blade as you grind it on the stone away from your body, then ease up when you slide it back towards you. Repeat this motion slowly and carefully to gradually polish the blade back to its original sharpness.

▼Some of the polishing stones

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▼Practice blades

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People from all walks of life, from housewives to white-collar workers to students, have gone through the school. The course takes about 300 to 400 hours and most people complete it in under a year.

We met one graduate of the school who is now practicing the skill in Los Angeles. Fujiami told the student that since Japanese cuisine is all the rage around the world, there might be a big demand for blade polishing since many Japanese foods require fine knife work with the sharpest of blades. The graduate opened up a speciality knife shop in L.A. and apparently is doing quite well.

Although courses are only available in Japanese, this school welcomes anyone who wants to learn the art of polishing. Fujiami said he would love to spread this Japanese art to other countries. And from 10 AM to 4 PM on everyday except Mondays, they invite you to come and watch them work their magic. If you’re interested, check out the school’s website and directions:

Tokyo Polishing Master Craftsmen Institution
Address: 3rd Floor 2-29-15 Asakusa bashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Less than 5 minutes walk from JR or Toei subway Asakusabashi stations

▼A look at the school from the street

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Learning Edo-era blade polishing techniques from a Japanese master

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