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Higonokami story 13605

Zombie Apprentice Posts: 12,964
Higonokami story
« on: February 25, 2011, 10:28:34 AM »
I brought myself one of these little knives a while ago then discovered an interesting article on British Blades forum
http://www.rutlands.co.uk/hand-tools/japanese-hand-tools/pen-knives---japanese/JP1211/japanese-folding-knife---170mm---brass-handle

Aliaswonder very kindly gave me permission to copy it from here
http://www.britishblades.com/forums/showthread.php?87498-Higonokami-story


Higonokami story
I wrote this long review about a year ago for the French knife forum NeoCzen.org but was too lazy to translate it into English. At least it is done and here it is.

In the world of knives, the higonokami is a living fossil. This small Japanese folder is one of the oldest knife trademark still in production, is almost unchanged since its creation and is also one of the cheapest on the market

The higonokami knife was born in 1896 in Meiji era Japan when a man named Tasaburo Shigematsu brought back a knife from the Kyushu province and asked a knife maker named Teji Murakami from Hirata in the Miki region to manufacture it.
This original knife had a misconception at the start, as it didn’t feature any device to lock the blade. The story says that it is this maker named Murakami who first had the idea to add a lever to the blade, thus giving the knife the look it still has today and ensuring its commercial success. Some sources mention a second blacksmith to have been influential in this birth, Shigeji Nagao. Please remember his last name, you will hear it again below.

The story of the Higonokami intertwines with the tormented history of Japan during the past two centuries.
In the middle of the XIXe century, threatened by the canons of US Navy Commodore Perry’s gunships, the Empire of the Rising Sun is forced to open its borders to the rest of the world. Japan all of the sudden goes through a tremendous change, having to evolve from a feudal society to become a modern industrial state or risk being colonized.
In 1877 occurred the last battle opposing a party of rebellious samurais to the modern army of the emperor (as in the film, “the last Samurai”).
Having been defeated, the samurais were little by little stripped of their privileges and lost the right to carry their swords in public places. In consequences, a lot of blacksmiths lost their main customers, had to find other incomes and started to make knives. A lot of them settled around Miki, a region with a lot of river and iron ore sands and also the historical birthplace of the higonokami.
The name of the knife is strongly related to these events. “Higo no Kami” in Japanese means “Lord of Higo”. Higo is the old name of the Kyushu province, where the original knife came from, but “Higo no Kami” is also an aristocratic title historically given to powerful samurais.
In these times, Matsudaira Katamori was the acting Lord of Higo; he was also the very last one. He was involved in both the Perry episode and the last battles of the samurais.



The last real Higo no Kami.

In 1899 a knife maker’s guild was created in Miki and in 1907, the name “Higonokami” was trademarked. Only the members of the corporation could manufacture the knife.
The tale of the Higonakami changed into a success story. He became the most popular Japanese knife, the one all the kids had in their school bags, the utilitarian pocketknife of everyday. Pencils sharpening mass contests were even organized, with rewards for the fastest.
Mind its simple and basic design, the knife had some outstanding qualities, it was very sharp with a quality sanmai carbon blade, was easy to sharpen, inexpensive and over 50 makers were manufacturing it at the time.
The knife survived the lack of raw materials during WW2 and the following US occupation. The Americans outlawed the making of swords and again a lot of blacksmiths had to look for another job.

The “coup de grace”, the death blow, to the higonokami success story hit in 1961 when a 17 years old mentally disturbed youngster murdered the head of the socialist party by slashing him in public with the same kind of sword that has been banned a century earlier in 1876…
An unprecedented and hysterical anti knife campaign went through the country, it became forbidden to take the higonokami knife to school and tough knife laws were adopted, restricting the carry of knives.
This was a hard blow, the Higonokami almost disappeared and if it survives today it is because of knife lovers or of people nostalgic of their childhood, who kept the flame alive. Today the knife has lost its popularity and a lot of young Japanese don’t even know anything about it.

So if “higonokami” is a trademark and if only the makers belonging to the corporation in Miki can use this name, which are the real higonokamis among all the different models on the market?
In fact, sadly there is only one maker left in the guild, all others have stopped making them.
The only « real » and « historical » higonokamis are easy to spot. They are the ones that are sold in the little blue and gold paperboard boxes.





They are made by Motosuke Nagao, established in Miki, descending from four generations of blacksmiths and whose one ancestor was this other Nagao I mentioned at the start of the story.
Today, Motosuke Nagao is quite old, his succession is not ensured and the trademark might disappear with him.
His basic and better-known model is called “Sada Koma” and exists in three shapes: small, medium and large.
It is the archetype of the higonokami knife:
- A handle made out of a folded sheath of brass stamped with kanjis detailing the name of the maker and the steel of the blade: a sanmai with an aogami edge (blue paper steel).
- The presence of a chikiri (the lever) on the blade, to open the knife.
- The lack of a locking system.
- The fact that the blade entirely disappears in the handle when the knife is closed.

There are different shapes of blades but the most common is the one with the point in line with the edge, the so-called “inverted tanto”.
There are also other versions with different steels.
Some of them are even cheaper with a Shirogami blade and a blackened steel handle. There also exist some special editions with a damascus sanmai blade.

As Motosuke is alone to produce all these knives he is struggling to keep up with quality standards.
It is almost impossible to find one that is perfect and there seems to always be a detail that is wrong: scratches and imperfections on the blade, lever that doesn’t adjust well on the handle, grinds that aren’t symmetrical, file marks, scratched brass and so on… The finish is not finished, the back of the blade feels like a file and sharp angles make the knife unpleasant to grip.
I had some that had the lanyard hole missing and others where you had one but couldn’t use it because the blade was too long and would cut through it!
As they are tools as well as knives and because they are so inexpensive (9€ in Japan) it is up to their owner to finish them.
Mine are polished with sand paper and polishing paste, filed to round the angles and to erase the defects, in order to make them smooth and pleasant to touch.
Their brass mantle shining like solid gold, they go through a metamorphosis, become almost sophisticated, taking the look of a precious knife. This beauty doesn’t last; it is as ephemeral as the blossoming of the Sakura flowers on mount Fuji. After a few days, the brass gets tarnished and they become again humble and modest.















And what about the other ones? The ones sold in blue and white boxes with a samurai on the handle? Are they not Higonokamis?



Officially no, they are not higonokamis. They cannot use the name « higonokami » as their maker Miyamoto SEISAKUSHO (who makes them since 1932), left the corporation in the sixties. He calls them « Higonaifu » which is the Japanese pronunciation of « higo knife ».
Technically they are quite identical to the « real » ones. They share the same sizes, the steel of the blades is the same as is the material of the handles. They are also better made and better finished. No need to waste time and energy to improve their looks.
The most well known is the one with a black painted steel handle and a raw forged blade but you can also find models with chromed steel or the more traditional brass handles.









Sophisticated versions of it also exist with a cooper handle and a damascus blade forged by Mr. Ikeuchi.










The warrior pulling his sword on the handle is Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary ronin samurai who never lost a duel and invented a technique to fight with two swords. At the end of his life he retired in the province of Higo and wrote several martial arts and strategic treaties like the « Book of Five Rings » that are still read and studied today.






I find it the funny that the official higonokami is named after an official samurai and that this one has got the name of a renegade ronin…
Here is a link to Miyamoto Seisakusho:
http://www.miki-japan.com/namera/miy...eisakusyo.html


Sources:
Wikipédia, Knife world magazine, Knife magazine and many Japanese info gathered from the internet
(Thanks to Google translation tools J)
Please point to me any mistakes you may find in my review.

A link to a video showing Motosuke Nagao making higonokamis in his workshop:


A very nice site with a lots of picture by a Japanese collector. A real reference in its kind with many links to makers (click on the writings in blue)
http://www.teshima-hp.com/custumhigo.html


Thanks Aliaswonder!  :cheers:

Everything’s adjustable
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 8,694 The MTO handshake.
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2011, 02:35:46 PM »
Some VERY nice knives there Tony  :drool: :drool: :drool:.

I have a few Japanese made MT's , looks like a Higonokami knife has made it on the 'too get list'  ::) :D :D.
Thanks Tony  :twak: :D :D


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Keeper Of The PowerCut Admin Team Zombie Apprentice Posts: 16,864 - Allan

AHB dk

*
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2011, 03:49:12 PM »
*Cough* Douk-Douk *Cough*




 :D :D


"Don't mistake lack of talent for genius."
Chief of the Absolutely No Life Club! Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here... Posts: 42,959 Why haven't you got a Farmer yet!
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2011, 07:10:03 PM »
Now that I like :drool:

Give in, buy several Farmer's!!!!!!
No Life Club Posts: 3,570
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2011, 07:14:31 PM »
Great!!

One more thing I WANT!!  :drool: :drool: :gimme: :gimme: :gimme:

Thanks Mike, LOTS!!  >:( >:(

 :D :D :tu: :salute:

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No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2011, 09:03:17 PM »
VERY VERY cool. Thank's for posting that up :tu:
I'm not usually big into classic knives and such, especially something that's more collectible than user, but if I ever come across one of these, it'll be mine.

EDIT: Just saw you can grab one of these guys off Amazon for like $30. I think I might order myself one, as it's just different and interesting enough to make up for it's questionable usefulness.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2011, 09:09:25 PM by thebullfrog »
Zombie Apprentice Posts: 12,964
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2011, 09:38:17 PM »
My one is lovely and sharp  :tu:
I guess its a bit thin in the handle (I do have biggish hands) for using a lot but if you are only going to open boxes etc its great!   :cheers:

The only trouble with the handle is it mellows down  so you need to polish it if you want it really shiny (just like a Buck110)  ;)
« Last Edit: February 25, 2011, 09:55:06 PM by sparky415 »

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No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2011, 09:44:32 PM »
How tightly does it stay open? in the video it looks like theyre pretty damn tight, which look to make opening a pain, but certainly makes up for the lack of any kind of lock whatsoever. I'm looking at handle materials right now because I hate getting the smell of brass all over my hands. I'm looking at a nickel plated handled one on E-bay.
Zombie Apprentice Posts: 12,964
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2011, 09:47:00 PM »
Its like a friction folder and they did say on BB that if its too loose you give the rivet a little tap with a hammer to tighten it  :think:

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No Life Club Posts: 3,572
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2011, 09:52:25 PM »
I had a couple , tried to like them but they belong to an alien tool use syntax , plus are very uncomfortable in large mits , lots of other devices I would rather carry .

Chris
No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2011, 10:01:43 PM »
As an EDC I can agree with you just upon looking at 'em, but it's more the novelty value that attracts me to it. For use it seems like you may as well just grab any old straight razor since that's about all the thing is really, but it's different, and different is always good.
No Life Club Posts: 3,572
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2011, 10:07:46 PM »
I wouldn't want to carry one naked in the pocket . Japanese carpenters , being very law abiding tend to pack them in the tool box . If you are looking at a bench knife , you are better off with a small Japanese F/B carpenters knife - these while somewhat brittle by western standards taje a truly deviant and scary edge .

Chris
No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #12 on: February 25, 2011, 10:23:24 PM »
Well I just went ahead and ordered myself one. Got the standard brass and bluesteel 80mm one. It'll be a while since I ordered it on e-bay from Japan, but I figure for $20 to own something fairly unique that you certainly won't see every day, it's worth it. And there's a bit of history behind it too. I actually hope it does have some minor finishing issues, adds to the whole "hand-made" aura of the thing.
Ambidangerous Mistress of Mod Admin Team Zombie Apprentice Posts: 15,038 I'm not all bad, I'm just drawn that way.
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2011, 11:44:00 AM »
Really interesting stuff, thank you :)

Not sure I'd have one hanging out in my pocket either, but they do have a certain class about them.

A dyslexic man walks in to a bra...

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No Life Club Posts: 1,571
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2011, 04:16:22 PM »
Nice pics, sparky.  :cheers:  Lee Valley sells this type of knife and although it's not as pretty as the ones in your pics, it would be neat to pick one up.  I've always been fascinated by this knife.  The copper one is beautiful...

This is called a Swiss Army Knife. Do you know what Switzerland is? Switzerland is a place where they don't like to fight, so they get people to do their fighting for them while they ski and eat chocolate. - Larry David
Zombie Apprentice Posts: 12,964
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #15 on: February 28, 2011, 06:36:36 PM »
Thanks but it was just copied from that other site and is all Aliaswonder's work  :dd:

Pictures of my knife below  :tu:




Everything’s adjustable
No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #16 on: February 28, 2011, 09:56:09 PM »
Yeah but its the kind of thing most of us may never have seen if you hadn't brought it to out attention, so you get credit too. Granted you cost me some money :pok: but thanks for putting it up.
Zombie Apprentice Posts: 12,964
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #17 on: February 28, 2011, 10:10:28 PM »
Yeah but its the kind of thing most of us may never have seen if you hadn't brought it to out attention, so you get credit too. Granted you cost me some money :pok: but thanks for putting it up.

And the blame  :D

Everything’s adjustable
No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #18 on: March 01, 2011, 04:10:00 AM »
Yeah but its the kind of thing most of us may never have seen if you hadn't brought it to out attention, so you get credit too. Granted you cost me some money :pok: but thanks for putting it up.

And the blame  :D

 :D
Admin Team Absolute Zombie Club Posts: 23,213
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #19 on: March 01, 2011, 05:04:35 AM »
Thanks for the article and everything Sparky. :salute: Those knives sure do look pretty. :dd: I wasn't even hardly distracted by the busty cartoon girls in the background. :angel:

In order to be certain of having the right tool for every job.........one must first acquire a lot of tools
Zombie Apprentice Posts: 12,964
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #20 on: March 01, 2011, 10:20:11 AM »
It's art Bob  ;)

I look at them as the Japanese version of the Opinel (French) or Svord (New Zeland) a good but cheap every day knife  :tu:

The site I got mine from had this to say about them  :salute:

These folding knives are traditionally used for woodcarving and whittling and at one time every adult and child in Japan carried a knife like it. The gently curved blades are shaped like the iconic Samurai swords and feature a sharp tip that is perfect for marking out and detailing. Made from three layers of steel, the blades feature a hardened, blue paper steel core that forms the cutting edge which is flanked by a layer of softer, tougher steel on each side. This makes the blade stronger, more durable and easier to sharpen. Because the cutting edge is so hard, the blades will take an incredibly sharp edge. Available in two styles, the blade on the black, steel handled knife has a hammered finish. The blades on both types of knife are double bevelled for both left and right hand use and fold into the handle for secure storage. Overall length 170mm. (The blade is a fraction under 3inches  ;)

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Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 8,550
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #21 on: March 03, 2011, 08:42:30 PM »
Urg, you people just cost me more money, bought one off ebay...  >:(
No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #22 on: March 03, 2011, 11:45:21 PM »
Can't wait top get mine. Due to be delivered towards the end of the month. Shipping from Japan takes a bit of time lol. By then I'll forget I ordered it and it'll be like an unexpected X-mas present  :mail:
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 8,550
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #23 on: March 04, 2011, 12:00:59 AM »
What size did you guys get? I bought the small 80 mm one, figure since it doesn't have a lock a shorter blade would have less leverage to close and thus safer, plus it's a nice size for EDC.
No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #24 on: March 04, 2011, 02:46:33 AM »
100 mm. I don't really intend to use it much, if at all, so decided practicality issues didn't matter much. I do agree with your logic 100% however.
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 8,550
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #25 on: March 04, 2011, 02:56:55 AM »
Yeah I don't know if I'll actually EDC it since it's a friction folder and carbon steel, but going to at least try it for a few days.
No Life Club Posts: 3,274
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #26 on: March 04, 2011, 05:41:22 AM »
One of these weeks I'm going to set aside my Douk and Higonokami for edc and see
how I get on with them. :)
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 8,550
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #27 on: March 11, 2011, 10:51:30 PM »
I got mine today, pretty underwhelmed to be honest. Crudely made and finished, grinding and stamping marks everywhere.

Oh well, I guess it's what it is, at least a non-expensive way to try blue steel.
No Life Club Posts: 2,277
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #28 on: March 12, 2011, 01:49:51 AM »
Got mine a cuple days ago. All the things you don't like are exactly why I like it. I love the homemade feel it has.
Absolutely No Life Club Posts: 8,550
Re: Higonokami story
« Reply #29 on: March 12, 2011, 01:56:33 AM »
I don't like dislike it, but I expected something with better fit and finish.

Now I'm not sure if I should keep the rustic appearance, or make it better polished.

 

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