5 Apr 2013

Masters of Cutters


After a talk with my father-in-law, I have become quite fascinated by the evolution of Japanese aesthetics through the ages. It is his opinion that the prevalent and rampant materialism of Japanese consumerism is eroding traditional, high quality, masterful products in favour of cheap, fast and easy items. I had to agree and it is something that weighs heavy on my mind when I am shopping in Japan. 

Hiro and I have a great respect for handcrafted and well designed things. We like to FEEL that a lot of thought has gone into our favourite things and so we made a conscious decision to make considered purchases when possible and to buy things that will not only last a life time, but that will grow more beautiful with age. Such is the way that his parents and grandparents shop and so shall we. So it was that we ventured into older parts of Tokyo to seek out masters of their crafts.

Scissors and cutting implements are essential to my trade, therefore, buying the best that I can afford is an all round sensible thing to do. I chose to visit Ubukeya upon hearing about their name. The word, Ubukeya, comes from the word, "ubuku" which refers to the soft downy hair of a baby and "ya" which means shop. This signifies that their implements are sharp enough to shave an infant's fine downy hair. 



The shop itself is a thing of beauty. Although it  has stood here for about 220 years since the Edo Period, Ubukeya was established in Osaka in 1783. Today, many generations later it remains a family run business.




Ubukeya stock a range of knives, scissors and tweezers among other things and many of these items are finished on site.



For my part, I felt so glad that such places still exist amid the modern mayhem of Tokyo. There was a deep sense of pride and a wonderful attention to detail and service by the people here. 



I came to buy a pair of nigiri-basami (Japanese style scissors, often referred to as nippers). 
I use these an awful lot in my sewing to cut threads, undo stitching and to cut detailed sections of fabric. They are my preferred choice because of their precision and the spring provided by the elbow makes cutting so much easier.





As you can see I have a nice collection of nigiri-basami. They range from the cheapest (left) that bought in UK and I use to cut paper to the sublime and masterly created pair from Ubukeya (right). In the middle I have a mid-range pair that I bought from Yuzawaya for about £20.00 (middle). I think the quality is quite visually evident.



After using all three for many months now, I can say that the Ubukeya one outperforms the others in everyway. The point is sharper so I can undo stitching in no time. The blades and so sharp that it slides through fabric and thread with ease. It has a wonderful weight to it so it sits well in my hands. It has enough spring to make light work of any task. I cannot be happier with these.

The nigiri-basami are made from a single billet of fine steel. They are hammered and beaten flat and then bar bent before being carefully tempered at the "elbow" to form the "spring". These are built to last and are a far cry from mass manufactured scissors. 

Ubukeya provide a sharpening service which I fully intend to use, so I can continue to use my scissors for many more years to come. I regret not investing in a pair of Ubukeya dressmaker's scissors too. However, I may rectify this when I get my scissors and tweezers (I got some of those too) sharpened.

Ubukeya
3-9-2 Nihonbashi
Nigyocho Chuo-ku
Tokyo


6 comments:

  1. It never particularly matters that you may be penning something about an item I'll never have any use for, I always seem to get lost in your words. Your descriptive way of wandering through words is exquisite.
    Just thought I'd let you know!

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  2. I can only hope such handcrafts and traditions are preserved forever. It is my dream to visit Japan one day and venture into a store like that one and discover wonderful and totally unknown things to me, I'm almost imagining the feeling : )
    Thanks a lot for sharing this, I really enjoy reading what you write, I'm glad to have found your blog xx

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  3. Reading this post makes me long to travel to Japan so badly! I am a huge fan of handcrafted and well designed things too, especially from "old", skilled artisans. They are really so aesthetically pleasing in every way. I fully intend and hope to own a set of (kitchen) knives from such Japanese knife-making masters one day.

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  4. This makes me think about nights when I break out a sweat trying to a cut a thin piece of tomato with my student Ikea knives, cursing at how I haven't invested in a good one.

    This is evident that good quality products, made from the heart makes all the difference!

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  5. lovely stuff, you do seem very well connected in the shop department. this isn't the sort of shop i would associate with japan i must say but it's a delight and like you said run and maintained with pride. i think we can all aspire to do something with such. i've never seen these nippers before but the design of them is wonderful, very pleasing indeed. would i be able to buy a pair over here or were yours a one off? i have a pair of scissors which were labeled as chinese balloon scissors, like these ones;

    http://www.harropandpenny.co.uk/collections/all/products/large-flower-snips

    Do you know anything about this style?

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  6. The longer I live in France, the more I feel appreciative and grateful that shops like this one exist. Growing up in Canada, everything was new, and what we did have that was old, from architecture to businesses to furniture, was more often replaced than maintained; the country is too new, I think, to understand the importance of conserving a heritage on a small scale. But it is small shops like Ubukeya, maintained for centuries by devoted craftsman, who become the torchbearers for cultures that are being eroded by globalisation. And in my mind they are doubly worth supporting because of that; the fact that they also sell products of higher quality than newer shops doesn't hurt, either!
    xox,
    Cee

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