Meet the Inspired Metalworking Artisans of Niigata
Meet the Inspired Metalworking Artisans of Niigata
Tsubame-Sanjo is an area in Niigata known for extravagant cutlery used restaurants around the globe and prestigious events like the Nobel Prize ceremony. Beginning in the Edo Period (1603-1868), the city was manufacturing center for traditional Japanese metalwork, including nails, knives and tableware. During the rapid globalization and modernization of the 19th century, they started producing Western cutlery as well, which now enjoys a sterling international reputation. During your stay at ryugon, spend a day with the skilled artisans keeping this metalworking tradition alive.
Private Copperware Factory Tour at Gyokusen-do
“Gyokusen-do” is a copperware factory located about an hour and a half away from Echigo-Yuzawa by car. On this 90-minute tour, you will learn how the artisans hammer life into cold metal. Following a master design, the pieces are similar, yet each retains the beautiful uniqueness of the handmade, reflecting the skill and personality of individual artisans. The workers here believe objects can be repositories of meaning across the years. They work the metal every day, employing the skills and artistry of their teachers and passing down their own interpretations to future generations.

Private Visit to Tadafusa, a Knives Maker in the Town of Blacksmiths
Tadafusa begins in the 17th century, when the area was populated largely by peasant farmers. Frequent flooding from the nearby river destroyed crops and put them out of work. In 1625, a man came to aid, enlisting blacksmiths to teach them how to hand-forge nails as a more stable side business. The area subsequently became know as the Town of Blacksmiths, many of whom diversified from nails to specialize in sickles, saws and other cutting implements. Tadafusa was founded in 1948 to make quality hand-forged kitchen knives, a mission the company continues to this day. Their fine knives have won Good Design Awards and are prized by professional and private chefs around the world.

Private Visit to Suwada Factory, the Cutting Edge for Clippers
From hand-forged nails to nail clippers, Suwada Factory has been making great cutting tools since 1926, and now its manicure and pedicure tools, bonsai shears and kitchen utensils are known as high-quality professional gear. All the products are handmade by craftspeople whose perfectionism results in unparalleled sharpness.

Previously, Suwada Factory was not open to the public at all. The proprietary methods of turning raw materials into beautiful, razor-sharp cutting tools were jealously guarded, but now the factory and attached gallery have opened to the public to foster an appreciation of the craft involved.

Craft-Making Experience at Tsubame City Industrial Materials Museum
Tsubame City Industrial Materials Museum was the first museum in Japan dedicated to the history and development of local industries. Visitors can see how metalworking has changed over time in Tsubame since the Edo Period, from the hand-hammered copper vessels and Chokin engraving of the 18th century to today’s modern production technologies. You can also join a traditional craft-making workshop. And craft your own tumbler, sake cup or shot glass to take home.

Craft Making Experience at Sanjo Kaji-Dojo
While Japanese metalcraft is sure to call to mind historic images of samurai swords, not much in use today, but the art remains alive and well today in metal fixtures, woodworking tools, agricultural implements, fishing hooks and cutlery. It remains an integral part of Japanese daily life, often overlooked in its familiarity but essential all the same.

At Sanjo Kaji-dojo, visitors can experience the skill and effort that goes into these quotation items by making their own kitchen knife, letter opener or nails. Local blacksmiths will induct you into Sanjo’s metalworking tradition, teaching you to turn red-hot metal into a beautiful and useful tool through quenching, forging, grinding and coating. It is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to better understand this timeless craft.

3 regular courses are available every day at Sanjo Kaji-Dojo: “Letter Opener Making Experience from a Nail”, “Nail Making Experience” and “Knife Sharpening Experience”.

Please visit their official website for more information.
Sanjo Kaji-Dojo: kajidojo.com

  • Recommended Local Restaurants for Lunch
1. Japanese Restaurant “Meijiya”
Meijiya has been serving traditional Japanese Kaiseki using local ingredients and seafood over 100 years. You can explore this iconic culinary tradition surrounded by the simple beauty of Japanese country architecture.

2. “Tsubame-Sanjo Italian Bit”
“Tsubame-Sanjo Italian Bit” is a brand-new Italian restaurant opened in March 2019. The restaurant uses fresh ingredients produced locally in Tsubame-Sanjo. At lunchtime, a fresh salad made with vegetables picked just that morning comes with each entrée.