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Metalworking in Tsubame-Sanjo

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Tsubame-Sanjo is an area in the northern Japanese prefecture of Niigata, which is known for its numerous small metalworking factories and workshops. They manufacture a huge variety of products thanks to the precision and skills of craftspeople.

Held every year at the beginning of October, the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival (Kouba no Saiten) opens the doors to these factories and workshops to the public. The smell of burning metal, the furnace heat and the rhythms of handwork and machines, are only some of the fascinating aspects of this initiative, which gives everyone the opportunity to both intimately witness the life of others and instil pride in the community.
As part of Japan House London's exhibition BIOLOGY OF METAL: METAL CRAFTSMANSHIP IN TSUBAME-SANJO (6 September – 28 October 2018), we explore how these workshops pay respect to years of tradition while adapting their craft to embrace the future.

HINOURA HAMONO - Handsome knives |

Founded in 1905, HINOURA HAMONO produce knives using age-old Japanese techniques, overseeing the entire manufacturing process themselves. As a factory that can forge any type of knife, they receive large numbers of orders from around the world for unusually shaped designs. In 2012, the third-generation Hinoura Tsukasa was recognized as a Master of Japanese Traditional Crafts by the Japanese government. He currently runs the workshop with his son Hinoura Mutsumi.


The Sanjo Seisakusho company was founded in 1947 by Iwasaki Kosuke, a respected authority on metallurgy who had conducted scientific research on Japanese blades, especially swords. In addition to western-style razors, their Japanese razors and small knives are renowned worldwide for their sharpness. In 2014, Mizouchi Ryoichi was acknowledged as a Master of Traditional Crafts by the Japanese government.


Founded more than a century ago, Kondo Seisakusho originally operated as 'Gorokichi', a metalsmith supplying local farmers. The workshop went on to inherit the art of forging and improved its collective skills. In addition to taking special orders from various regions and individuals, they continue to create high-quality hoes that offer a refreshing experience each time they are used. Their motto is "the virtue of products lies in efficiency". In recent years, Kondo Seisakusho has begun producing gardening tools.


Hizukurino Uchiyama carries the torch of Sanjo's Japanese nail manufacturing, started over 400 years ago.
Its nails are used in the restoration of shrines, temples, castles, tea rooms and other important cultural properties throughout the country ― including the Ise Grand Shrine. Hizukurino Uchiyama also uses new materials and methods to produce everyday goods and implements.


One of the largest and most efficient factories in Sanjo. Maruto Hasegawa Kosakujo Inc. is a metal processing manufacturer. It has a brand called "KEIBA" for work tools such as cutting pliers as well as another brand called "MARUTO" for hairdressing tools such as nipper type nail clippers, and is selling its high-quality tools in over 20 countries around the world. 


Established in 1975 as a producer of metal casts for manufacturing cutlery, OIWA CHOKIN has over 45 years of expertise in metal processing and chasing, for which it is renowned. Its craftsmen can carve names and intricate patterns such as dragons and tigers into the metal of chisels, planes, and hammers. OIWA CHOKIN's original product, a leaf-shaped chopstick rest, was given the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Award in the Craft Division by the National Souvenir Selection Committee.  


Founded in 1939, Marunao originally produced sumi-tsubo (literally ‘ink pot’), a tool used by carpenters for making straight lines similar to a chalk line. In recent years, they have combined contemporary technology with their well-established woodworking mastery to create ‘tools for eating’ including their wooden chopsticks, and stationery items such as fountain pens. 


Founded in 1926, SUWADA is a world-renowned nail clipper brand also famous for the manufacture of kuikiri (end-cutting pliers that are used to trim metal wire), gourd-shaped nail clippers, and bonsai scissors. Its newly designed nail clippers have recently received numerous awards in Japan and abroad. Visitors can go to the factory and observe the production processes. 


Established in 1963, AIBA SANGYO produces and sells various hand tools as well as on-board tools for automobiles, agriculture machines and construction equipment. It also produces and sells forged parts, machine parts and gardening edged power tools. It specialises in the production of unique hand tools and the forging of long or irregularly shaped tools. It also produces parts consistently from start to finish, requiring processing with a lathe, a machining centre and a broaching machine or precision grinder. 

Kiseruya Noboru |

Iizuka Noboru was born into the house of a kiseru (tobacco pipe) craftsman.
He began working at age 15, but during the Japanese Economic Miracle, paper cigarettes became fashionable.
When the Kiseru pipes stopped selling, Iizuka turned to other work, returning to the craft in his 60s, under the name of ‘Kiseru-ya Noboru’.
Until the 1970s, Tsubame was home to many kiseru pipe craftsmen, but the numbers dwindled. The work fell to Iizuka. “It’s an unusual industry, so people approach me about manufacturing tours and exhibitions,’’ said Iizuka. “As long as my body can keep up, I feel like I need to give it everything I’ve got.’’


Introducing the work of Tsubame-Sanjo’s artisans.
This subsidiary of a metal cast manufacturer focuses not only on production, but also development, planning, sales, and public relations. In an effort to energise the local industry, they founded FACTORY FRONT as a place where visitors can appreciate the work of artisans based in Tsubame-Sanjo.

SUS Gallery  |

Founded in the city of Tsubame, a well-known region for the metal manufacturing industry. SUS GALLERY is renowned in Japan for making luxury titanium products, utilising quality processing techniques and sophisticated design. Their products were selected for the visiting heads of the state at the APEC conference.  

YAMAZAKI polishing industry Co.Ltd. |

Yamazaki is a professional company specialising in metal polishing. Founded in 1954, it initially focused on metal knives and polishing tools, but now works with a wide range of items including automotive and machine parts. In addition, it also produces and sells its own products. Over the years the company has worked hard to pursue the highest level of quality. Its mirror-finish polishing leaves no blur and works well with titanium, which is known to be one of the most difficult metals to polish.

Karasawa File Works Co., Ltd. |

Founded in 1939, Karasawa has been producing industrial needle files, thin handled files, super-fine files, plastic files, nail files and other variations carefully curving the teeth of the files, one by one. Amongst customers, their files are widely renowned for their originality.


Founded in 1097 as a cutlery manufacturer, TSUBOE was a major producer of ‘Tsuboeshirushi rasps’ in Tsubame. Building on their expertise gained in the production of a variety of metal cutlery and rasps, they have more recently specialised in the production of graters.
The history of the copper grater is surprisingly old, going as far back as the Edo period. It was historically used for grating radish but can also grate wasabi, ginger, sweet potato and other vegetables.
It has excellent sharpness and high-grade durability, and at glance, resembles a chisel dressed in a thick metal plate.
The blade is moulded by a pressing machine.