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Feature JAPAN'S TECHNOLOGICAL ACHIEVEMENTS Moritaka Hamono Inc. Whetstones 700 Years of Precision Steel VEENA YOSHINO H IDDEN away on a small side-street in the town of Yatsushiro, in Kyushu’s Kumamoto Prefecture, three bladesmiths hand-forge what they claim to be the sharpest, most durable knives in all of Japan. At Moritaka Hamono Inc., the ancient skills of swordsmith Minamoto no Moritaka have been protected and passed down for over 700 years. Founded in the Kamakura Period, the company is currently run by the 27th generation of Moritakas, Tsunehiro and his wife Akiko. Among Japan’s traditional industries, blade-making is considered by many to be the 12 | highlighting japan highest form of craft. While knife-makers in other countries often use only a single piece of metal to produce their blades, each Moritaka blade is composed of a layer of solid steel packed between two layers of iron. Six generations ago, at the end of the Edo Period, Chuzaemon Moritaka made the announcement that katana alone could no longer be forged as a means of making a living, and it was necessary to envision new products. It now takes 10 years just to learn the basic skills required to produce Moritaka’s unique knives, which still employ the same beveled-edge, triple- structure technique that the company used to forge katana for 27 generations. “What people like about our knives is not just the cutting edge but also the tradition and history that come with them,” Mrs. Moritaka explains. “They also see value in the fact that they were handmade by Moritaka.” Moritaka Hamono has now exploded on the international knife market. It all goes back to a seemingly insignificant incident that took place eight years ago, soon after Moritaka began doing sales at department stores. A customer living in Hawaii sent Mr. Moritaka an email commenting on the exceptional quality of his knives, and suggested that he start selling them abroad so that more people could enjoy their premium quality. “This customer was quite adamant about it,” Moritaka recalls. “So