The following columns in English I have written are based on my columns placed on a Japanese DIY magazine named “Monthly Home Improvement” a decade or more ago (now out of print).
I have no ability to manipulate tools and no excellence to make things. However, I am enchanted with tools for no special reason. Why am I drawn to the wonderful performance of tools? Otherwise is it attributed to the stately tools made by the great with a pure heart and a hardened art?
The innovation in technology is brilliant and industrialization raised all the level of living life by means of standardization, the benefits of which people have enjoyed. Now exists the society in which everyone can lead an ordinary life with equality of opportunity. Honorable professor of Tokyo University, Mr. Teijiro MURAMATSU specialized in the history of architectural technology has thrown doubt on the one-track thinking of industrialization in his book, “Tools and Hand Work” (published by Iwanami Shoten) as follows. “There is such a viewpoint as a growth theory that hand work is out of date and industrial production is an advanced stage. But this is a mythological story of modernization, I suppose. It should be considered that two systems of essentially different “wisdom for making things” exist if not more. That is, on the other side of industrial production, the method to make things as they are or to make things contemplating user’s individual figure should remain in existence of equivalent worthiness, I believe.” Turning now to the overseas topic of highly evaluating wisdom for making things by hand work.
I once heard from a key person of a famous Japanese hardware firm that the president of a tool trading company in Europe had purchased not only Japanese tools but also wanted to obtain working clothes and the atmosphere at work. This is exactly the international exchange of Japanese tools culture.
Japanese tools are said to be used regularly among craftsmen who make stringed instruments and woodwork lovers in Europe. The story impressed me so much.
Mr. Toshio ODATE, woodworker living in USA for a long time, who put out “JAPANESE WOODWORKING TOOLS” (Linden Publishing, USA), expressed his point of view of Japanese tools (condensed summary by my own words) as follows. Tools cannot be evaluated from a simple usability point of view. A plane iron is sharp, but it cannot be necessarily said to have a high quality because of sharpness. A stately tool, that is, refinement and dignity heighten its usability and good-looking. The stately tool means the one which a blacksmith of tools inculcates into his creation as a result that
he believes his workmanship. In other words, facing the living life with unstable revenue, he conquered it. The years passing, he finds how to live. The stated tool must be the spirit of the tool enfolded in his workmanship.
As the story which goes back in history, the very notable blacksmith, Professor CHIYOZURU Korehide (1874-1950), who was famous for his planes like “Tomorrow’s Dream” and “Sunset at Hira” in addition to a chisel like “Heavenly Dignity” and cutting blades, was in poverty, still making planes and cutting blades, when, in the middle of the world war II, many blacksmiths earned their livelihood by making swords. Mr. Ichiro TSUCHIDA has passed the words of CHIYOZURU Korehide in his book, “Traditional Tools in Japan” as follows. “It is impossible to make such a sword as comparable to the sword which has been called Noted Sword from olden days. I am only a blacksmith for tools. Moreover, the authentic noted sword remains still perfect without a single use since it was born. Only looking at the excellently forged sword, we can realize the world is governed without using the sword.”
From this statement, the spirit of BUSHI-DO which can be recognized in the noted sword, MASAMUNE, that is, excellent personality based on bottomless thoughts will be understood. As for such spirituality of the blacksmith Mr. Toshio ODATE says again (condensed summary by my own words). “CHIYOZURU Korehide knows well that the tool he made is sharp. Sharpness means the blade edge is thin. If the blade edge is made thinner and thinner without limit, the blade edge disappears. Namely, it touches on nothing. My masterpiece is to make nothing. If nothing related to making things, full-fledged things can be made. Nothing leads to something.”
On the contrary, from the words written on the wooden box for a cutting blade, “Buying rice by exchanging iron for money. This is nerve wracking”, it is understandable that in the poor age after the world war II, everybody survived hard lives. Despite rough reality, Professor CHIYOZURU Korehide seems to have aimed at the consistency between ideal and reality, which was nothing less than his lifework.
One of the reasons that 21th century is said to be Asian century lies in the breath of spirit in the background of making things in Japan.
In Western Europe, machine civilization regarded substances as mere physical matters to develop industrialized community. However, in the industrialization of Japan, the spirit of craftsmen remained. The art to take the measure of inner nature of substances by using hands and tools in a wholehearted way will surely be turned into the power to support the industry in the future, excelling precision engineering.
Wish well such a world of tools that we can feel an aura in the thing made.