Sanjo City, Niigata, the Town of Blacksmiths
Sanjo City is situated roughly in the middle of Niigata Prefecture and, like its neighboring town Tsubame City,
a town traditionally reputed for metal craftsmanship.
While Tsubame City is known for pots and pans, Samjo City is famous for kitchen knives, sickles, and such cutleries.
Both towns excel in craftsmanship and are reputed in and out of the country.
Sanjo's outstanding molding craftsmanship is highly acclaimed and
in 2009 a rich variety of products were nominated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry as traditional crafts of Japan.
Incidentally, Sanjo has a longer history as blacksmith town with as many as 236 workshops operating within the town.
You stroll through the town, and you are sure to hear hammers banging all around
and find half-done samples of hardware hanging below the eaves along the road.
That sure makes you feel being right in the middle of a town of craftsmen.
The workshops of craftsmen offer for the public a unique chance of casually challenging the serious art of blacksmithing
- a very popular enterprise in Sanjo.
One of them is a chance to experience the making of Wakugi or Japanese nail!
Wouldn't be a great memory of your touring in Japan to make and take home the Japanese nail, Wakugi?
What is Wakugi anyway?
Wakugi is a traditional Japanese nail born and raised in Japan to build and repair shrines, temples, and castles.
Unlike the now commonly used nails (western nails), Wakugi is black in color and its stem is thick and square.
Various types are manufactured to match different purposes.
Further, it comes in as many shapes as the number of craftsmen, each of whom shapes his nail in his own image.
The photos below show the roll-top nail (Makigashira kugi) on the left and the bent-top (Kaiore kugi) on the right.
Roll-top nail has the top part crash into the wood when driven in, whereas;
Bent-top nail has the bent part cave into the wood to fasten.
Why did Sanjo ever grow up to be a Town of Blacksmithing?
Sanjo City is situated at a point where two of Japan's major rivers join - the Rivers Shinano and Igarashi.
In the Middle Age, the rivers were channels for transporting lumbers, raw materials of fuel, from the upstream;
similarly, maritime transport supplied iron to the fuel molding industry.
Later in the Edo Period, various industries developed for manufacturing such products as kitchen knives,
small farming instruments, carpentry tools, and a variety of building equipment like Wakugi, locks, etc.
Let's Challenge Making Wakugi!
Sanjo Blacksmith Workshop offers this unique experience of making Wakugi, only 2-3 minutes walk from JR Kita Sanjo Station.
A spacious parking lot is there for the convenience of motorists.
Junior High School pupils and younger ¥250
The course is set for an hour but occasionally over two hours for groups of two or more.
9:00～11:00 and 13:00～15:30 daily, except closed days.
Reservation is required at Sanjo Blacksmith Workshop: 1 week in advance for groups of 4～9;
1 month in advance for groups of 10～20
Japanese applicants are requested to reserve by phone
and foreign applicants preferably by mail via the url given below:
Inside the building, you will find a spacious area with the high ceiling above where a large electric hammers
and various machinery are installed for you to see probably for the first time.
The area may feel somewhat warm due perhaps to the ovens in operation.
One of the ovens operating in the hall, a coke oven, is capable of heating well over 1500℃!
The instructors are local blacksmiths, all skilled veterans ready to coach you rigorously or rather tenderly spoonfeeding tricks to make Wakugi.
Here's how the instructor shows you the flow of work - to demonstrate how a piece of iron turns into a handsome Wakugi in a jiffy.
Now, you give it a try:
You strike the iron piece the same way but somehow it's not that easy.
The idea is to strike the hammer straight down to avoid crookedness, but the hammer wouldn't behave the way you want it to.
You strike straight down boldly but the iron piece rather goes on stretching than shaping into a nail with a pointed edge.
A few words of to-the-point advice by the instructors make the difference, and you at length come up with products that look more like nails.
You then cool them and temper them into Wakugi.
It sure is a moving experience.
There are similar experience-it-yourself corners offered elsewhere in Japan but none is so thoroughly designed as this Wakugi workshop.
Is it not fascinating to watch the Wakugi blacksmiths handle iron pieces as if part of their own bodies?
After a rewarding experience in making Wakugi awaits a tour of rich exhibits of blacksmith art craft at the showroom.
You can purchase your favorite exhibits for souvenirs back home.
Manufacturing Japan's unique art craft, Wakugi, is a genuine workshop experience
- highly recommended for those who want to taste yet another charm of Japan.