Wow. Worst night's sleep in, like, forever.
Don't know why but I tossed and turned all night. I think I was too hot, then too something, then too whatever. Today is the day of my knife-making course so not the day to be foggy and clumsy.
After breakfast, Pamela wandered off to her conference for the day leaving me to find my way to the forge in the countryside. I caught the train to kameoka and the went to catch the bus to nishikaya only to find that the bus schedule that I had been looking at was incorrect. I was under the impression that there were regular busses to where I wanted to go however I was told at the information counter that the only bus was not leaving until after 1:00 pm - my scheduled start time. At this point I could either walk the 10 kilometres or catch a cab. Taxi please.
I arrived early and filled in time wandering through the village. It was a quaint town that looked like it was stuck in an older time. There were people tending their vegetable gardens and rice paddies, shrines by the side of the road and narrow roads that were only wide enough for a single car, or a couple of horses in years gone by.
When the time came, I returned to the forge and mas met by Masahiro, the owner.
luckily he spoke a little English and we spent a few minutes chatting while waiting for the other student to turn up. Just after 1:00, he took a phone call which was the other person cancelling for the day. A bit rude I thought to cancel at that late stage but great for me as I was now a private student for the day.
We started by looking at a couple of swords that he had made and discussed the various parts of the blade and the handle and hilt. The katana (the traditional sword you would have seen in films) was heavy. I was surprised how much it weighed and wondered about how the strength required to use it in a fight. We chatted about the metal used and he explained that Japanese metal used in swords is actually quite soft. It's the process of annealing and tempering that gives the blades their strength.
From here we went out to the forge where Masahiro demonstrated turning a piece of metal into a blade. Since this is a small knife that we are making, it only took him a few minutes to rough out the blade while he explained to me what he was doing. The process was fascinating. He was using a traditional Japanese bellows, which I later found out was over 150 years old, and alternating between heating the blade in the coals and hammering the metal once it was hot. By changing the angles that he hit the metal, he shaped a curve into the blade one one side but kept the other side flat All the while making it look effortless.
And then it was my turn...
luckily I have done a lot of woodwork over the years so I was semi competent with the hammer. When you hit the metal it makes different sounds depending on how cleanly you make contact. Apparently my sound was good. From there it was down to refining the shape while keeping everything straight at the same time.
without going into minute detail, we heat treated (annealed) the blade, applied an edge design, tempered the blade, then ground it to final shape and sharpened it. masahiro carved our names in to the blade and it was done. Only thing left from here was to choose a box to take it home in.
Masahiro was kind enough to drop me at a nearby hotel that ran a shuttle bus. They dropped me back in kameoka and from there it was a train ride back to Kyoto and the hotel.
We had the main dinner for the conference that evening. We were greeted at the door by several Meiko (apprentice Geisha) and Geiko (Geisha) who all looked stunning. They entertained us during the dinner with some traditional dances and songs and mingled with the crowd for photographs. Dinner was nice although we had several courses of fish. All very nice but not what the palate is used to.
All in all, a very interesting evening.
I was very tired after such a physical day and glad to go to bed at a reasonable time, especially since they had threatened a karaoke session at the end of dinner. a traditional Japanese activity I was happy to pass on!
Random thought for the day: Japanese people seem to be either full on samurai or "Hello Kitty" in their approach to life.
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