The only craftsman capable of making Hakata scissors

Seiichi Takayanagi, Hakata scissors

"There’s just a handful of scissor makers like me in the whole of Japan," says Seiichi Takayanagi of Takayanagi Shoten in his Hakata dialect. He is the only craftsman capable of making Hakata scissors, which he does in a workshop in his 120-year-old house near the Kishida Shrine. Hakata scissors are known as good all-purpose scissors, while being especially famous for the sharpness of their blades. If handled with care, the blades will last an entire lifetime. Artisans practicing other traditional Hakata crafts, such as weaving and papier-mache, insist on using Hakata scissors and nothing else. 

Mei Shakoku, a Chinese who came to Japan from the Southern Song Dynasty around 700 years ago and eventually acquired Japanese citizenship, is supposed to have first brought scissors, or tobasami, to Hakata. The Middle Ages was a time of endless battles in Japan and Hakata was home to many swordsmiths. They probably reproduced the original scissors brought in from China, Mr. Takayanagi guesses. Making a pair of scissors involves almost 100 processes. To become a true master craftsman, one must spend eight years on metalworking and eight years on sharpening, for a total of 16 years. Blowing into a charcoal-laden grate lifts the temperature of the fire where the metal and steel are heated to 1000 degrees. To combine the virgin metals, they have to be struck, a process that sends red-hot sparks flying everywhere. There is a short window of just five minutes to work the metal before it cools. Repeated blows remove impurities to produce a high-quality, durable scissor blade. "A cratfsman’s trade cannot be taught. You have to see, experience, and remember the process at a physical level," declares Mr. Takayanagi passionately.

Scissors are made in three sizes: 4-sun, 5-sun, and 6-sun. The 6-sun (18cm) scissors cost 8000 yen. Because the process relies on long years of experience and individual instinct, there may be slight variations in the size of the handmade scissors. "If you want to make scissors you can truly be proud of, you can only make one or two pairs per day. We don't have a single pair in stock," explains Mr. Takayanagi.

To get a pair of his scissors, you have to put your name on a waiting list. Even then, you can't be sure how long it will take for him to get around to making them for you. These days, when you can easily pick up a pair of scissors at the 1oo-yen store, Mr. Takayanagi’s scissors hardly seem like a bargain. But once you realize the high level of skill that goes into making them and experiencetheir ease of use , you are sure to change your mind.

It is important for Hakata scissors to be passed on down through the generations. I am hoping that a successor to Mr. Takayanagi will come along very soon!