Tojiro is one of Japan's top 5 kitchen knife manufacturing brands. It was founded in 1953 and is located in a thriving manufacturing area of Tsubame Sanjo in the Niigata prefecture, where working with steel dates back to the beginning of the 17th century. It is also a place where the main occupation of its citizens can be instantly gleaned from the state of its roads. The dust covering the streets is a by-product of steel production in the area and the rusted steel particles lying on every surface imprinted the spirit of craftsmanship onto its roads.
Tojiro is a synonym for top-quality Japanese knives at a reasonable price. Its main factory already employs more than 60 workers, but the company decided to further expand its range by tapping into the field of luxury items. In recent years, it has set up a brand new, modern workshop that is adjacent to the mass production hall and dedicated to producing elaborate, custom-made knives. Visitors are welcome to visit both facilities and experience the knife manufacturing process first-hand, observing the workflow from a raised platform along with all its sounds and smells. This new workshop produces knives under the luxury brand Tojiro Atelier. In 2008, the tradition of free forging has been reintroduced and each item that comes out of Tojiro Atelier is made – handle to blade – by the same blacksmith.
Leading the team of blacksmiths is Tomoo Matsumura (born in 1976) who trained with Kazuomi Yamamoto of Yoshikane and learned from Tsuneo Yoshida and Kinsaku Kondo, all illustrious blacksmiths in the Sanjo area. He has been with his Tojiro team for the last 16 years and the steel he enjoys working with the most is VG-10. He also likes the qualities of SK steel that he frequently uses for tools.
You would think that a blacksmith so used to making big gyuto knives would also like the feel of it while working in the kitchen. But to our question about his favourite knife he answered that it is actually his loyal petty which he regularly uses when cooking. And his comfort food? Not sushi or ramen, but curry, made by his wife.
Tomoo Matsumura relies on his intuition and draws on his experience in traditional forging methods, but also makes use of all the advantages that the state-of-the-art equipment in Tojiro offers, allowing him to test all the details, from hardness of steel to edge retention. He encourages his less experienced colleagues to do the same: to follow their instincts and, at the same time, check the results in every step of the process. Cutting-edge technology is just one of the perks of working in such a big company; Tojiro also focuses on constantly improving the knives and materials used in making them. When we asked Tomoo what he thinks the knives will look like in 1,000 years, he replied: “A knife is a simple tool, so I don't think there will be a big change. The steel might get a lot better, but I imagine the basic form will stay the same.”
We visited Tojiro Knife Factory several times (2016 and 2018) to see their blacksmiths and sharpeners in action. Tojiro is focusing on advanced technologies and constant improvement of their knives and material and we are always very eager to meet and talk to their team as we learn a lot from them! 😊
Photos by Mitja Kobal 👇