Of Japanese Barlow knives
Here we see a little pocket blade I like to carry from time to time, making a cameo on an outing for some California roll at the local sushi bar.
The higonokami ,also referred to as the Japanese carpenter’s knife, was born in 1896 in Meiji-era Japan when a man named Tasaburo Shigematsu brought back a knife from the Kyushu province and asked a knife maker named Teji Murakami from Hirata in the Miki region to manufacture it.
A blacksmith is said to have added a simple lever (the chikiri) to a minimally-designed pocket knife to aid in opening and closing the blade and to set it apart from other knives. “Higo no Kami” in Japanese means, “Lord of Higo,” in honor of the Lord of the Kyushu area of Japan, where the knife originated.
Higonokami proved to be successful and a tradesman’s guild was formed to oversee the manufacture of the knife– akin to the Barlow in popularity in the U.S.– marked with the name of the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Once a staple of every youth and tradesman in the Empire, their popularity has waned.
Trademarked higonokamis such as this one, were last made by Motosuke Nagao, established in Miki, descending from four generations of blacksmiths. Today the last of the guild in business is Nagao Seisakusho who sell these knives through Iwachu primarily for export these days.
The knives share a common characteristic:
– A handle made out of a folded sheath of brass stamped with kanjis detailing the name of the maker and the steel of the blade: a sanmai with an aogami edge (blue paper steel), very much like a “reverse tanto” in profile.
– The presence of a chikiri (the lever) on the blade, to open the knife.
– The lack of a locking system.
– The fact that the blade, Warikomi steel, entirely disappears in the handle when the knife is closed.
The characters on this example say “Registered Trademark : Sword Master ‘Miyamoto Musashi”‘
It is very much like the classic German Solingen Mercator “cat” K55K knife, known for the image of the running feline on its folded sheet metal handle. Like the Higonokamis, these have has been around for over a century and are currently made by Otter-Messer.