‘Be careful you don’t cut yourself. The edges are sharp enough to shave with.’George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
‘Girls don’t shave’, Arya said.
‘Maybe they should. Have you ever seen the septa’s legs?”
I mentioned in a previous article my belief that a love of sharp tools is embedded in the Japanese people’s DNA. I am convinced this is by no means limited to the people of these mountainous green islands for it is deep in mine too, and it may be in yours.
Whether they were made of bone, flint, copper, bronze or iron, humans of all races and all locations worked with axe and adze, chisel and scythe, sword and dagger to keep body and soul in close proximity for many thousands of years before written language was invented or the first Microsoft product crashed and burned. Our reliance on and love of sharp tools is still part of our DNA, to one degree or another, and for good reasons.
The words we humans make and use give insight into our deeper natures, so a very brief lesson regarding a single word in the Japanese language, one that is an intentional, defining characteristic of our tools, and one you will not find in any textbooks, may be illustrative of this point.
The word your most humble and obedient servant has in mind is “kireaji” 切れ味 pronounced “ki/reh/ah/jee. This word is comprised of two Chinese characters. The first of the two ideograms being 切 , which is pronounced in its un-conjugated form as “setsu” or “kiru,” meaning “cut.” This is an interesting character. People who study these things say it is an ancient combination of two characters. The small one on the left looks like the character for the number seven 七, but actually it represents a vertical and crosswise cut in the shape of a plus sign 十. The character to the right, 刀 , is pronounced “to” or “katana” and means “sword.” So “kiru” means to cut with a sword or blade.
The second character in the word is “Aji,” 味 meaning “flavor.” Combined, these two characters mean “cutting flavor,” but the resulting word has nothing to do with the human sense of taste and everything to do with the feeling transmitted to the user when a blade is cutting. This word is used in reference to all cutting tools from axes to swords to razors, and certainly for knives, chisels, and planes.
In the English language, the closest word we have is “feeling of sharpness,” I suppose, but it isn’t the same. The act of cutting, in the Japanese tradition, is a sensory experience, one that can be pleasant, in the case of a well-designed sharp blade, or unpleasant in the case of a clumsy dull blade. I think you now have a sense of what the word kireaji means, and how how it feels, but do you understand why it is an important word when talking about tools?
When we speak with our blacksmiths and sharpeners about the tools they produce, the kireaji we expect of their products is always part of the discussion. A blade can have a good kireaji (良い切れ味), an indifferent kireaji (どうでもいい切れ味）or a “distasteful” kireaji (不味い切れ味). It can be “brittle” (切れ味が脆い）or it can even be “sweet” (切れ味が甘い）meaning soft as a spoiled child. We always insist the first meaning be applicable because anything less is failure. Even if some of our customer’s tastes may not be refined enough to discern the difference, ours are.
We work closely with our blacksmiths and sharpeners to make sure they understand our requirements for sharpness. And just to be sure, we constantly test their blades to ensure compliance. If you buy a tool from us that has an especially sharp edge and looks like it may have been used lightly, please understand this is part of our QC efforts and not a return or a reworked reject.
If you know of other languages that have a similar idiom, please let us know in the comments section below.
Like the flavor of fine wine, rich chocolate or gourmet donuts (mmm… donuts), the kireaji of cutting tools varies with materials, blacksmiths, and specifications. At C&S Tools we are not satisfied with outward appearance only, but take our products to a different level by making kireaji the very highest priority. This makes C&S Tools almost unique among retailers of edged tools.
Does kireaji matter to you?
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