Hakata hasami (scissors), a local handicraft, can last a lifetime if cared for properly, and their sharpness is comparable to that of a samurai sword! Only highly skilled artisans can make the scissors, which are typified by a distinctive double-X pattern on the handle. Between 1935 and 1945, the scissors were so popular throughout Japan that the word hasami itself was assumed to mean Hakata hasami scissors. Even today, they remain popular among dressmakers.
Hakata hasami date back to around 700 years ago when a merchant named Mei Shakoku, who relocated here from the Southern Song dynasty of China, bought scissors with him. This is why, for a long time, they were referred to as tobasami (because it is the character that refers to the old name for China). The trademark sharpness comes from the fact swordsmiths initially forged the scissors, so many swordmaking techniques were incorporated into their production. What’s more, the scissors used to be presented as gifts to the Shogunate.
At the end of the Edo period, a swordsmith named Usuke Yasukochi, based in what is now Reisen-machi (Hakata Ward), achieved a design that has remained more or less unchanged to the present day. Upon entering the Meiji era, Yasukochi took on a protégé named Kamekichi Takayanagi, who would later inherit the double-X mark, the sign of a master craftsman, and strike out on his own in 1887. Not long after this, he changed the name tobasami to Hakata hasami, and the scissors became well-known throughout Japan.
Records indicate that there were nearly 20 scissor makers in and around Reisen-machi before World War II, but now only one, the third-generation craftsman, Seiichi Takayanagi, remains. Almost all of his scissors are made to order, and it can take between six months and one year for him to complete an order. Some of his scissors are on display at Hakata Traditional Craft Center, and Hakata Machiya Folk Museum and are available for sale, so you can try them for yourself to see just how sharp they are.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn242, Feb. 2019)