I was very lucky recently to be able to travel to Seki, Gifu Prefecture and visit the Feather Company Museum. Seki is known as a blade makers town going back into the Edo Period when the blade of choice was a sword, now a days it is kitchen, craft and all kinds of professional blades including shaving or kamisori as they are called in Japan.
Click to enlarge the photos or click on the links to see large photo montages.
The Feather Company is the preemenent razor maker in Seki and has been a strong force since 1932 in the japanese market. The musuem houses as you can see in the following photos, an extensive collection of period shaving equipment along with more recent additions like disposal razors, advertising and snippet of some of the manufacturing processes required to make razors. Click on the link below to view a large group of razor images.
The thurst of the museum is to display a comprehensive overall view of shaving in the 20th century and this also includes the stones to sharpen the blades. Here are three photos of stones in a display case that came to the museum directly from barber shops and the display includes place cards with the name and location of the barber shops. Click on the photos to see larger images.
Notice the variety of the color of these stones. Of course all are fine enough and have been proven in use to be true razor hone, but the colors yellow “kiita”, white “shiro”, asagi “blueish green with a tint of yellow” to dark grey “kuro” that can boarder on black describe the honing style and taste of the particular barber. These are all pre-WW2 mined stones.
The next two photos show larger commercial or professional shop stones, these are both kamisori tennen toishi, true razor hones that were designated as such right from the mouth of the mine. The top photo is of a particularly pure yellow kiita with an urushi sealed backside that is about 35cm wide, the second is also a kiita of a brooding deeper tone with some foggy mauve coloring that is a grade 24 size pushing 28cm long x 9.5cm wide by 6cm thick.
These are the type of stone that might be used in a factory situtation where shaving is not going on but most likely sharpening all day long for trade. Next is a photo of a boxed kamisori toishi along with a piece of Gifu nagura. The urushi lacquered box sports a family crest and this type of stone was used in a home of some substance.
Below is a handsome group of tennen toishi including a dramatic living edge specimen Nakayama kiita flanked by two massive kuro tomae grade 24 stones for proofing blades.
The last photo of this group contains a display from the science gallery of the museum showing surgical scaplels, skin graft kanna and osteotomes all next to an “aka” or red tomae of such intensity that it appears brown/purple of the richest darkest hues. This would be a surgical steel stone. The aka stones are not the hardest by any means but are amongst the fastest cutting stones as described by the color catagory.
All of the stones in the 7 photos above pre date the 1940s when the last of the original veins were still being followed and dug in the Yamashiro Umegahata region of Kyoto from the old mines like Shobudani, Narutaki, Nakayama, Okudo, Kizuyama and may upon examination include excellent early examples of Ohira & Shinden takings.