In 2008, we visited one of the four officially recognized artisan companies for manufacturing wooden swords (Bokuto = Bokken, Jo, Tanto, Shoto ...), "NIDOME BOKUTO Seisakujo"
NIDOME is the family name of the craftsman, Mr. Yoshiaki NIDOME, who welcomed us in his workshop. He has the National Qualification of "Dento kogeishi ( Certification of traditional Crafts)". He was selected by "Dento kogeihin sangyo sinkokyoukai" (an association created by the Japanese government, appointed by the Minister of the Economy in order to preserve and protect the specialists and craftsmen of Japanese tradition ).
Today, some companies use a dryer machine to save time and to produce more in quantity.
But, NIDOME always keeps the traditional manufacture process, its weapons are more solid and beautiful.
We mention a large part of our interview with a great care to ensure that the translation is as close as possible.
We expressed our gratitude and deep respect to the NIDOME family who warmly welcomed us. We hope to let our readers know that there are still passionate artisans exist who continue their work in the field of the Japanese tradition and culture.
NIDOME Bokuto Seisakujo
In the case of productions of martial arts' materiels in Japan, 90% of production of Yumi (Japanese archery) for kyudo, 90% of bokuto (bokken), shinai (a weapon used in Kendo) and furniture are manufactured in Kyushu.
In southern Kyushu, there is a small town, called "Miyakonojo".
Miyakonojo is the town of manufacturing bokuto (bokken).
The mountains of southern Kyushu contain forests of oak, loquat, Sunuke (YSU / racemosum). This region is really ideal for growing these trees that are used for bokuto.
History of NIDOME BOKUTO SEISAKUJO
Mr. Yoshiaki NIDOME specializes wooden weapons and today's president of his company. His father, Mr. Kojiro NIDOME settled in Miyakonojo after the World War II, he lost everything, like all his Japanese fellows. He was looking for a job in which he can exercise his passion for trees and timber.
In the 1940s, he founded a company with his wife, a specialized artisan in manufacturing wooden weapons/ swords.
At that time there was no vending machines like today, so, everything had been done by hand.
After the war, Japan was experiencing a period of very rapid economical growth. The company took a major boom, and the sales were considerable.
But the population of practicing martial arts became less and less, the profit also decreased year after year. In 1960, there were 25 Bokuto manufacturered companies in Miyakonojo, however, there are only 4 today.
Mr. Kojiro NIDOME has two sons succeeded his job; near future, his grandson (the eldest son of Yoshiaki) will work with them.
How has the company managed to survive so far?
In addition to the bokuto production, the our (NIDOME) family had crop fields (rice, vegetables ...) which allowed us to have their extra income. On the other hand, others were not able to continue their crafts because of a shortage of clients.
Why do we use these trees (oak, loquat, Sunuke and kobutan) for manufacturing bokuto?
Oak is hard, sturdy and resistant to physical constraints. There are actually several varieties of oak in the southern Kyushu region. There are all grades of oaks. The characteristic of standard oak has tight fibers in water, and these fibers do not float. That of southern Kyushu is rather hard, but these fibers float. Red oak is slightly lighter than white one.
Biwa (loquat) is mild but sturdy and it has a beautiful surface. When you are hit with a bokuto in Biwa, you feel nothing at the moment, but after a few days the wound appears. Budokas like to tell this story.
Sunuke (racemosum) is solid and resistant to moisture. The Sunuke comes from a tree called Isu (Yusu) and the central part of the tree is called: Sunuke. It is soft but sturdy, each product does not have the same color.
Kokutan (ebony) is very hard, heavy and sturdy. This tree grows slowly.
To cut these trees, we must wait:
for oak, we should wait for 70-80 years to cut for manufacturing a bokken, and for Sunuke, Kokutan (ebony) and Biwa (loquat), we should wait at least for 200 years.
When you purchase wood, it is a trunk. We cannot know at the first sight whether the trunk is damaged inside (eaten by insects, for example).
You can only use the parts that are not damaged. For example, if the wood is damaged in the middle of the trunck, you can use only the top section for a Tanto or a Chuto.
How do you make a bokuto?
When you purchse wood, it is a trunk, then you cut it into slices by a sectional specialist called a Seizaisho.
The wood shuold be dried (dehydrated) outside for a year (see the picture below).
When the wood becomes dry, you draw the desing of bokudo on it with a pencil and cut.
One machine is used to decide the thickness of the wood, then another machine used for the edge shape. This machine can also be used to several shapes for differents bokken.
Next, a device is used for shaping a blade (the "edge" of the bokken); from here the process of manufacture becomes by hand. Each bokken has a different a blade angle and a different diameter: therefore, you need to use more than 20 planes for all variations.
The bokken is firmely fixed with a special system for planing in all directions. This fixing system is unique and it was invented 50 years ago in the same workshops in Miyakonojo. Since it is used, it is easier to work especially for shaping the curved blade.
After making various planing operations, it is the finishing with a fine sandpaper.
Why do some bokuto twist over the time?
All trees contain the water, the manufactured bokuto also contain the water. To produce a bokken, you need to dry the wood. In other words, you need to eliminate the moisture in the wood. Note that the lower trees are more moistured. In addition, even a tree itself has diferent proportion of hydration inside; the shadow side of a tree which is not exposed to the sun is also more moistured. One side where the sun exposed is less moistured and on the other side, more moistured.
After cutting the wood, leave them to dry over a year, but each tree has a different level of moisture like I said just before.
If a piece of wood is not dry enough, over the time, it will be twisted. If it is dry enough, it will remain straight.
To keep the bokuto dry and clean, bokuto is protected by a piece of plastic paper.
Today some companies use machines to dry wood artificially. (Drying time is only about 15 days!!! Almost 24 times faster than drying naturally!!).
The dry furnace can save the production time and let you keep a few inventory, but the wood will be damaged unlike dried naturally.
If we artificially dried, the wood fibers become shorter and wood "dies" . In removing moisture quickly, the wood will absorb moisture quickly and will be broken more easily. Wood naturally dried in the open air will still "alive" and their life will be very long.
Should we throw bokuto twisted?
We can repair them with the heat.
Look, (he shows us a proof): the result is spectacular, the bokuto is repared like before.
Should we put oil (eg camellia oil) on the bokken to protect it?
No, it does not work at all. Some Budoka (practitioners of Japanese martial arts) like to put oil on their bokken, but only for the beauty !!. After a few years the oil will be absorbed by the bokuto. Nothing works but natural fat covered on the surface of your hands can "greases" your bokuto and your jo !!
How do we keep a bokuto? Should we put it in the vertical or in the horizontal ?
It is better to put it horizontally. If you put your bokken vertically, the temperature of the atmosphere varies from the top to the bottomf of the bokken. However, if you put it vertically, the temperature is the same in any part of the bokken.
There Are only 4 suppliers in Miyakonojo. Does each manufacturer produce different bokken and Jo ?
Yes, each company has its own expertise.
The sori (an arc of a sword) is different. In our company, the sori is not so curved called Koshi-zori, but another manufacturer has the "middle/ midway" sori called Naka-zori. Another has the top called Saki-zori. It should be difficult for clients to see the differences in the four types of arc, but I can distinguish 4 types of bokuto manufacturers.
Do your bokuto have a particular characteristic?
The manufacturers produce bokken according to customer portfolio. We also manufacture "tailored" bokuto. It depends on special requests by our clients. Normally the suppliers do not like to make "special" bokuto because it spends more time to make it than serial ones.
Other suppliers send some clients who want a custom order to us (NIDOME). we try to meet maxmum needs of clints. The deadline is a little bit longer than that of standard one. But at least you can have your original bokuto as you wish.
When there were over 20 companies, we competed each other, but now we are only 4. We get along with each other.
Which process is the most difficult to manufacture?
For over 30 years I've been doing this, so, today it is not too difficult for me, but I always pay attention to things to which people do not pay attention. For exemple, the sori (the arc, the shape of a blade) is a part of bokuto that people do not look carefully either ...... I like that the finishing of my bokken is perfect.
Are you threatening the Chinese-made products?
For the moment no. Right now the Chinese bokuto has an average quality. The bokuto in the souvenir shop, there is no value.
In the case of Kendo, almost all Bogu and Shinai are manufactured in China today. They are cheaper than these of Japan-made. Manufacturing techniques have progressed in China. Because the Japan does not developed its techniques. Today, you can not train young people because they are not interested in doing thih kind of job. There are only the old.
I fear that a visitor comes as you ask me to show my studio and then he will make bokuto in China one day, because it already happened like as I said for kendo equipment.
| When you purchse wood, it is a trunk, then you cut it into slices by a sectional specialist called a Seizaisho.|
hen the wood becomes dry, you draw the desing of bokudo on it with a pencil and cut.
We cut the wood as avoiding damaged parts.
to decide its thickness,
then one machine is used for the shape of the edge of bokken.
He is planing the part of Tsuka
He is shaping a part of bokken to place a Tsuka
Each bokken has a different blade angle and a different diameter: therefore, you need to use more than 20 planes for all variations.
Planing in the shape that you can put a Tsuka.
The cherry brand is the official brand of the Ministry of Defence.
This bokuto is orderd by the Ministry of Defence ..
Mr.NIDOME (2 brothers)
His mother (right) to create Nidomé bokuto Seisakujo with her husband.
Wood Specialties in Miyakonojo
| We went by train "Shinkansen Hikari"|
and express "Kirishima"
"New Kyushu shinkansen-Tsubame".