What I love about Japan is that there are all types of craftsmen – some of whom are national treasures who create priceless works of art or architecture, and others who are little known but are essential to the society around them.
Case in point is Omori-san, the village blacksmith of the remote settlements in the wide area of Tsurugi township. The term village blacksmith doesn’t really gain much traction in modern society but here in the mountains of Shikoku the settlements can be so remote that driving to a shop is actually a whole-day endeavor. If you’re a local farmer and you need a new pitchfork, you’d rather go to Omori-san’s shack up in the mountains where he’ll have a selection of special implements for the special type of farming they do up there, or he’ll make you a new one to order out of scavenged scrap metal. Need a filleting knife? He’ll make that, and just about anything you need.
Omori-san’s little forge is located just off an unnamed mountain road with a stunning view over the surrounding ranges – I felt very lucky to be there photographing him as there was absolutely no way I would have been able to find him on my own; I doubt he has the Internet let alone a website. Thanks to Rod Walters from Shikoku Tours and the good folks from Japan Rail Shikoku for helping me with that one.
He may not be a designated national treasure artisan, but Omori-san’s work is a very important cog in the infrastructure here, as he is the only one who makes the specially angled farming implements for Steep Incline Farming, which is a type of farming unique to Tokushima prefecture, not practiced anywhere else in the world.
Steep Incline Farming is exactly as it sounds – rather than on flat or terraced ground, farmers grow their crops on 30-45 degree inclines, due to their settlements being so high up in the mountains. These farmers are actually descendants of refugees from a 1000 year-old war; their ancestors fled here to escape their enemies – judging from how remote these locations are, I’d say that their enemy must have been very scary indeed.
The slopes on which these farmers plant their crops are no joke – I felt that one misplaced step could have sent me rolling down the hill, camera gear and all, yet this 78 year old fellow was swinging away with his pitchfork under the full summer sun, despite being hungover!
I’ll be back with some more Shikoku Files, in which I document my journey across this under-explored island of hidden gems!