Shitada is an old, well-settled place, the kind of area where the same families have been on their farms for generations, the type of place where traditions still live on in daily life. The greater Sanjo area is also known for being the home to a tradition of world-leading craftsmanship, particularly in fine metalwork. The craft began here centuries ago, starting with fine hand-forged nails (some of which are still used in the construction of famous shrines and temples across the country), today’s crafting of some of the world’s finest knives and other cutlery. Chefs all over the world today overwhelmingly use Japanese knives—and many of these are made right here. It’s a tradition of craftsmanship that also extends to some major outdoor manufacturers headquartered right here, who produce carefully-crafted gear for high-end markets around the globe.
During the Edo Period (1603-1868), local farming in the Sanjo area was often disrupted by flooding. The production of iron nails slowly expanded among farmers as a side business to get them through these financially difficult times. When a new production method was introduced from Fukushima Prefecture, blacksmithing became a full-time occupation, with production expanding to sickles, saws, kitchen knives and other items. With metal products now mass produced, an entire industry grew, with merchants expanding the area of trade from the local region to beyond the prefectural border. Today that forging technology has continued and been perfected, with the area now famous worldwide for tools, implements, and most famously, fine knives. It also extends into Shitada through the metal products of local outdoor product manufacturers.
At the Sanjo Blacksmith Dojo, visitors can try their own hand at making those original Japanese nails, paper knives or other items.
Experience the technologies unique to Sanjo, where products created using the centuries of experience behind the local skills extend on to modern outdoor equipment. Many local producers are part of the “open factory” project, welcoming visitors to see their craftsmanship onsite and see, touch and use their products. In the Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival, famous makers across the wider Tsubame-Sanjo area all open to the public. All of these represent great opportunities to come in direct contact with the unique skills and the true spirit of craftsmanship that is very much alive here.
At any time of the year, almost all of the area’s products are on display and available for purchase at the Michi no Eki Tsubame Sanjo Local Products Center. It’s a convenient place to visit and take in the variety of the crafts produced here, especially if your Shitada schedule otherwise has you too busy to visit the open factories.
It’s slow and steady out here, but Shitada also has some comfortable, even luxurious, places to stay. These also serve yamazato kaiseki, multi-course Japanese cuisine built around the best of the wild things from the mountains and streams.
The beautiful staggered rice terraces known as tanada are great destinations for a hike or bike ride. This rural side of Shitada also provides a bounty of delicious vegetables and fruits, while wild vegetables can be found in those forests just beyond the fields.