Wednesday, 15 April 2009


I have a pair of scissors that I love. They were a present to me from the mayor of Nishinoomote City, on the island of Tanegashima, off the coast of Kyushu in southern Japan. The island is famous for being the arrival point for the first Europeans to Japan, and for the guns that those men brought with them. The iron sands of the beaches of Tanegashima were once used to make guns but are now used to make scissors, knives, and other products.

I was given my pair of scissors, as I already mentioned, by the mayor of the island's only city. I was spending two weeks in a home stay program on the island, and was turned into a minor celebrity. The southern point of the island, home to the country's rocket launch pad, has plenty of foreign scientists, but there aren't so many non-Japanese faces on the rest of the island - in fact there were just two of us, myself and the ALT who visited my host father's elementary school about once a month. My arrival on the island was documented by a newspaper (I was amazingly incoherent for the interview given that the boat ride over from Kagoshima had been very choppy and I get seasick at the best of times), and had random people come up to me and say "Ah! the girl from the paper!" throughout my two weeks there.

The best part of my time on Tanegashima was the family I stayed with. I was part of the family right from the first night, when we all settled around the dinner table in our pjs after having had our baths in order of seniority (otosan, the father of the family went first, then me as oldest daughter, then my two "sisters" in birth order, and then okasan went last). I've been back to Kagoshima prefecture many times since to visit my Japanese parents and grandparents. Okasan constantly bugs me about when I'm going back for my next visit and sends me Kagoshima soy sauce - which is much sweeter than the strong flavoured Tokyo stuff that I really don't like.

The scissors the mayor gave me have been a reminder of the warmth of Tanegashima and of my Japanese family. I took them with me when I went back to Osaka and finished out my exchange there. I took them back with me to Canada, and they made it into my suitcase when I moved to a new university. I then took them with me to the US for grad school. They finally found their way back to Japan a few years ago. In the 10 years since I was given them they've been used many many many times and they'd definitely seen better days. The edge was no longer so sharp and they weren't even closing all the way. For months now I've been wondering where I could get them sharpened. My wondering ended this afternoon, when I spotted an elderly man perched on a stool with a whetstone and a hand-made sign proclaiming knife/sword/scissor sharpening for Y500. I raced home and got my scissors. A half an hour later the delighted man demonstrated that my newly sharpened scissors could slice plastic into thin slivers, and that they now closed all the way. I was equally delighted. And all for only a bit more than a pricey cup of coffee. Not a bad exchange for the refurbishment of a lovely instrument and the holder of such memories!

(pictures courtesy of Made in Japan)


  1. Who would have thought that a story about scissors could be so moving? Great to hear that they're not only sentimental but also more functional now! You know who, C

  2. Great story!

    I also had a great pair of scissors from Japan. Not given to me, but bought in a town famous for its swords and knives. Sadly, in a mad creative moment, they were lost. I've missed them ever since.

  3. Cath - who'd thought that a pair of scissors could mean so much? I sat down intending to write about the little old guy who sharpened them for me. I was a bit disappointed I hadn't thought to snap any pictures of him. Instead, however, I ended up writing something rather different!

    Melanie - if your scissors were anything like mine then I feel for your loss!