Edgevertizing – the Story of the Itinerant Japanese Knife-Sharpener

by Cecilia Macaulay

Knife shaperner photo by Cecilia

Marginal overheads

This itinerant knife sharpener does the rounds every few months in my neighbourhood in Tokyo.

Knife sharpener photo by Cecilia

No office, no rent, no clocking in necessary — just a bike, a whetstone, and some slips of paper in mailboxes to tell everyone he’s in town.


Because he does his work where we can see him, we feel we already know him. We see other people’s knives being sharpened, and wonder why we should miss out, so just put in our orders too.

Spend one month learning something people need done, spend the rest of your life doing it. — Bill Mollison

Since I started living with a constant flow of Japanese friends and WWOOFers, the quality of my kitchen life has risen. My knife collection glistens. Many Aussies don’t sharpen their knives. Even permies. We just use more brute power, put up with things being slower, difficult, just because it doesn’t occur to us. And, also because we don’t have a neighbourhood knife sharpener.

Cecilia at a Japanese demonstration garden edge

Become an Edgetrepreneur

If you were in my neighbourhood, and had a good reputation, I would pay you to do these things on my doorstep:

  1. green clean my car
  2. wash my dog (if I had one)
  3. train me to train my dog (if I had one)
  4. put a dripper water system in my front garden
  5. put in a better letterbox (mine is squeezy for my mail)
  6. put in urban swales to catch my down pipe water
  7. graft me some replicas of my favorite fruit trees (you would bring the rootstock)
  8. tell me a very funny story

That’s just the doorstep. There are 100 things I need help with inside, but that’s for another day.

There are many Permaculture design principles in action in this fellow’s livelihood. I will let you look and find them yourself.

Got any good edge stories?



7 thoughts on “Edgevertizing – the Story of the Itinerant Japanese Knife-Sharpener

  1. There are so many knifes. There are so many uses for a knife.
    Living in Sweden one of the best know knifes around is a Mora also called Frost.
    These are woodsmans,carpenters homeowners allround use for everything knife. The producerer made them well worth their money, but too cheap to sharpen. So like your permiesfriend the swedes do no sharpen their knifes. But I will tell you a trick to sharpen a knife which has a wedge kind of sharpening.
    You will need a penny as big as the grind. Glue a wet/dry sandpaper to the penny. Now you have a small sharpeningstone the size of a penny. Wet it with some water and put it on the grind. move it anyway, back and forth, round, up and down you will end up sharpening your knife.

  2. Well done! This is a good reminder that permaculture principles are in action all around us, and that our work is really not anything new or extra-special. I love the Mollison quote as I hadn’t heard that one!
    Thanks for the article!

  3. You don’t have to take up sharpening as a career. I read a superb treatise on sharpening by one John Juranitch called The Razor Edge Guide to Sharpening, and all the edges in my life are now much more functional not to mention safer.

    An exceptional book, clearly written and illustrated for the layman by an edge expert known for shaving his beard with an axe. You learn the types of edges, how to adequately test an edge and monitor your honing progress, and also enjoy his gentle sense of humor.

    No homestead should be without this skill; sharpening is as satisfying as it is easy to learn.

    When you’ve fixed up your kitchen, get yourself a steel to keep those nice edges properly aligned so you only need to hone a few times a year.

    I’m not associated with Mr. Juranitch, just passing him along.

  4. Nice story about the knife-sharpener, we need one of those round here. And I also take Cecilia’s point that edges can be the relationships between us, including economic relationships: interdependence is more resilient than self-sufficiency. My two “edge” resource requirements are firstly, fruit tree pruning and secondly, cars. My neighbour Tim has fantastic pruning skills, far better than mine – I have done enough pruning workshops to know the difference.
    Regarding cars – in this energy descent period we need to find ways of sharing motor vehicles between households rather than regarding them as personal property. My brother’s central Auckland neighbourhood seems to be moving towards this. His four-person household possesses four cars when I last counted (not very permaculture!) but they have several neighbours who are attempting to be less car-dependent. Which is challenging when you are raising children, with school, sports, music lessons and everything else, in a city that isn’t well set up for public transport or biking. My brother’s family make their “extra” cars available to neighbours when required. Other spin-offs include closer neighbourhood relationships, fuller use of resources, and cooperation between families who are at different stages on the environmental spectrum, instead of making each other feel guilty. And families who are gradually weaning themselves off the motor vehicle.

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