Maintaining a Legacy: A Japanese Village Upholds Its Ancient Knife Making Practices

Phuc Sen Village in the northern province of Cao Bang is not a place first-time visitors might want to stay long, as the noise may come as a shock.


The Traditional Blacksmith Craft of the Nung An People

A Scenic Escape: Exploring the Traditional Craft Village

The Life of the Nung People in Phuc Sen Valley

Knife village retains traditional craft

Sparks Fly: Long Anh Chien, 58, sharpens a knife at his workshop. VNS Photo Bao Hoa

Amidst the rhythmic sound of clanging steel, about 350 blacksmiths from the Nung An ethnic minority craft thousands of knives each year using traditional techniques and recycled materials in the village of Phuc Sen.

Long Anh Chien, a 58-year-old blacksmith, shares, “This job has been passed down through the generations, and I can’t recall when exactly it began. We repurpose steel from used car shock absorbers to create the knives.”

According to legend, this craft originated in Phuc Sen village around 200 years ago. Presently, around 200 households in the village earn their livelihoods by forging knives.

An experienced blacksmith can produce 4-5 knives per day, while those with less experience can make 3-4. Chien started his apprenticeship at the age of 15 and returned to the village in 1998 to pursue this traditional craft.

Chien reveals, “In our workshop, we have 12 workers divided into four groups of three. Each group is responsible for a specific product, including knives, hammers, hoes, and rakes. A senior blacksmith can earn between VND15-20 million (US$650-860) per month, while those with less experience receive VND9-15 million per month.”

Knife village retains traditional craft

Still Sharp: Knives are made and sold in Phuc Sen Village, Cao Bang Province. VNS Photos Doan Tung

Despite the stable income, this profession demands hard work and emotional control. Blacksmiths must exhibit both aggression and composure. The job requires 10-hour work days and demands tremendous effort, technique, and skill.

Long Anh Minh, another skilled blacksmith in the village, reveals that making a knife involves several steps, including selecting the steel, tempering it, forging the knife, and honing and shaping it.

Knife village retains traditional craft

Family Affair: Long Anh Minh, 47, forges a knife with his wife.

Minh, with 20 years of experience, explains that what sets Phuc Sen knives apart is the manual forging process. While other knife villages may rely on machines and skip the manual steps, Phuc Sen’s knives retain their sharpness for a longer time due to the traditional crafting techniques.

Despite the physically demanding nature of this work, Minh’s wife also assists him in the majority of the tasks. He hopes to pass on this craft to his children to preserve the tradition.

This traditional craft holds immense cultural significance for the Nung An people, and these skilled blacksmiths proudly continue their ancestors’ legacy.