Whilst in Japan I used very many saws and chisels all of which were of the finest quality and not to be confused with the cheap Japanese tools available in the UK.
The saws used by Japanese carpenters typically cost £200 and chisels around £150 each. I found it quite shocking that folk would pay £150 for a single chisel and an honour to be given a set of a dozen such chisels to work with. I think nothing of spending £700 on a new chainsaw for my work though in the knowledge that it will probably last 5 years. A good set of chisels will last a lifetime and having paid that sort of money for them they do look after them. Every afternoon at the end of work all tools are cleaned and put away carefully and they are kept razor sharp. Toolmakers give lifetime guarantees and will repair, and regrind any damaged tool. If you look at the picture above you will see above the saw one chisel which has been used and ground so many times both handle and chisel are now only an inch long, I have no doubt that chisel has done £150 worth of work. Here is a typical toolroll.
Saw sharpening is quite complex so is generally left to a specialist saw sharpener but these saws do cut very well indeed. Most carpenters kept their saws in a leather roll and they typically had 5 or 6 different saws some for ripping, some for cross cut, some for cutting the grooves for sliding doors, some for finer work and some for coarser. The saw we know in the west as a typical Japanese saw is the ryoba noku pictured top, a double edged saw with ripping teeth one side, cross cut the other side and a long bamboo handle which is pulled to the side of the body. The index finger of the right hand points down the length of the handle and in using this saw I was told to think not of the point on the line just ahead of the saw but to think about the final destination of the line, this resulted in long smooth strokes and the saw stayed on line perfectly. These are the sort of joints I was cutting for the tea house so you can see a lot of sawing is involved.
My favourite saws however were the bigger coarser mibiki (pronounced my biki) saws. These are held directly in front and pulled towards you. They cut incredibly fast and efficiently.
The big mibiki or mibiki oga is fun too, it is a ripsaw used for cutting wide planks. We found it was not as fast as the European pitsaw but when you took into account the time saved by only one man working it and not having to raise the beam onto trestles it was an attractive proposition. It could be used vertically as seen here or horizontally to cut boards from a big log lying on the ground.
One last picture from the tool shop we visited at the end of the trip. Sadly most of the tools were way out of my budget but I did buy some top quality waterstones which are much cheaper than in the UK.