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The Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association, located in Rock County, Wisconsin, is the 42nd association of the Wisconsin Master Gardener Program.

This blog is used to distribute timely information to association members regarding volunteer opportunities, MGV highlights, and other social tid bits.

Horticulture related information is to be directed to the Horticulture Educator or the Plant Health Advisors.

This blog is not for garden related questions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What is the origin of the Hori Hori traditional Japanese gardening knife?

The Hori Hori Knife is one of the most popular gardening tools to be imported from Japan. Hori is a form of the verb horu, which means “to dig”. The question often arises, why does it look so much like a weapon? One theory postulates that the Hori Hori Knife evolved because Japanese farmers needed their farming tools to double as weapons.

In the middle ages (1536-1598) there were many who earned the distinction of farmer-warriors because in addition to being farmers they were also part time warriors. Feudal Lords perceived this as a threat since it would take little for the farmers to band together in armed rebellion.

During Toyotom Hideyoshi’s rule of Japan a clear distinction was made between four castes: warrior (Samurai), farmer, artisan and merchant. He implemented what was called Katanagari (sword hunt) to confiscate arms from all non-warrior castes – especially the warrior-farmers. So it seems plausible that in response the farmers who were stripped of conventional weaponry would fashion their farming tools to double as “legal” weapons.

The Hori Hori Knife has a straight edge and a serrated edge and can cut plant roots, weed and be used for digging and planting. The modern Hori Hori Knife is slightly smaller than the Japanese short sword (shoto – wakizashi). Gardeners interested in having the versatile Hori Hori Knife to use in their own gardens have their choice of dozens of designs, some of carbon steel, and others of stainless steel. Most come with a scabbard.

Excerpted from "A Travelers Guide to Japan"

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