At Knifewear, we deal with over 50 individual craftspeople: blacksmiths, knife sharpeners, handle-makers… and we can say with confidence that Masashi Yamamoto-san is one of the best in Japan. He values combining traditional forging techniques with a modern, scientific approach. I don’t usually buy two knives from the same maker since I want to try a little bit of everything, but I admit: I have 3 knives from Masashi. The big reason is that Masashi-san forges and sharpens different knife shapes specifically for the purpose of that knife.
Masashi-san at work during a forging demo
Masashi-san was born in 1976 in a blacksmithing family in Sanjo. He learned how to use a hammer from his grandfather when he was little. He was good at a lot of things, but especially volleyball and golf. He was such a talented golfer that he even considered going pro, but at 28 he finally started his blacksmithing journey. His uncle, Tsuneo Yoshida, and his grandfather taught him blacksmithing skills at the Yoshikane workshop. At 36, Masashi started his own workshop after disagreeing with his older brother, Kazuomi Yamamoto, on the company’s direction. Think Adidas and Puma. Masashi-san valued skilled, traditional craftsmanship, whereas his brother was far more business oriented.
Masashi is pure genius when it comes to knife making. We talked to his former colleague Wakui-san about his apprenticeship, and he said “Masashi-san started after me and he surpassed me at lightning speed.” His knives are works of art, and crazy-specialized as the most functional tools in the kitchen. He considers and reconsiders every step of knife making. Each step of the knife making process has its own meanings, so Masashi tests and tweaks accordingly. For example, many blacksmiths follow the guidance from steel manufacturers when it comes to the heat treatment process (what temperature to quench or anneal). Masashi-san tested these guidelines and came up with own way of heat treatment for each knife steel, resulting in much harder knives than those made with the same steel by other knife makers.
Detailing on the Kuroshu (left) and Shiroshu (right)
Masashi-san is also like a wizard when it comes to forging. Where many blacksmiths forge different lines of knives in the same way, he forges differently for each of his knives. It’s very subtle, but his Shiroshu and Kuroshu knives are forged differently despite being made with the same steel because the end sharpening process of each line is slightly different. He literally changes his forging process to optimize how the steel is used, and to grind away as little as possible.
The Future According to Masashi
He doesn’t stop there, though. Masashi-san is a true believer of science and observation. Many blacksmiths in Japan follow generations of tradition, not really questioning why things are the way they are. Masashi-san takes this to the next level and finds the reason for every step with scientific backing. He also examines and observes his knives objectively by sending his knives off to the lab for thorough hardness testing and metallurgic structures.
Education, training, and passing this knowledge down to the next generation are his strongest passions. Masashi-san has two apprentices working for him, and in order to further their training, he created two new lines of knives: the “Kaijin” and “Kokuen”. Before, there were so many steps that Masashi-san was the only one who could do it. Now, these new knife lines are great tools to teach his apprentices to become great blacksmiths of their own. He not only looks at the next generation, but to those beyond as well.
The Masashi Kokuen, one of the new lines created for training his apprentices. Kokuen means "black smoke" in Japanese, named for the smoke of the forge, and the cigarettes he smokes as he works.
Masashi-san always looks at the future of his own skills and the knife making industry as a whole. He tells us that knife makers should never be satisfied with their current work, they always must strive to be better than before. And he follows it through.
Naoto came to Canada several years ago and we aren't letting him go back. After getting angry with his roommate's dull knives, he started to dream of sharp Japanese knives. Naoto graduated from University of Calgary with a bachelor degree of art, majoring International Relations and finds that selling Japanese knives is his own way of doing international relations. Naoto is our Head of Shipping and receiving. You can also see him in SpringHammer looking cool and holding it all together.