This article is an excerpt and expanded article from the book The Knifenerd guide to Japanese knives by Kevin Kentin which Kevin Kent, the Knifenerd, takes us behind the scenes with a personal look into the lives, skills and artistry of the blacksmiths who make the world’s finest knives.
"I have known Hiroshi Kato-san for 10 years now, and he is one the most respected blacksmiths in Japan. Beyond that, I consider him a friend and always enjoy the time we spend together. We’ve enjoyed great meals, big laughs and maybe a sake or two together. He has visited Calgary twice, and I know those visits are great memories for him, our staff, and also many, many of our customers. He is getting older and wants to step back a bit, I get that. I am excited to see his son-in-law, Yoshimi Kato, take the reigns. Yoshimi-san is a great blacksmith with some awesome new ideas. Have you seen his new Damascus patterned knives? Holy bananas, they are sexy." - Kevin Kent
Second careers are often the best. I know a burnt-up chef, for example, who owns a few knife shops now. Then there’s Yoshimi Kato, who left his job as the project manager of a construction company. He became a blacksmith after marrying Hiroshi Kato’s daughter.
Many apprentices work for 10 to 15 years before they are pros, but after just five short years working, Kato-san is now running the show. Age and experience, even in a different field, often give one a leg up in their second career. Of course, it helps to have teachers like Hiroshi-san and Kurosaki-san.
About Hiroshi Kato
Hiroshi Kato was born in 1941 in Takefu. He is now 76 years old. He started his blacksmithing career right after he graduated from high school, which means he’s been a blacksmith for over a half century! When I asked why he became a blacksmith, he smiled and answered, “because my father told me to”. He did not hesitate to tell me how much he did NOT want to pursue a blacksmithing career — but his father “tricked” him into the job by promising him big money. Hiroshi Kato is also one of the founding members of Takefu Knife Village, a great facility for local blacksmiths to work together, share their tools, machinery and ideas, as well as to attract new apprentices. Now Takefu Knife Village has more young blacksmiths and apprentices than any other place in Japan. Hiroshi Kato is also a great teacher. His apprentices include Toru Tamura, who used to work for us at Knifewear Calgary, Makoto Kurosaki, the eldest Kurosaki brother and master sickle sharpener, and Yu Kurosaki. Now that Kato-san has gotten older, he is semi-retired and enjoys his new hobby, painting.
Unusual for a blacksmith, Kato-san does not have a favourite steel. He is equally skilled with all steels that he and his team use, and his focus is to make defect-free knives each time. He believes that heat treating (annealing, quenching and tempering) is where you should pay the most attention.
He now forges most of the Masakage Kiri, Yuki and Koishi knives that were once his father-in-law’s domain. He is a very fast learner and does the job very well. Yoshimi-san also brings a special level of professionalism and care to his customer's orders that we can only assume stems from his past life as a project manager. He enjoys checking each blade for quality when it is finished—no doubt something he learned during his project management days.
We believe that the future of Masakage Knives and Kato’s family business is in great hands with Yoshimi-san’s arrival.
Knifewear owner and president Kevin Kent’s fascination with handcrafted Japanese knives began while he was working as sous-chef for the legendary chef Fergus Henderson at St. John restaurant in London, England. Back in Canada in 2007 he began selling them out of a backpack from the back of his bicycle, while working as a chef in Calgary. He considers his chef years as the best education for being an entrepreneur. Being a chef takes long hours, involves hard work, both mentally and physically, and chefs must be able to put out fires, both literal and figurative, with extreme competence. Today, Kent is still just as obsessed with Japanese knives as the day he first held one. A couple times a year, he travels to Japan to meet with his blacksmith friends and drinks far too much sake. Each visit he learns more about the ancient art of knife-making. Through this obsession Knifewear has expanded to include five Knifewear stores in Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Edmonton. Plans are also underway to open a store in Kyoto, Japan. He refuses to confess how many Japanese knives he owns … but he admits the number is rather high. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @knifenerd and find out more about the stores at knifewear.com, and if you meet him in person, ask him to tell you his Lou Reed story.
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