I recently overheard someone say that a knife is not just a kitchen tool, but a chef’s tool. It’s a somewhat pedantic distinction, but one that I enjoyed and found to be very accurate.
To me, a knife is a very personal tool. Whether you’re a professional chef or enjoy cooking from the comfort of your own home, owning a sharp knife that fits your hand, your lifestyle, and your aesthetic makes a tremendous difference in your confidence in the kitchen. I find that feeling great about your tools leads to safe knife handling and expanding one’s knife skills.
What makes Japanese knives so awesome?
If you were to walk into any of our stores and ask any staff member the question, “what makes Japanese knives so awesome?” you will most likely get this answer: Japanese knives are made of harder steel than most other knives, which allows them to get sharper and stay sharp longer! That’s the gist of it. The worst you’ll get with a Japanese kitchen knife is a high-performance tool that will outperform most knives available from anywhere else in the world. Although it seems contradictory, this means they are also safer to use as a sharp knife will go where you want it to go. A sharp knife doesn’t require as much force to glide through a dense vegetable like a sweet potato and won’t skip off the tough skin of a pepper or a tomato. This makes it much less likely to change course for your hand! I’ve found this makes cooking a lot more enjoyable and more enticing to choose prep-heavy recipes as an excuse to use any of my (arguably) too many knives!
Beyond the steel, what makes Japanese knives so remarkable is the personalization you can expect from a knife. Whether a machine-forged blade or one made by a single traditional blacksmith, there is a ton of thought and care put into the finished product. Every step taken in making a knife shows in the final product. What I like most about them, especially the entirely handmade ones, is that each is purpose-built for a specific task. You can find a knife for just about any job you’ll encounter in the kitchen, and the knife made to perform it will be forged, shaped and sharpened precisely for that job. I use Masashi-san’s knives as an example for this fairly often, as when he visited our store five years ago, we got to pick his brain a little bit. I remember him telling us that his chef’s knives (gyutos, santokus and nakiris) are all a little thicker at the spine to give them the heft and durability you would typically want in a workhorse knife. In contrast, he makes his petty knives and sujihikis thinner and lighter, as they don’t spend much time directly on the cutting board.
Among other things, makers like Masashi Yamamoto-san are renowned for their incredible attention to detail at every step of the knife-making process.
The fit and finish are another big player in what makes them so unique to me. A nice touch you’ll often find with handmade knives is how they are polished and sharpened. A common practice for most makers in the Sakai region, like Maruyama-san from Hado Sakai or Yoshikazu Tanaka-san from Sakai Kikumori, is to polish the spine and the choil (back end of the blade, where your fingers go), ensuring there are no burrs or harsh edges that could catch on your finger. Some makers will take this even further! Blacksmiths like Makoto Tadokoro-san grind a slight bevel on these parts of the knife, whereas Fujiwara-san will go as far as carving a notch at the back of the blade, which really turns the knife into an extension of your hand.
It’s that kind of thoughtful design and craftsmanship that, over the last few years, I’ve come to appreciate and look for more and more. When shopping for a new knife, I’ll often think of the tasks I’ll be using it for and look for small details included by the maker that better suit it to those jobs. The massive selection can be a tad overwhelming at first, but with a bit of searching, you can find a knife that brings you joy and comfort, knowing it will simply breeze through the task. Finding a knife like this is well worth the effort!
If you want to experience the magic of a Japanese knife and not break the bank, the Fujimoto series is for you. Their Hammertone series is forged by machine to create a super consistent, affordable blade. Every following step is lovingly completed by hand to ensure these have all of the bells and whistles Japanese knives are known for.
Next to the definition of “High-Performance Japanese Knives” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of a knife from Masashi-san. He puts an insane amount of work into each step, forging the blade with expert precision, polishing it artfully, and sharpening it to perform the best it possibly can. His blades have a unique taper, thicker at the heel and thinner at the tip, making them laser-precise yet rugged.
What can I say except, “You’re welcome!”. Seriously, these knives are SO SEXY and cut the way I imagine a katana would. Nakagawa-san is another super-skilled young blacksmith with an eye for detail, and the result is some blades that perform like mad. These are collectors' pieces through and through, a must-have in a Knifenerd’s collection.