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Japanese knives

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

I am a new member to this site. I just came across it while searching for Japanese knife info..

I will be traveling to Japan in a few weeks and I would like to purchase a Japanese Chef knife.
I have read some articles on the different types of knives. I know that the area around Osaka is where many of the high quality knives are produced.
I am looking to spend $300-$500.
I would like to know if anyone has had the experience of buying a knife directly from a smith in Japan?

If so can you recommend a place that I could go.

post #2 of 11
Where are you going to be traveling, first of all, and for how long?

Osaka does include the old city of Sakai, where pretty much all the good knives are made these days, but it's not a particularly great place to buy those knives -- they're normally shipped to brand manufacturers, then resold through knife shops all through Japan.

Your budget will do very well indeed. But what sort of knife or knives are you looking for? Do you sharpen yourself? Are you looking for a collector's item or a tool? What do you want to cut with this? These are very real questions. Any info you can provide will help me give you advice. I've bought lots of knives in Japan, in more than one city, but I need to know what you're looking for -- which you may not know yourself at this point.
post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 
First, thanks for your reply.

I will be in Japan for 20 days. Stopping in Tokyo, Niseko, Sapporo, Nozawaonsen in Nagano, Kanazawa City, Osaka, and Kyoto.

This will be my first japanese knife. I am looking for a tool that I can use. Usuba kusumi kansai style between 8 - 10 inchesis something I feel I could use for preparing vegetables. When I buy my knife I will also purchase a whetstone to sharpen.

I'm reading the book Japanese Kitchen knives by Hiromitsu Nozaki to learn more about these knives.
post #4 of 11
Okay, so this is a flying tour. A few suggestions:

1. If you are a food tourist even slightly, you will almost certainly be visiting Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. After the auctions and such finish, you can stop by Aritsugu Tokyo or Masamoto Tsukiji, whose shops are in the market. There are a few others, but these are the most famous. Aritsugu Tokyo has excellent prices and service, and highly respected knives.

2. In Kyoto, you will probably visit Nishiki Market, in which you will find Aritsugu Kyoto (no connection with the Tokyo branch since the mid 1920s, incidentally). Their service is wonderful, their knives are very good, and their prices are very high.

3. The only other place I know much about knife shopping is in Osaka, and I think is rather a waste of time, in the sense that it's not someplace you'd otherwise consider visiting, and it's kind of dirty and blah. Kappabashi in Tokyo is somewhat similar: you're not likely to visit for other reasons, so skip it.

4. I would very, very strongly recommend against buying an usuba. It is perhaps the most irritating knife design you'd ever use, and it does not cut or handle the same way as any other knife. I do not think it is worth the investment of money and time that it would take, unless (a) you are a vegetarian or very close to it, and (b) you want this knife to be a major hobby unto itself. I would instead recommend purchasing a 240mm or 270mm gyuto, which is basically a Japanese-made chef's knife. If you want something cool, buy a wa-gyuto, which means a gyuto with a Japanese-style handle, which looks great and makes very little difference -- certainly nothing negative -- when actually using the thing.

Aritsugu Tokyo makes these wa-gyuto's primarily in their A-style, which means a semi-stainless steel that is notoriously tough; while hard-core enthusiasts generally think the knife is a little thick, I doubt very much that you will find much to object to here. The prices on the A-style knives are all very good, and those things withstand frightening abuse, so you don't have to baby it. Of all the many and varied options available to you at this point, that would be at the top of my list.

The obvious alternative to a gyuto is a yanagiba, i.e. a slicing knife, but that will be considerably more expensive and less useful.

Aritsugu Tokyo, A-style wa-gyuto, 270mm -- list price Y14,000

Aritsugu Tokyo, bottom of the line baseline yanagiba, 300mm -- list price Y18,000 (they do make a cheaper A-style yanagiba, but the experts all seem to agree that this is not a good idea -- I can't really comment, personally)

If these prices seem very high, get used to it. I assure you, those are terrific prices; most places will be a good bit more.

Remember to keep your receipts so you get the taxes back!
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
I've actually bought a JR pass and I will be using the trains to get around Japan.

Would of thought that things would be cheaper outside of Tokyo.
I think that gyuto is only made with double bevel? I was hoping to try a single bevel knife. But maybe it would be wise to buy a knife that isn't so specialized for my first one. I assume that this is the knife that you use at home or work? What have you used this knife for? Do you own any other knives?

I will definitely visit the shops in the Tsukiji and Nishiki markets. Do you know if people are able to watch the tuna auctions in Tsukiji?

Is their any specific area in Osaka that does sell knives? From what you described it seems like there is nothing in Osaka to do at all?

I appreciate your advice.

post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 
I did a little reading online about Aritsugu and he is a very respected knife maker. There is a review for the wa-gyuto 270mm. @ (Sorry can't post URLs yet)

In that review he says that his gyuto is single bevel. On another site I read that gyuto knives are mostly made double bevel.

Also in the review he says that Aritsugu knives are not sold with an initial edge on them. Will I have to do this myself?

post #7 of 11
Gyutos are double-beveled knives, yes. The Aritsugu knife you're talking about is extremely asymmetrically ground, but it is still double-beveled.

The basic problem with single-bevels, functionally speaking, is that the classic three knives are extremely narrowly specialized. Of all of them, the usuba is the most limited and problematic in the context of a Western kitchen. You might consider a kiritsuke, which for some acts as a sort of all-purpose single-beveled knife, but I confess that this is not a style I know much about -- it seems to be primarily popular in the Tokyo (Kanto) region, where I've spent relatively little time.

There is no "he" in Aritsugu any more, I must tell you. The "old man", who ran the Kyoto company for a long time, died some 15 years ago or so. The knives currently sold are OEMs, just like pretty much everyone else's. But I am told that the "old man" hadn't made his own knives, except for special customers, for some years before he died anyway. That's not to say that the current knives are knockoffs or anything like that -- they're excellent. But don't imagine that at this shop -- or just about any other -- you're getting something that was made on the forge in the back room by that nice man now sharpening the thing.

Speaking of which, the knives at virtually all serious Japanese knife shops sit on the rack unsharpened. When you buy one in the shop, they basically tell you to go away and play for half an hour or so, and they sharpen it for you. You can, of course, refuse this service, and many Japanese professionals do so. But it's free, and they'll usually do a pretty decent -- if not especially spectacular -- job.

For comparison, I am a minor nut, not a hard-case like many others around here. I have a 270 gyuto, a 195 and a 165 deba, a 300 and a 195 yanagiba, a petty, and an usuba. I also have a Wusthof for cutting boxes. :lol:
I believe so, yes, but it's very early in the morning. There are tours of the market run in English -- look on the web.
There's a grimy little restaurant supply district, near one of the big shopping intersections, and that's about it for knives unless you want to try to arrange some sort of appointment at Sakai Takayuki or something -- and I don't know how easy that would be unless you spoke quite good Japanese. Beyond that, Osaka is kind of cool in its earthy, grimy sort of way (grimy by Japanese standards, mind you). Check out a Lonely Planet guidebook for suggestions -- there's a bunch of interesting things there. Hint: if some food item looks fried and greasy, and it's sold open-air, and it smells decent, eat it -- Osaka is all about that.
post #8 of 11
I don't know beans about buying in Japan, but do know a little about Japanese knives.

An enthusiastic "yes" to everything Chris had, with the exception that the Aritsugu "A" gyuto is not a particularly good choice for someone who isn't already a good sharpener. The knife needs a lot of skilled work before it can give anything close to its best.

Rather, if you can deal with "carbon" steel, I suggest a Masamoto KS which is significantly easier to deal with from the get go.

If you want something less susceptible to corrosion, the Yoshikane hammered wa-gyuto (stain resistant, just like the Aritsugu, and probably made from the same or similar alloy -- a Japanese version of D2) is another knife with a very devoted following.

The Ikkanshi Tadatsuna "Inox" wa-gyuto is a great choice, very thin and easy to sharpen. It's made from "Ginsanko" G3, a true stainless from Hitachi.

I know nothing about buying a Yoshikane or Tadatsuna in Japan. Maybe Chris can help.

If I'm not mistaken, aoki hamono may have a "brick and mortar" retail location in Japan -- or even several. They represent a lot of very nice knives as well.

There are a heck of a lot of other possibilities as well. But the idea of the buying in the Tokyo fishmarket is so good, I think I'd find it impossible to pass up. It's probably a very good idea to do enough research before going so that you're not paralyzed by indecision when you have to leave. My fallback would be the 27cm Masamoto KS.

As long as you're in Japan, reformulate your plan to buy "a whetstone" so that it becomes "several water stones."

post #9 of 11
I can't help with any thing about Japan but I thought some of you might find this a very interesting read although I find the title a bit disconcerting.

Eat A Duck I Must!: ZSAT: Osaka, Suisin Knives, Keijiro Doi
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
post #10 of 11
The Masamoto in Tsukiji Market is not the Masamoto BDL is talking about; the latter is Masamoto Souhonten, who do not do brick-and-mortar shops. Masamoto Tsukiji is reputed to have quite good knives nonetheless.

I don't agree with BDL about the A-series gyuto at Aritsugu. True, it needs a good deal of work before it will "give its best," but frankly its not-quite-best is pretty darn good, and the knife is apparently indestructible. If at some point you get really into this, you can do the grinding work or hire some knife nut (try Fred's Forum for this) to do it for you.

Most of the brands BDL lists are available sporadically at brick-and-mortar shops. The trouble is finding the right shop. I mean, you see a knife shop, you walk in, you see that they carry 99% such-and-such a brand. If that's not the brand you want, what then? And if you don't read Japanese, how do you know anyway? If you want to do this kind of thing, the place to go is Kappabashi, which is a few blocks west of the main drag in Asakusa, Tokyo. There's probably 15 knife shops there, and they don't carry the same things, but who knows what who carries? That's a good long day's work -- if you want to do that, be sure to eat some shoyu ramen in the area, which will make up for the frustration.
post #11 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thanks to everyone for the advice. I am leaving in the morning so this will be my last post for 3 weeks.

I will let you guys know what knife I get once I return.

Thanks again.

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