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Japanese Knives – What to Buy?


rgruby
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Just to add to the confusion some Western style Japanese knives don't use Japanese steel.  My Misono (Minoso?) uses Swedish steel if I remember correctly.

Good point ... the swedes seem to know something too. Quite a few of the Japanese makers use some flavor of Swedish steel.

Notes from the underbelly

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Paul, great review of the entire process you went through before and after buying your knives. I would beg to differ on the cost of stones to keep your knives going though. While some stones are better than others, there are a few good brands that are reasonably priced. Of course, the terms "expensive" and "reasonable" are relative to the individual but one has to keep in mind that the stones will last many many years. I've had my stones now for two years and they show little signs of wear. For an average home cook, I can honestly say stones will last more than 10 years. Your choice of knives too are excellent choices: the AS, the Al Mar and the MAC roast slicer are all great knives. You are also very correct in your assessments of how a truely sharp edge affects the quality of the food being cut. Good read.

Bud, very very nice knives. Is the Yanagiba and Deba in the first pic Takeda's too? If so, I think you're the only one I've seen who has them. What do you think of them? Also, your honyaki is stunning. Is that a Suisin? Tadatsuna? Beautiful. I'm sure it's a pure joy to use. As Paul said, most (not all) western styled Japanese knives are clad. Doesn't matter if it's a production knife or hand made.

My Photography: Bob Worthington Photography

 

My music: Coronado Big Band
 

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I don't mean to suggest that the stones are unreasonably priced. I've found some Norton combo stones that I might get someday if the abrassive paper routine starts to feel cumbersome.

But I do think the maintenance gear for these knives is expensive ... stones, papers, strops, compounds, educational materials, etc. etc.. I base this on the price relative to the price of the thing being maintained. It would be very easy to spend more on the tool kit than I spent on my most expensive knife, and this is a knife that cost double what many cooks are willing to spend!

The economics are going to make sense to someone who's really into knives, or at least into knife-intensive cooking, but probably not so much to someone who just needs a cutting tool. In fact, if I was moving to a desert island and could only bring one knife, it would be the German one, no question about it. If you can only have one car, you take the sedan, not the Ferrari, even if leaving the Ferari behind makes you weep!

Notes from the underbelly

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Bud, very very nice knives.  Is the Yanagiba and Deba in the first pic Takeda's too?  If so, I think you're the only one I've seen who has them.  What do you think of them?  Also, your honyaki is stunning.  Is that a Suisin?  Tadatsuna?  Beautiful.  I'm sure it's a pure joy to use.  As Paul said, most (not all) western styled Japanese knives are clad.  Doesn't matter if it's a production knife or hand made.

All the knives in the first picture are made by Takeda. He is quite a charachter and is continualy sharpening knives as you talk to him. His hand sharpening tool pictured is the easiest way I have found to sharpen these knives. Takeda's knives are as sharp as any I have and although the final finishing is not as fine as the honyaki, the price differential is large. I also prefer purchasing from a custom maker rather than a factory knife but that comes from 35 years of custom knife collecting.

The honyaki as said was brokered for me by Murray Carter http://www.cartercutlery.com/ .

Murray actually apprenticed in Japan to learn Japanese blade making. While in Japan I asked him to procure this type of knife from the best Japanese bladesmith. The maker is Kenichi Shiraki who is an independant knife maker not working for any of the Japanese manufactures.

Typically a sushi chef will procure one of these and use for the rest of his career eventually reducing the length from 33cm. This one is 27cm long as I don't think i will ever use it enough to worry about the blade shortening. The one Takeda made for me is 30cm as my knife skills have improved to where I could handle the longer blade. My first commercial blade was 23cm long. Murray is a fine maker of traditional Japanese blades in his own right and my next blade will be from Murray.-Dick

Edited by weinoo (log)
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hello everyone,

this is my 1st post...

i got here because of my interest in japanese cutlery...been following the various threads and glad to discover the wealth of information on the said topic.

my 1st japanese knives experience was with my brother several years back.

he is a professional chef & i am just an avid cook.

mine was the mac 9.5 chef pro series & he got the masamoto virgin steel from korin, same type & size.

we generally did not like the rust prone carbon steel at 1st coz it looked unsanitary.

as to sharpness, well, if ever there was an edge to the carbon steel, it was not significant.

however, the masamoto did sharpen easier.

this is why i plan to get a 2nd japanese knife w/ carbon steel & the patina on the kumagoro knives has that more "sanitary" look.

also the hammered finish might be more functional than just aesthetics.

the 1 thing i hate about my mac is the sticking of stuff on the blade since it is a bit taller compared to the masamoto.

i would love to hear more about the kumagoro knives...they have blue steel core and from what i gather, blue steel is a premium grade carbon steel.

joe

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Yes, Bud, I'm very familiar with Carter and Takeda. I'm also familiar with Hattori, Kikuichimonji, Nenox and Suisin. I recently got a Carter that is an incredible piece of cutlery. I've gone from buying production knives to buying purely hand-made knives over the years and don't regret buying any knife along the way. I've settled on a handful of knives I use regularly. Below is a recent Carter purchase and below that are the three amigos. I have others knives of course but these are my main prep knives I rotate. I'm interested in your thoughts regarding Takeda's single beveled knives. Are subcontracted out or did Takeda make them? Why the drastically different kanji?

Carter 280mm white steel kurouchi

gallery_22252_4789_238293.jpg

Kikuichimonji Honyaki 270mm

Hattori KD 270mm

Takeda 255mm custom with xtra belly

gallery_22252_4789_184607.jpg

My Photography: Bob Worthington Photography

 

My music: Coronado Big Band
 

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After a mind-numbing amount of research and discussion with the sociopaths at knifeforums.com, .....

HEY! I resemble that remark! :laugh:

Seriously you've gotten me interested now in trying a few knives that I have no experience with so far. My knife collection (which is in my profile at knifeforums) needs some new friends!

I'm glad you are enjoying the Japanese knives.

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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After a mind-numbing amount of research and discussion with the sociopaths at knifeforums.com, .....

HEY! I resemble that remark! :laugh:

Seriously you've gotten me interested now in trying a few knives that I have no experience with so far. My knife collection (which is in my profile at knifeforums) needs some new friends!

I'm glad you are enjoying the Japanese knives.

Im in the same boat ... although I also went into the odd realm of woodworkers forums in order to gain a better understanding of the subtle properties of Blue vs. White steel... :wacko:

In the end, I settled on the same Hiromoto AS Gyuto, altouugh I opted for an Edge Pro sharpening system and Im also using a strop instead of a traditional Steel for maintenance.

..so it seems that the research tends to lead the demanding cook or chef to the same conclusions with regards to Japanese cutlery... now, Onto the next obsession :blink:

" No, Starvin' Marvin ! Thats MY turkey pot pie "

- Cartman

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"I'm interested in your thoughts regarding Takeda's single beveled knives. Are subcontracted out or did Takeda make them? Why the drastically different kanji?"

If your worried about Knifeforums.com, then don't register for this site http://usualsuspect.net/ . A group of us Tactical Knife collectors got fed up with the unregulated atmosphere on both Knife and BladeForums and started this Forum about 5 years ago. It is now the premier knife forum on the web but you can't partake until your registration is validated.

Anyway to answer your questions, single bevel knives are traditional Japanese and for many reasons I am quite a traditionalist. I much prefer working directly with a maker rather than purchasing Custom Knives thourgh a purveyor so since Takeda comes to Chicago once per year, makes very nice customs at much more affordable price than top Japanese forgers, he is who is making my knives now. Because of cost, limited availablity and I'm not sure if the Japanese really think we are deserving on thier knives, the top knives rarely make it out of Japan. Murray being there at the time was just luck.

As far as I know Takeda makes all his own work.

Since I can't read kanji, I don't know.

If you come over to the 'Dark Side' and register on the Usual Suspects Network, I am sure we can help you obtain many more knives.-Dick

Edited by budrichard (log)
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"I'm interested in your thoughts regarding Takeda's single beveled knives. Are subcontracted out or did Takeda make them? Why the drastically different kanji?"

If your worried about Knifeforums.com, then don't register for this site http://usualsuspect.net/ . A group of us Tactical Knife collectors got fed up with the unregulated atmosphere on both Knife and BladeForums and started this Forum about 5 years ago. It is now the premier knife forum on the web but you can't partake until your registration is validated.

okay, um, I'm going out on a limb here...why would I be worried about KF.com?

Anyway to answer your questions, single bevel knives are traditional Japanese and for many reasons I am quite a traditionalist. I much prefer working directly with a maker rather than purchasing Custom Knives thourgh a purveyor so since Takeda comes to Chicago once per year, makes very nice customs at much more affordable price than top Japanese forgers, he is who is making my knives now. Because of cost, limited availablity and I'm not sure if the Japanese really think we are deserving on thier knives, the top knives rarely make it out of Japan. Murray being there at the time was just luck.

As far as I know Takeda makes all his own work.

Since I can't read kanji, I don't know.

I know who Takeda is and sorry but I wasn't asking about what a single-beveled knife is. I own plenty already and I know what they are and what they do. I guess I should have been more specific. What do you think of Takeda's single-beveled knives' quality of craftmasnhip? Performance? Durability? Generally a maker will put his name or have a set signature for all his knives. The kanji on the single-beveled knives are completely different than his kuro-uchi knives. Makes me wonder who actually makes them.

If you come over to the 'Dark Side' and register on the Usual Suspects Network, I am sure we can help you obtain many more knives.-Dick

Thanks but I already know how and where to get all the knives I want and can afford.

My Photography: Bob Worthington Photography

 

My music: Coronado Big Band
 

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The "unsanitary" look you refer to is what we knife knuts like to call patina. :biggrin:

All kidding aside, arguably, carbon steels have some qualities which can be considered advantageous when compared to stainless steels. The carbides tend to be smaller which produces a blade which will tend to sharpen more easily and will tend to be less frangible than most stainless blades at the same rockwell level. That said, there is the maintenance issue, to which you referred. In some cases that can be a significant drawback. It depends on how you will be using it and whether wiping your blade frequently is an inconvenience.

A lot of folks feel that the best of both worlds is a warikomi blade like the Kumagoro, which is a carbon steel core laminated between two layers of soft stainless steel. You get the benefits of the hard carbon steel and the maintenance benefits provided by the stainless. The Kumagoro blades are very well regarded. As long as you're not married to the idea of a western style handle, I think you'll be happy with what the Kumagoro knives bring to the table.

-Mike-

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I thought it was the Yoshikane that had the stainless sides. From JWW.com...

The center layer is rust resistant SKD die steel originally designed for cutting metal. The cladding layers are soft SUS-405 stainless steel.

The Kumagoro has the carbon core (blue #2) with hammered carbon cladding.

I've never owned or used either one so I can't make first hand comments but people who have seen both give the Kumagoro a slight edge (no pun) over the Yoshikane. Both knives are very good though and can't go wrong with either one.

My Photography: Bob Worthington Photography

 

My music: Coronado Big Band
 

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I thought it was the Yoshikane that had the stainless sides.  From JWW.com...

The center layer is rust resistant SKD die steel originally designed for cutting metal. The cladding layers are soft SUS-405 stainless steel.

The Kumagoro has the carbon core (blue #2) with hammered carbon cladding.

I've never owned or used either one so I can't make first hand comments but people who have seen both give the Kumagoro a slight edge (no pun) over the Yoshikane.  Both knives are very good though and can't go wrong with either one.

You're right, Bob. I stand corrected. The description on EE indicates it's soft carbon steel. I was under the impression that Kumagoro also used SUS405 sides, like the Yoshi, but it looks like they're opposite sides of the coin. One is carbon warikomi the other is stainless warikomi.

I concur with your assessment. There seems to be agreement among those that have used both that the Kumagoro provides a little better performance, but the differences are very slight. Both have good blade geometry and acceptable fit and finish. If you like the style of the knives, the decision really comes down to whether you want stainless or carbon.

Since the Kumagoro is entirely carbon steel, if someone is looking for the combo of stainless sides with carbon steel core, they won't fit the bill. Although they don't feature traditional Japanese wa-handled construction, Kikuichi and Hiromoto both make western style blades with warikomi construction. Both are very well made and readily available. I have knives from both Kikuichi and Hiromoto. I can attest that they're well made and are worth serious consideration.

-Mike-

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thank you mike & bob.

i actually posted a similar query in another forum...

bob, i was the one that ask you about this same knives & the masahiro at your gallery.

anyway, what draws me to the kumagoro is the black patina & hammer finish.

is the blackened patina less prone to rusting?

w/c stainless nakiri would you guys recommend?

what do you guys think of the mac nakiri?

thanks again.

joe

Edited by pizzajoe62 (log)
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The Kumagoro is certainly a good looking knife and yes, it would reduce the rust issue. But if you wash and dry your knife after your done using it, rust will never be a factor...ever. I've got many carbon steel knives without the kurouchi finish and they've never showed any signs of rust.

I've heard that the Tojiro DP is a great SS nakiri. I haven't heard anything about the MAC but it looks like a decent knife. It's super light though. If it were me I would get something else.

My Photography: Bob Worthington Photography

 

My music: Coronado Big Band
 

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thank you mike & bob.

i actually posted a similar query in another forum...

bob, i was the one that ask you about this same knives & the masahiro at your gallery.

anyway, what draws me to the kumagoro is the black patina & hammer finish.

is the blackened patina less prone to rusting?

w/c stainless nakiri would you guys recommend?

what do you guys think of the mac nakiri?

thanks again.

joe

The short answer is that a carbon blade with patina on it and blades with kurouchi (black matte) finish will be less prone to rust. The reason is that the patina and/or kurouchi finish have "sealed" the surface of the steel, leaving it less prone to react to moisture or other elements in the environment which would lead to corrosion and rusting. In fact, many people, myself incuded, have experimented with "forcing the patina" on carbon blades to make them less reactive. That said, any knife, including stainless will rust if not properly cared for or are exposed to the right environmental factors.

Carbon steel discoloration due to use in the kitchen is almost impossible to avoid and shouldn't be confused with actual corrosion in the form of rust. The patina formed by the reaction between the steel and acids and other reactants in food should be considered a good thing, as it serves to protect the blade and IMHO, is aesthetically pleasing as it shows that the knife has been well used.

I have quite a few carbon blades, none of which have ever suffered from any rusting because I take care to wipe them down after use and keep them clean. The manner in which I treat my carbon blades is no different from how I treat my stainless blades. Keep them clean and dry. For longer storage, oil them with camellia oil and/or store them in newsprint and carbon blades will take good care of you in return.

As for the Mac Nakiri, I'm not a big nakiri guy, although I've used them on occasion. I've never used the Mac, so I can't offer a personal opinion, but I have a half dozen or so Mac knives in my extended kit. I think they make a good knife and offer good performance and value. I wouldn't hesitate to give any of their blades a try.

-Mike-

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But I do think the maintenance gear for these knives is expensive ... stones, papers, strops, compounds, educational materials, etc. etc...

Out of those you really only need to spend money on stones. Papers, strops, and compounds are all unnecessary items that are used to take the edge finer than anyone would actually need to take it. I use my Japanese knives in a professional setting and there is no need whatsoever for me to have a knife that has been stropped. Honestly, in my experience, I don't need to do anything past an 8000 grit waterstone to have the sharpest knife in the kitchen. As for costly educational materials, the internet is quite free.

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  • 1 month later...

Good morning all !!

I've recently purchased a Misono ux-10 series (Santoku) knife after using a Shun classic series w/ granton edge chef( 8 ") for the last few years.

I was persuaded to try the Misono line and as I wait for my knife I thought I'd poke around to see if anyone has had any experience with Misono.

Being that the knives are of different families or styles (classic chef/santo) I'm moreso looking for a comparison in steels, edge maintainence, and all around performance.

Thanks guys !

Gourmandolo

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Good morning all !!

I've recently purchased a Misono ux-10 series (Santoku) knife after using a Shun classic series w/ granton edge chef( 8 ") for the last few years.

I was persuaded to try the Misono line and as I wait for my knife I thought I'd poke around to see if anyone has had any experience with Misono.

Being that the knives are of different families  or styles (classic chef/santo) I'm moreso looking for a comparison in steels, edge maintainence, and all around performance.

Thanks guys !

Misono makes a very nice knife. Congratulations on adding one to your kit.

I've never used santoku from Shun or Misono so I can't offer any comparisons with the santoku, but I have a Shun Classic 10" chefs and a Misono Swedish Carbon 21 cm gyutou. I've also used a couple knives from the Misono moly line and have tested out a UX10 24cm gyutou. The Swedish carbon isn't the same steel as is used in the UX10 line but I can offer a few general observations regarding the similarities and differences based on my own experiences.

The Misono knives I've used offer significantly better geometry than the Shun blades and they feature a blade shape which is more French in profile than the German shape used on the Shun chefs knives. The Misono knives feel quite a bit lighter when compared to a similar sized Shun. The fit and finish of both Misono and Shun are well above average. The performance of the steel is quite similar between the VG10 used in the Shun blades and the Swedish carbon used in the Misono, although the Misono carbon blade does require a bit more attention in terms of maintenance. I own another knife from a different maker which reportedly uses the same steel as is used in the UX10 series. If my experience with that knife is any indication, you should expect that it will take and hold a very fine edge for a reasonable length of time and will maintain that edge with minimal upkeep. I find the performance to be fairly comparable to other knives in my kit made from VG10 steel.

Generally, the UX10 line is very well regarded by those who own them. People report that the steel takes a very good edge and keeps it, which is consistent with my own experiences with a knife made from the same steel. I'm sure you'll be quite pleased with the performance of your UX10.

I don't steel my Japanese knives, but use MDF and leather hones charged with diamond and chromium oxide compounds to maintain the edges. I rarely allow the blades get to the point where I really think they need to be honed so I find them quite easy to maintain. How do you typically maintain your knives?

Edited by miles717 (log)

-Mike-

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Thanks for your response, Typically, Dependant on use of course I'll usually hone my Shun with the shun steel which I bought with the knife and I'll do this perhaps only once or twice in a week at most.

I'm interested in knowing more about your honing methods for your VG steel knives.

Thanks again...

Good morning all !!

I've recently purchased a Misono ux-10 series (Santoku) knife after using a Shun classic series w/ granton edge chef( 8 ") for the last few years.

I was persuaded to try the Misono line and as I wait for my knife I thought I'd poke around to see if anyone has had any experience with Misono.

Being that the knives are of different families  or styles (classic chef/santo) I'm moreso looking for a comparison in steels, edge maintainence, and all around performance.

Thanks guys !

Misono makes a very nice knife. Congratulations on adding one to your kit.

I've never used santoku from Shun or Misono so I can't offer any comparisons with the santoku, but I have a Shun Classic 10" chefs and a Misono Swedish Carbon 21 cm gyutou. I've also used a couple knives from the Misono moly line and have tested out a UX10 24cm gyutou. The Swedish carbon isn't the same steel as is used in the UX10 line but I can offer a few general observations regarding the similarities and differences based on my own experiences.

The Misono knives I've used offer significantly better geometry than the Shun blades and they feature a blade shape which is more French in profile than the German shape used on the Shun chefs knives. The Misono knives feel quite a bit lighter when compared to a similar sized Shun. The fit and finish of both Misono and Shun are well above average. The performance of the steel is quite similar between the VG10 used in the Shun blades and the Swedish carbon used in the Misono, although the Misono carbon blade does require a bit more attention in terms of maintenance. I own another knife from a different maker which reportedly uses the same steel as is used in the UX10 series. If my experience with that knife is any indication, you should expect that it will take and hold a very fine edge for a reasonable length of time and will maintain that edge with minimal upkeep. I find the performance to be fairly comparable to other knives in my kit made from VG10 steel.

Generally, the UX10 line is very well regarded by those who own them. People report that the steel takes a very good edge and keeps it, which is consistent with my own experiences with a knife made from the same steel. I'm sure you'll be quite pleased with the performance of your UX10.

I don't steel my Japanese knives, but use MDF and leather hones charged with diamond and chromium oxide compounds to maintain the edges. I rarely allow the blades get to the point where I really think they need to be honed so I find them quite easy to maintain. How do you typically maintain your knives?

Gourmandolo

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Thanks for your response, Typically, Dependant on use of course I'll usually hone my Shun with the shun steel which I bought with the knife and I'll do this perhaps only once or twice in a week at most.

I'm interested in knowing more about your honing methods for your VG steel knives.

Thanks again...

Since I started using Japanese knives, I've all but retired my old honing steel. I don't like to use it with Japanese blades since I put a very refined edge on my knives. I've noted that with Japanese knives unless using a polished smooth steel hardened to at least RC65-66, the honing steel is counter productive. A honing steel should "realign" the edge only. Amongst the Japanese knife aficionados, Hand American smooth steels are well regarded. Most of the folks who use a honing steel on their Japanese blades seem to prefer them over any other. If you prefer a honing steel, check out the HA steel.

As for my personal practices, I've developed them over a few years. I sharpen my knives with waterstones. I primarily use Shapton Pro stones, although I've tried quite a few different stones. As for my "honing" practices, I originally started with a Hand American leather honing pad which I used with 0.5 micron chromium oxide compound to polish and align my edges. I've since expanded that to include "MDF Hones" which I cut to size from a larger sheet of 3/4" MDF and use with the HA base as a substrate. I use diamond pastes with the MDF hones. I find they do an excellent job, particularly when used with the diamond honing compounds, allowing me to attain a very refined, highly polished edge.

If you're interested in either the Hand American leather hones or their smooth steel, check out japaneseknifesharpening.com It's a site run by Dave Martell, a professional knife sharpener, guru for all things related to knife sharpening, occasional eG visitor, and all around great guy. Dave also does mail order sharpening for Japanese blades. You might also pay a visit to foodieforums.com and knifeforums.com (look for the "In the Kitchen" forum) for a lot of good info on Japanese knives, sharpening, and maintenance.

-Mike-

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I use a Hand American "glass smooth" steel. I got it from Dave at JapaneseKnifeSharpening.com. He's a pleasure to deal with and the steel works beautifully. 3 or 4 very light passes provide noticeable increase in performance.

Edited by WiscoNole (log)
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gallery_58297_5670_85515.jpg

After reading so much about Japanese knives, this is where I ended up. Shun Ken Onion 10 inch.

Reading all your opinions, and the feel of this knife in my hand really made my choice fairly simple, well just going by what I need, not what I want. Want is a whole different animal! Of course I am afraid it is an animal that NEEDS to be fed, and often! :rolleyes::smile:

"It's like Betty Crocker and Charles Manson had a love child" - Anthony Bourdain
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