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Buying Japanese Knives in Japan

163 posts in this topic

I have 3 knives that I got from Aritsugu in Kyoto that I would highly recommend. They stay razor sharp, and they were a steal for what I would pay for them in the U.S., where they are difficult to procure.

Also, while there they told us that the Aritsugu dealer at Tsujiki Market was not the same knives, it is a member of the family that branched out.

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I will be in Tokyo and Kyoto, the Kiso Valley and Takayama in the upcoming month. I am VERY interested in purchasing japanese knives.

Any suggestions as to where I can purchase knives in Japan/ is the selection any different from what I would find in the US?

Thank you all so much.

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The restaurant supply district Kappabashi-doori near Asakusa has a number of small shops that offer Japanese cutlery. They can offer some good deals, though the prices are likely higher than you're used to paying even for brand-name knives.

Because knife terminology is specialized, most Japanese won't be able to translate most of the information about the knives you'll see meaningfully.

If you don't have help from a Japanese person who knows something about cutlery, you might have better luck in a department store like Takashimaya where staff will be able to explain the basic purpose of each knife and what's good about the offerings from different companies. Usually the kitchenware sections are in the upper floors of most department stores, but they have signs in English in the elevators.

The selection is certainly different... Historically Japanese knives were designed for a slightly different cutting motion than European knives, though that may not matter much anymore. Also, you'll probably only find knives designed for things like cutting soba or udon in Japan.

You'll probably find more carbon steel in the restaurant supply shops, and more stainless steel in department stores.

Brand-name products, including those made by Japanese companies, tend to use imported steel from prestigious areas (Germany, for example) with shapes conventional for Japanese uses. Some have wooden handles and are all-metal.

Osaka, a relatively quick train ride from Kyoto, has a restaurant supply district as well that's worth checking out. And often cheaper than Tokyo's, as I recall.

If memory serves, Takayama has at least one or two shops selling handcrafted knives, but I can't say exactly where I found them.

I will be in Tokyo and Kyoto, the Kiso Valley and Takayama in the upcoming month. I am VERY interested in purchasing japanese knives.

Any suggestions as to where I can purchase knives in Japan/ is the selection any different from what I would find in the US?

Thank you all so much.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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The restaurant supply district Kappabashi-doori near Asakusa has a number of small shops that offer Japanese cutlery. They can offer some good deals, though the prices are likely higher than you're used to paying even for brand-name knives.

Really? I thought that the knife stores in Kappabashi offered a discount off of retail price.

Kappabashi has a couple of specialty knife stores, though they're off one of the side streets -- they're not on the main street. My favorite was Union Commerce. It's not a large shop, but it's full of knives, and almost all of them are sitting there where you can pick them up and see how they feel in your hand (or at least that's how the shop was set up when I was there from 2003-2005). I'd likely return there if I wanted to buy another knife in Japan. Admittedly, I didn't look at any of the knife displays in the large department stores. Those might be a better option if you don't speak Japanese.

At the time, I didn't know all that much about Japanese knives, their uses, or how they differ from Western knives. I recommend learning all of this, so that you can appreciate the differences between the various knives that you'll see. Korin is a good place to start, if you don't already know a lot about Japanese knives. There are also numerous threads here on eGullet.

Alex

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If the shop is selling knives that are available at retail stores, that may be the case, however, I don't think any of them were priced as low as the typical semi-fancy specialty knives available in the US (Henckels and the like).

If you look at artisan knives made in the US, the price points are probably similar enough.

I also seem to recall seeing a lot more carbon steel knives made by hand than you'd normally find at most other shops, which made things more expensive.

Really? I thought that the knife stores in Kappabashi offered a discount off of retail price.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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At the time, I didn't know all that much about Japanese knives, their uses, or how they differ from Western knives. I recommend learning all of this, so that you can appreciate the differences between the various knives that you'll see. Korin is a good place to start, if you don't already know a lot about Japanese knives. There are also numerous threads here on eGullet.

The Korin site is very nice - lots of good info there - thanks. I purchased my yanagi from Kappabashi almost a decade ago for use in slicing fish. At the time, I was looking at knives around $150 and found it there that I like very much.

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Ah, I see. My recollection was that the shop I went to had a wide range of knives, from specialty custom knives (including custom Kappabashi-branded knives) to all or most of the major Japanese brands, including Misono, Global, Masamoto, and the like. Heck, they even carried Henckels and Wustoff.

But yes, Japanese knives can be more expensive than Western knives -- they tend to use better, harder steel. Also, Henckels and Wustoff have created lower-priced lines of knives which aren't necessarily up to the same quality as their normal product lines. I don't remember if the shop carried mid-price Japanese knives, though (say, under ¥6000 for a gyutou). For those knives, a department store might be a better option.

If the shop is selling knives that are available at retail stores, that may be the case, however, I don't think any of them were priced as low as the typical semi-fancy specialty knives available in the US (Henckels and the like).

If you look at artisan knives made in the US, the price points are probably similar enough.

I also seem to recall seeing a lot more carbon steel knives made by hand than you'd normally find at most other shops, which made things more expensive.

Really? I thought that the knife stores in Kappabashi offered a discount off of retail price.

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At the risk of lowering the tone, I've found Tokyu Hands rather useful for knives at decent prices, especially Kyocera's ceramic ones, though they carry several other big brands. Of course it's not as upmarket as going to a specialist and my needs are quite mainstream. Anyway, it's worth a trip to the store to check out the cookery section for bargains and oddments.


Read about what I've been eating at http://theeatingwell.blogspot.com/

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I second a quick trip to Osaka. The cooking district here is called Doguyasuji and it is close to one of the city's large food markets Kuromon Ichiba. There is one shop that sells nothing but knives which has an amazing selection and some prices that rival compact cars. There are also some large "we-sell-everything" supply stores there with more reasonable prices and some good knives. These are shops for professionals and even if you speak Japanese and know about Japanese knives the staff can be quite cold in my opinion.

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Just a couple of extra things - though I know nothing about knives:

I think there IS a knife shop in the main Kappabashi street.

Kappabashi aside, you can find Japanese knives just about anywhere in Japan, small towns included. Try department stores, hardware stores, and even supermarkets.

It wasn't clear in your first post what you're after: modern/traditional, cheap/expensive, professional/home user, all-purpose knife/sashimi blade. Hard even to hazard a guess as to what you'd find in the US. More information on those kinds of things can be a lot of help to anyone who wants to answer. There's been a Japanese knife thread on the Gullet which had a load of information. It would be a good starting point.


Edited by Ohba (log)

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If you go to the restaurant supply district in Osaka (and Tokyo, to a lesser extent), the prices are negotiable if you play your cards right. I've negotiated for knives in both districts much like you can negotiate in the Osaka electronics district: ask a clerk how much each product will be, show them that you'll pay in cash (important for a stronger bargaining position), and wait for them to pull out the calculator and figure out your discount. If you make faces at their first offer and act hesitant, sometimes they'll reduce the price even further (it helps a lot if you can speak Japanese and sweet talk them, of course, but I bet you can act this out effectively).

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Last night, I finally made up my mind to buy a good knife. I searched and searched, and decided to buy a Global Santoku (7,000 yen excluding consumption tax), and ordered it. Can't wait to try it out!

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Shosui Takeda of Takeda Hamono http://www.shop.niimi.okayama.jp/kajiya/en/index_e.html comes to the Chicago Custom Knife Show each year. As a Custom Knife collector, I enjoy working with the maker rather than the simple act of acquisition.

My Honyaki pictured above while a very nice knife and an example of Japanese exquiste craftsmanship, is too expensive to have a complete collection made for me.

Takeda Hamono knives while a composite construction, are as sharp as any knife I have ever used and the Aogami AS may well be the sharpest steel I have had in a knife.

takeda.jpg

The Yanagabi pictured is 30 cm and while not as finally crafted as the Honyaki pictured, was about 1/8 of the cost. Shosui delivered it to me at last years show. At this years show, I took delivery of the Nakiribocho and Debabocho pictured, that i had ordered earlier this year. I had made a Nabe and layered the botom of the bowl with Masutake mushroom slices. My wife asked how i was able to get the slices so thin. It was easy with the Nakiribocho.

Shosui is dedicated to his craft and pays particular attention to sharpaning and stones. The device pictured has two different grits and is very useful for every day tuning of blades. The wood extension is to guard your wrist during sharpening.

The blades do require more care than stainless, but a little vegetable oil after use suffices.-Dick

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My Global santoku arrived today. Well, not the greatest knife in the world, but I find it satisfactory for an amateur cook like me. I made squid sashimi with it for the very first time, which is something I couldn't do with my previous knife. Now, I'm thinking about getting a deba. I'd like to learn how to fillet fish.

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Shizuo Tsuji's book "Japanese Cooking-A Simple Art", has an excellent section on filleting using a deba. Note that the Japanese methods are derived using a deba which is a non flexible blade and certain methods cut both the rib bones and flesh away from the backbone and then the rib bones are removed in a seperate step. Western flexible filleting blades allow one to run the blade over the contour of the ribs and remove the flesh without any bones. So the knife you choose determines the techniques you use.-Dick

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Shizuo Tsuji's book "Japanese Cooking-A Simple Art", has an excellent section on filleting using a deba. Note that the Japanese methods are derived using a deba which is a non flexible blade and certain methods cut both the rib bones and flesh away from the backbone and then the rib bones are removed in a seperate step. Western flexible filleting blades allow one to run the blade over the contour of the ribs and remove the flesh without any bones. So the knife you choose determines the techniques you use.-Dick

Thanks for your suggestion, budrichard. I think I'll start with a deba in a price range of 2,000 to 3,000 yen and master how to fillet fish in a Japanese way.

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I took a trip to Sakai recently and visited Sakai Hamono Edged Tools Museum. here are my pictures for everyone. There is a museum with hundreds of knives which all have unique names and purposes. There is also a store where various knife makes in the Sakai area have individual showcases to sell their knives. They also sell some other edged tools such as scissors and whetstones. On certain days there are demonstrations where I think you can make your own knife. Check out some of the prices at the end. f.y.i. 100¥ is about $1, 10,000¥=~$100

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I bought my "good" knives in Sakai, and can't think of a better place to go shopping!

What a huge display - was there much (any) labeling and documentation available in English?

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Thanks for sharing your outstanding photos, John! The omagurokiri (large tuna cutter), shown in the first and second photos, is just amazing!

Helen, there are other good places too, like Sanjo city in Niigata. I'd like to visit there some day and post lots of photos here, when and if I have the time... :sad:

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Man! Had I known that was there, I'd have gone when I took the TOEFL test in Sakai last year. Sakai is such a PITA for me to get to, so it would have been the perfect chance!

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There is a pamphlet about traditional craft industries in Sakai such as incense making, bicycles (Shimano), and knives but there is not much English at the museum itself. The most interesting part for me was the different names and uses of the knives. Some knives had romajii readings but not many.

If you don't want to pay $800 for a knife I really suggest checking out the flea markets in your area. Or if you are traveling in Japan try to go to at least one flea market to look for knives. I bought a very good Sakai deba and yanagi for 1000¥ each recently. They are used of course, but that is just proof that they are good knives.

Is a knife made of Japanese steel, made in China, and sold in America still a Japanese knife? I use the chef's knife from this series more often than any of my other knives, the handle/bolster design is great.

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My first sashimi slicer:

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Kagemitsu(?) (景光 in Kanji) of Kaijirushi (貝印).

Price: 1,970 yen (not 19,700 yen :biggrin: )

I teach myself how to make nigiri zushi.

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I recently bought a traditional style japanese knife (usuba). My question is concerning the part of the knife where the metal tang goes into the wooden handle - is it ok for there to be some space there or should that opening completely fit snug around the metal? I don't have my camera with me right now or I'd show what I mean. The knife doesn't move in the handle but I'm concerned that water or veggie juice will get into that space and damage the knife. Am I being paranoid?

edited to add that I got this knife at Union Commerce off Kappabashi street - the salesperson said it was "Kappabashi" brandname - in any case it was the brand that was available for lefties. I also got a 5000 grit waterstone to sharpen it.


Edited by Gruzia (log)

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I recently bought a traditional style japanese knife (usuba).  My question is concerning the part of the knife where the metal tang goes into the wooden handle - is it ok for there to be some space there or should that opening completely fit snug around the metal?  I don't have my camera with me right now or I'd show what I mean.  The knife doesn't move in the handle but I'm concerned that water or veggie juice will get into that space and damage the knife.  Am I being paranoid?

That gap is called the Machi and is perfectly normal on that style of knife. There is a diagram on Shinichi Watanabe's site. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click on The picture for measure.

Take care,

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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Chad, I think Gruzia means the there's a gap in tang hole of the handle. There shouldn't be a gap, it's just sloppy finishing. The only issue is hygiene, you can fill the gap with resin. Though the question of what kind of resin would probably be better answered in the Kitchen Consumer forum, maybe Chad will know or Bob (Octaveman)

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