Japanese Knife

- Japanese Knives Collection -

Our superb Japanese kitchen knives are exclusive to Japan Box and have been made by the most skilled craftsmen using the highest quality materials.

They are made in the same style as the katana or Japanese sword, where the steel is folded several times to give the blades incredible strength and sharpness.

Once you've felt the tremendous balance of an authentic Japanese kitchen knife and admired the way they glide through food, we believe you'll never use another knife again!

History of Japanese Knives

Japan is the land of long traditions, where hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge and experience are passed down from master to apprentice, teacher to student.

From ikebana flower arrangements to martial arts and kabuki theatre, each tradition has its own rules, procedures and schools of style.

Japanese chef's knives are made using techniques originally developed for making katana (samurai swords) over 1000 years ago.

The shift from sword to knife making began in the 1850s when Commodore Matthew Perry's "black ships" (steamships) anchored in Edo Bay (Tokyo) and urged the Emperor to open Japan's long isolated ports to Western trade.

When the United States occupied Japan after World War II, General MacArthur banned the manufacture and possession of katana. The ban forced a large number of highly skilled craftsmen to turn their skills and attention to making kitchen knives.

Although the ban was lifted after seven years, the Japanese government continues to limit production to very few pieces per year.

However, the legacy and unforgettable sharpness of the katana still lives on in the heart of the kitchen 1200 years later.

Differences between Japanese and Western Knives

Traditional Japanese knives come in a variety of shapes and sizes designed for specific tasks, such as butchering fish and cutting vegetables, noodles, sashimi, eel or puffer fish.... if cutting puffer fish is something you aspire to.

These knives historically have a single-edged blade, which means they are only angled on one side and are therefore right- or left-handed (usually right-handed, which is unfortunate for a lefty like me). These blades then taper into an tang that is hammered into a wooden handle.

Western knives, on the other hand, have shapes that are probably familiar to most European housewives and househusbands (paring knives, chef's knives, bread knives, etc.), and are inherently ambidextrous: the blade is ground symmetrically on both sides to create a double-bevelled edge.

Classic Western knife handles are also typically made from two pieces of wood or composite material used to enclose the tang and then fastened with rivets.

Another feature that distinguishes Japanese knives from Western ones is the hardness of the steel they use. Japanese knives have, on average, a harder steel than Western ones, which means that the knives tend to be more brittle, but also, if you are careful with them, can hold their sharpness for longer.

The softer steels used in many Western knives are less brittle, so their micro-thin blade edges can roll to one side or the other before breaking; a rolled edge can be reset with a honing stick, something that won't work well with the more brittle, harder steel of a Japanese knife. When it is time to touch up a Japanese blade, you will need a honing stone.

Metal hardness is expressed as a number on the Rockwell scale, which measures how much pressure is needed to push an indentation into a material, and in the case of steel knives is usually expressed as an HRC number.

Japanese knives often have an HRC value in the low 60s, while many Western knives have steel that is slightly softer, with values in the high 50s.

When did regional traditional Japanese knives develop?

Before Tokyo became the capital of Japan, the emperor and nobles resided in the Kansai region, while the shogun lived in the Kanto region.

Kansai cuisine is more refined and lighter to suit the nobility, while the tastes in Kanto were stronger for the hard-working labourers.

Because of class segregation, the nobility in Kansai looked down on and mocked those in Kanto.

The hostility led to cooks in Kanto not wanting to use the same tools, which led to the creation of the Takobiki and Usuba knives in use today.

Although the class division by region no longer exists, Kansai and Kanto remain the two most compared regions in Japan.

One of the many differences between the two is in the cuisine. You can still tell these major differences in taste simply by tasting the soy sauce; the soy sauce in Kanto is much saltier and stronger than in Kansai.

Other popular dishes such as tempura are served with salt instead of a soy sauce-based dip.

From the third to the seventh century, it was common to bury kings in tombs covered by large, keyhole-shaped monuments.

These tombs were called kofun and were built of earth and stone. Around 450 AD, the kofun of Emperor Nintoku was built in the city of Sakai.

The tombs ranked next in size to the Great Pyramid of Egypt, and the building project was so massive that blacksmiths had to be brought to Sakai from all over Japan.

They made the huge quantity of picks and spades needed to build the mound. When the Kofun was finally completed, most of Japan's metal craftsmen had settled in Sakai for good.

Gradually, Sakai became the centre of all metal crafts in Japan - famous for its swords.

Sakai became famous for guns after the Portuguese introduced them in 1543, and later for kitchen knives.

In 1570, the Tokugawa shogunate gave Sakai's craftsmen a special seal of approval.

The government decreed that only knives made in Sakai could be used for harvesting tobacco and that all such knives had to be stamped to indicate this.

As a result, Sakai became known for producing the finest Japanese cutlery.

When did Western-style knives develop?

The earliest examples of contemporary Japanese swords date from the 14th century and were made by Kaneuji and Kinju.

All craftsmen descended from Kaneuji and Kinju are called Mino smiths, based in Seki City.

Although katana swords were originally intended for the nobility or military heads, during the Muromachi period (1392-1573), katana swords began to be mass produced for trade and war.

At the beginning of the 14th century, Japan opened its trading ports to the Ming Dynasty (China) after being completely isolated for millennia.

It is reported that more than a hundred thousand katana swords were exported to China during the Muromachi period.

The freedom to interact with other countries brought new business opportunities that influenced the development of the Japanese market and paved the way for new social classes.

The victors of the Onin War overthrew the Muromachi shogunate, which led to military leaders declaring themselves feudal warlords of different regions and vying for power. This state of Darwinism on a human scale marked the beginning of a century of civil unrest known as the Sengoku Jidai (wartime 1467-1568).

During the Sengoku period, the Mino smiths in Seki faced an incredibly high demand for katana from various regimes.

Regardless of the availability of firearms, few made use of them due to the samurai code of conduct (Bushido).

Bushido dictates that fighting an opponent face to face with a katana is the only honourable way to fight, so it was considered cowardly to kill from a distance.

To meet these demands, the art of swordsmithing became a production line for mass-produced blades.

Although the mass-produced blades had little artistic value, they were practical and met the needs of power-hungry military men.

The mass production of katana swords represents the change and turmoil that manifested itself in Japan during the Muromachi and Sengoku periods.

Although today sword production is limited by the government to a few pieces per year, Seki's historical background has made it the centre of Western-style knife production.

Craftsmen in Seki continue to polish strategies that have been handed down for hundreds of years and develop new advancements for kitchens worldwide.

Japanese Knifemaking

The making of a Japanese knife consists of over 20 steps. Forging techniques, forging temperatures and heat treatment methods during manufacture affect the overall quality, hardness and appearance.

The process begins with the combination of soft iron and steel, which are heated and forged together. It is hammered and shaped, creating the rough outline of the blade.

The knife is then cooled and ground to create a flat surface while it is hammered into shape, which also strengthens the metals.

The knife is then heated to 780-830° F and quenched in water to create further hardness. It is heated again to 150-190° F and air cooled to make it resistant to nicks. Sharpening the blade begins with a rough flat grindstone, then it is ground and polished.

The final steps include sharpening with the whetstone and attaching the handle.