Japanese Chef Knives

The tradition of sword making has been passed down from master to apprentice, from teacher to pupil for generations. These skills in turn, by necessity, are used to make professional knives for cooking.

Japanese chef knives are fashioned by techniques that were originally developed for making katana (samurai swords).

The shift from sword crafting to knife crafting began in the 1850’s when Commodore Matthew Perry’s “black ships” (steam boat) anchored in Edo (Tokyo) Bay, and demanded 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 production and possession of katana. The ban forced large numbers of highly skilled craftsmen to turn their skills and attention to crafting kitchen knives. Although, the ban was repealed after seven years, the Japanese government continues to limit production to very few pieces a year. However, the legacy and unforgettable sharpness of the katana still lives on in the heart of the kitchen 1200 years later.

For the knives, the idea that has won the trust of countless professional chefs is called amakire or, “gentle cut“. Although the knife can feel soft in the hand after being sharpened on whetstone, it holds its sharpness for a a long time. To achieve this effect, the skill of the bladesmith in charge of the initial forging process, part of  he knife-making process involving mulitple craftsmen, is extremely important. The blade of a knife is made from base metal (soft iron) and blade metal (steel). These are heated and struck with a hammer to fold the metals forming the blade

During the quenching process, the blade is covered in mud to prevent uneven firing. The coated blade is dried and then fired in the furnace at approximately 800 degrees Celsius, and then rapidly cooled in water. This process increases the hardness of the blade metal. The metal is heated to between 150 and 200 degrees Celsius and then allowed to cool slowly. As the blade cools it forms fine needle-like grain that reduces the chance of any chipping and breakage while the blade is tempered. The bladesmith observes the heat of the fire visually, and checks the effects of forging by the sound the blade makes when immersed in water. It is said that this skill and experience is what determines the sharpness of the knife.

Forging is followed by a lengthy polishing process that requires approximately 20 steps. To shape the blade, the bladesmith uses both artificial and natural stones to gradually grind the profile, or niku, of the blade thinner and thinner. The bladesmith also occassionally strikes it to remove warping, and achieve the cutting edge. The grind line is then beautifully crafted, and in a process called bokashi (clouding), the base metal portion is rubbed to apply a cloudy matte finish which brings out the hazakai and makes the mirror shine oft he blade portion stand out. It is said that the blade is sure to be sharp when this form is beautiful to the eye.

Finally, the handle is attached to complete the knife, a step often carried out by the retailers. The quality of he knife is also checked during this process. The appearance of the finished blade evokes both a sense of ist sharpness, and a certain quiet profoundness.

We have Japanese these Japanese knives at our store by request only.

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