Main image courtesy of Yoshihiro
After getting served a bunch of ads for knives that are marketed as being Japanese, I decided to see if I could figure out the Japanese knife market.
- Do I own Japanese knives? Yea, I think so.
- Do I know a lot about knives? Nope.
- What kind of knives do I own? Tojiro (my first knife), Shun, Global, and Wusthof (and a Chrome knife bag).
- Do I know the top Japanese knife companies? It would be a wild guess, and I would probably be wrong.
What sort of Japanese knife post is this if I do not have the obligatory bit relating samurai swords with kitchen knives.
Yea, going in, I do not know a whole lot, so what is the point of my post?
I intend on giving you an overall perspective of the Japanese knife market, which utilizes my experience/expertise to cut through (pun intended) the marketing BS of misleading and deceptive brands that play off the reputation of Japanese knives.
What constitutes a Japanese knife brand.
- Japanese owned company/individual(s) that manufactures or produces their products in Japan.
- I do not consider a brand to be Japanese because they are a Japanese style of knife such as a deba (pointed carving knife) or a santoku (“three uses”) knife. Many marketing driven brands, review websites, and “best of” lists will utilize this criteria.
Why does it matter if a knife is Japanese?
Well, based upon a “knife review” website and several manufacturers, it does matter because some of these companies will market their product under the guise of being Japanese. They will use the keyword “Japanese” in their marketing copy to imply that they have Japanese roots, to naming their product line “wasabi,” “shogun,” or “Okinawa.” All to get you to believe you are buying a Japanese manufactured knife, and if these entities are doing that, it must matter that a knife is Japanese.
Some basic info/traits of Japanese knives.
- Hocho/bocho means “kitchen knife” in Japanese.
- There are a number of hand-forged producers.
- Generally, most Japanese knives are single-bevel (kataba).
- There are two basic categories of Japanese knives (wa-bocho): honyaki and kasumi.
- Honyaki is a single material, and typically forged high carbon steel (considered the top grade knife in Japan).
- Kasumi grade knives are two layers of metal forged together which typically consist of high-carbon steel with an iron spine.
- In comparison, Japanese knife blades are typically thinner than German counterparts allowing for a sharper edge.
- Some examples of pricing:
- Yoshihiro Blue Steel #1 Masashi Aoko Stainless Clad Santoku Multipurpose Chef Knife $234.99 (pricing on the company website).
- Global Classic 7″ Hollow Ground Vegetable Knife, $79.95 (Williams & Sonoma).
- Shun Classic Chef’s Knife 200mm (7.9″), $149.95 (MTC Kitchen).
A few styles of Japanese knives.
- Deba – great for butchering fish such as filleting, beheading, to scaling fish.
- Gyuto – great general purpose double-bevel “chef’s” knife.
- Nakiri – looks like a cleaver, but is a double-bevel knife used for chopping vegetables.
- Santoku – as versatile as the gyuto, but shorter in length and is great for slicing, chopping, and dicing 1. meat, 2. fish, and 3. vegetables (“three virtues”).
- Sujihiki – a long thin blade used as a carving knife.
- Usuba – “thin blade” looks like a nakiri knife, but is a single-bevel knife.
- Yanagi – used for slicing fish and is a single-bevel knife.
These are only a few, and if you want to know what they all are, MTC Kitchen has the full range of Japanese knife styles.
1. Japanese knife brands.
Going in, I had no clue that there would be so many producers that consist of factory-made knives and a ton of small companies to individual blacksmiths (this is a partial list and is no way meant to be a “best Japanese knife brands” listing).
- Anryu – Katsushige Anryu is a fourth-generation knife maker and has been a blacksmith for well over 50 years.
- Aritsugu – each knife from Aritsugu has been handmade by multi-generational blacksmiths spanning over 400 years.
- Glestain – are made in Honma Kagaku, Japan, and are very recognizable by their unique (hollow ground) design.
- Global (globalcutleryusa.com)- is manufactured and designed by Komin Yamada of Yoshida Metal Industry or Yoshikin in 1985.
- Haruyuki – how can you not love a company that has their product line named after shochu.
- Hattori – 80 y/o grand master, Ichiro Hattori.
- Hinoura – forged knives by Echigo forge smiths Tsukasa and son Mutsumi Hinoura.
- Hiromoto – by master Futoshi Nagao who after many years of researching with Hitachi Yasugi Metallurgical Research Laboratory, came their “Tenmi-jyuraku” series of professional quality chefs knives.
- Itou – Mr. Itou, a 77+ year old custom knifemaker.
- Kanefusa – Kanefusa Fujiwara is a 26th generation swordsmith out of Seki city.
- Kanetsugu – located in Seki city, this company’s origins date back to Japan’s Teiwa period/Jowa era (1345-1349).
- Kikumori – Sakai Kikumori is based out of Sakai city, near Osaka.
- Kurosaki – Yu Kurosaki is a younger blacksmith from Echizen Japan.
- Kyocera Cutlery (cultery.kyocera.com) – is considered the leading brand in ceramic knives and kitchen tools.
- Masakage Knives (masakageknives) – founded in 2007 by Takayuki Shibata, one of Japan’s best knife sharpeners, and all knives are handmade by a master blacksmith.
- Masamoto Sohonten (masamoto-sohonten.co.jp) – a highly renown name with sushi chefs, the brand has been around for more than 150 years.
- Masanobu – these knives are made out of VG-10 cobalt stain-resistant steel blade with a pressed wood handle with a metal bolster (faux Damascus look via laser printing).
- Minamoto Cutlery (by Yasuda) – from Seki city utilize Aogami #2 steel at its core with a stainless steel cladding.
- Misono – based out of Seki, Misono utilizes Swedish carbon steel with a high level of purity and each knife is hand-ground and finished.
- Moritaka Cutlery (moritakahamonoen.ocnk.net) -the Moritaka family has hundreds of years of history-making knives, and they utilize Aogami Super Steel with a hardness of 64-65.
- Nenohi (Nenox, nenohi.co.jp) – Established in 1975, they produce a high carbon rust-resistant steel that they use in their Nenox knives.
- Ryusen – Ryusen Hamono was established in 1953 to produce kitchen knives in Fujiku, so-called “Echizen”, in Japan.
- Saji – Echizen blacksmith, Takeshi Saji is the leading knifemaker in Takefu city (Fukui prefecture).
- Sanjo Kawamura – from Sanjo city, for 40 years, Mr. Kawamura has manufactured handmade knives in his workshop.
- Shiki (Hiro Knives Co.ltd.) – out of Seki city and under the supervision of craftsman and designer Masui Hiroaki.
- Shun (KAI, shun.kaiusa.com) – one of the most “hyped” (meaning they are widely available and marketed really well) Japanese knife brands.
- Suisin – Junro Aoki and his company Aoki Knife Craft is one of the oldest knife crafting companies in Sakai, Japan.
- Sukenari – was founded during the Shōwa period in Toyama Prefecture.
- Takayuki – Aoki Hamono has been making knives in Sakai under the name Sakai Takayuki since 1947. Each component of their product has a different specialist responsible for each stage of production.
- Tojiro (tojiro-japan.com) – Japanese and Western-style knives out of Tsubame city by Fujitara Industry, Co.
- Yoshihiro – a history spanning over 100 years and a very respected brand with a location in Beverly Hills, CA.
2. Non-Japanese owned brands, but they do utilize either Japanese materials/techniques/craftsmen.
- Zwilling (zwilling.com) – Established in 1731, Zwilling is a well respected German company, and you have most likely heard of their Henckel brand although the reason I have them listed is for their line of products branded as “Miyabi” (which means “elegant”). In their own words “It takes more than 100 steps and 42 days to make one knife worthy of the MIYABI brand. Each knife goes from the hands of skilled artisans to yours—ensuring you get the finest caliber. We craft the knives in Seki, Japan’s samurai-sword making capital since the 14th century. You get the best of both worlds: German engineering and Japanese craftsmanship, for long-lasting durability and scalpel-like sharpness. Making you the master of precision cuts.“
3. Beware of these knife brands marketed under the guise of being Japanese.
These knives can be as good, but in some cases unfortunately worse than Japanese knives which is why they are listed here because they are all marketed under the guise of being Japanese (implied). They may tout they are inspired by, or an homage to Japanese knives, but they seem to spend more time and effort on their marketing, than time spent on the product. NOTE: I will not be promoting or providing links to the companies.
- Dalstrong – Established in 2012, this company has spent a considerable amount of money and effort on their website, but like a number of the other companies listed below, they do everything they can to not mention that their products are made in Yangjiang China. You would think if you are going to put a concerted effort into what you are doing, that you would own up to it and market that you are Chinese, and manufacturing in China. Well, that is not the case, although they are not as egregious as the other brands below which is why I contemplated moving them up a section. Except, based upon what others had experienced, I did come across this Reddit thread (chef knives), which is one instance of mismanagement of expectations by Dalstrong. Another misleading point could be how they tout that they use “AUS-10V Japanese super steel” which is another reason why I moved this brand to this section because I think they are playing off of AUS-10 which is a type of steel by Aichi Steel, and AUS-10V is an attempt by Dalstrong to play off that brand.
- Kamikoto – this company has numerous sponsored Google ads, and they have worked hard to market the fact that they have a Tokyo, Japan office, but they do not produce their product there. So why are they headquartered there? Possibly for marketing purposes, because they potentially do use Japanese steel (they cite “420J2 steel (Genten series) and SLD steel (Ganjo series),” but their manufacturing still takes place in Yangjiang, China. A city in China respected for their blacksmithing, except, none of these companies will market that fact even though I have not heard too many bad things about Yangjiang blacksmiths. Also if you are wondering what others think of 420J2 steel, here is a thread on BladeForums.com.
- Kinzoku – they may have an office in Hawthorne, California?, and the company produces a faux Damascus steel which is laser etched to look like Damascus steel because these knives are a cost-effective homage to the Japanese art of metalwork. That homage also extends to naming themselves after Kinzoku Steel which they will provide a DISCLAIMER when entering their website that they are not related or affiliated with Kinzoku Steel, and they are not endorsed or sponsored by Kinzoku Steel or their products.
- Wasabi knives – if an American company named their company “radish,” it would probably confuse you although that is the tactic taken by this anonymous company. The only thing you will find out about them is that they say they are engineers, and their entire product line utilizes Japanese names (locale names such as Okinawa, Rishiri, Aratogi, to Naoshima) even though their products are all manufactured in China. That should not be an issue, but this looks to be a newly formed company that does not want you to know where they are located which could be a huge red flag if you ever have a problem because all sales are final. So why does this company market its products with everything Japanese because of the “Japanese forging” methods?
The tactics used by misleading and deceptive brands.
From my research, it is primarily mainland Chinese companies that are fixated on deceptive marketing, and you would think, with all the effort they put into being deceptive, why would they not invest into being Chinese?? After all, China has an extensive history of driving technology and culture throughout the world which is sad because so many things in Japan are originally from China (if you are a Chinese brand, contact me).
- The brand name or product line will have some sort of Japanese sounding name. Names like sumo, wasabi, geisha, shogun, or samurai would be nonsensical to a Japanese person.
- Playing off of Japanese brands: I’m sure one brand got a cease and desist, but a few brands will take well-known brands such as Kinzoku Steel to imply that they are associated with or they will tweak the name from AUS-10 to AUS-10V to play off the brand of Japanese steel.
- Japanese knife types: “Deba, gyuto, santoku,” etc will be used throughout their website and ads to imply that it is a Japanese made knife.
- No blatant “Made in _____” information: Japanese will usually state the city of origin or flat out say “Made in Japan.” Also, beware of brands that tout they are headquartered in Japan because that does not mean the product is made in Japan, or a Japanese owned and operated company.
- Using the word “Japanese” and avoiding any use of anything that is Chinese: throughout their marketing copy they avoid and make almost no mention of their Chinese roots which is why some consumers feel ripped-off and say that they are “fake.”
- Emphasis on price and being low priced: culturally, the Japanese do not epitomize value based on being the cheapest which is why pricing is not the driving factor when marketing a product, and you will see an emphasis on quality versus an “all you can eat sushi” business which by the way are not typically Japanese owned. So if you are constantly seeing “sale,” “75% off,” “$1,505, now $265” that is more than likely it is not a Japanese company.
- The “About Us” is never about them: and you will not find anything about the company, the individuals behind the company, their mission or vision statement, etc. It will typically always be another opportunity for them to reinforce “Japanese, the Japanese art of metalwork, Japanese Honshu steel, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, samurai, and Japanese.”
- Not sold by 3rd party retailers: there are a number of 3rd party retailers who sell Japanese knives, but most of the deceptive brands can only be purchased online through their website although you can also find similar/the same product on the website AliExpress which is owned by Alibaba, the Chinese based company. I should cite that Kamikoto attributes being direct to the consumer is to “minimize markup of 5-6x’s,” but they do not tell you that “savings from the markup” most likely go towards shipping products individually to you.
- No address or physical location: try going to any of the above company’s websites, and it will be a challenge to find out what city, state, or country they are located in. All of that information is not provided or very hard to find.
- They think you are an idiot: well, a lot of people could care less about where the product is manufactured or who owns it (they love you), but these products are targeted at people who do care which is why they treat their customers like complete idiots. They are out to fool you, and they are not trying to be upfront with who they are, and the people behind the company probably binge-watch the MTV show Catfish. It is one reason why if you go to their social media, you will see several people calling them out for their deceptive behavior.
- Paid positive reviews: they pay or provide free products for favorable reviews, and I won’t call out the dozen or so creators/bloggers/vloggers who will sell out although it is really obvious when you watch or read their content how blatantly biased it is.
Selecting a vendor (where to buy).
There are a number of websites that are simply e-commerce portals to market and sell you whatever they can possibly sell you. Although on the other hand, there are also these sellers who are just as committed to the craft as the blacksmiths and artisans who created these knives, and these are the sellers I will be highlighting. Also note: I have included vendors from all over the country and Canada from Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Madison, to New York.
- Bernalcutlery.com and bernal-cutlery.shoplightspeed.com/ – You got to love this story of how they started out “Bernal Cutlery was established in 2005 by Josh Donald and Kelly Kozak in Bernal Heights, San Francisco in the slanting utility room in the back of an apartment on Cortland avenue. With $40 for an extra stone and some fliers Bernal Cutlery was born. Sharpening soon branched into selling vintage and antique culinary knives and after several years of working from different home workshops as we moved around Bernal Heights we opened our first brick and mortar shop on Cortland Ave in 2010 in the brand new 331 Cortland small business incubator collective. What began as an idea of how to keep groceries in the fridge and pay a bill or two as (broke) new parents has grown over the years to include a dedicated crew who each bring their experience and interests to fill out and refine our shop.“
- Some of the brands carried are (they do not specialize only in Japanese knives): Ashi Hamono, Gihei, Hitohira, Jikko, Kaji-bei, Sanjo, Kanehide, Konosuke, Masafune, Masakane Mutsumi Hinoura, Nakamura, Sakai, and many, many, many, more.
- Location: San Francisco and Oakland, California (brick and mortar and e-commerce)
- Web traffic: under 5k a month.
CARBON KNIFE CO
- CarbonKnifeCo.com – Wow, who would have thought there would be two notable cutlery stores in Colorado, or more specifically in Denver (or maybe I did not turn off my local search results). Unfortunately, a lot of these companies do not do a lot of branding, so I had to dig to find out about who they are. Luckily, they do a little PR, so I found these articles about Craig Field and Tina Chon. The first is by 5280 and the second is by ValentichGoods.com.
- Some of the brands carried are Anryu, Ashi Hamono, Bryan Raquin, Fujiwara, Gihei, Halcyon Forge, Hinoura, Hitohira, Jiro, Kato Yoshimi, Kagekiyo, Kitaoka, Kurosaki, Laseur, Makoto Kurosaki, Masakage, and the list goes on.
- Location: Denver, Colorado
- Web traffic: under 5k a month.
CHEF KNIVES TO GO
- Chefknivestogo.com – I love it when companies like Chef Knives To Go get branding and why it matters. Some think branding is a logo or graphic design because I have met graphic designers who pitched themselves as “marketing professionals.” Well, you do not have to worry about that with this company because they seem to know that you are not looking solely for the product, but the right person to buy it from. Not only do they do a proper About Us, but the website has a lot of useful information. So in their own words “hello and thanks for visiting Chef Knives To Go! My name is Mark Richmond and I am the owner. I started the business in 2002 in Madison WI along with my wife and business partner, Susan Brown.” If you want to read the rest, click here for their full About Us.
- Some of the brands carried are Kohetsu, Konosuke, Kurosaki, Masakage, Moritaka, Richmond, Shibata, Takeda, and Tojiro.
- Location: Madison, Wisconsin (e-commerce)
- Web traffic: approx. 177.26k in the last 6-months (30k per month).
- ChuboKnives.com – this crew is killing it because every time I do my research, Google ads delivers all the ads that I did a Google search on which means I have been barraged by Chubo Knives ads. Now, I do not just add anybody to this directory, but after researching, I found out that Chubo knives was “founded in 2012, by Jeremy Watson, the Chubo Knives team brings over two decades worth of experience with Japanese craftsmanship and knowledge of knife-making. Our in-depth restaurant industry knowledge and hospitality mentality has been a cornerstone in creating a business in tune to the needs of the world’s top chefs and culinary professionals.” From that prominent “About Us” placement on their home page, I knew I had to add the company.
- Some of the brands carried Akira-Saku, Chubo, Glestain, Kazan, Karaku, Kagekiyo, Kitaoka, Makoto Kurosaki, Masamoto, Matsubara, Misono, Sakai Takayuki, Shibata Kotetsu, Saji Takeshi, Takamura, Takeda, Tojiro, Fujitora, Masahiro, and more.
- Location: somewhere in the EST zone.
- Web traffic: approx. under 5k a month.
- Hocho-knife.com – not much about who Hocho Knife is although they do say they are Import Japan.com, Inc, Florida, USA. Kyoto and Hyogo, Japan are also listed for some unknown reason, maybe possibly where they additional offices in.
- Some of the brands carried are Tojiro, Yoshihiro, Yoshimi Kato, Forever, Kasumino, Ryusen, Sakai Jikko, Zanmai, Shapton, Sakai Takayuki, Takeshi Saji, Takayuki Iwa, Masamoto, Shizu, Glestain, Kiya, Sabun, Sugimoto, Hocho knife, Teori, and more.
- Location: Somewhere in Japan or Florida? (e-commerce)
- Web traffic: approx. 146.64k in the last 6-months (24k per month).
- Japanny.com – Nice, this company is great because they state this right up front: company name: Sekaie Inc, Ri 86-3 Hamamachi, Nomi, Ishikawa, Japan 929-0124. CEO Atsuhiro Nakamura (Hiro).
- Some of the brands carried are Sakai Takayuki, Yu Kurosaki, Takeshi Saji, Yoshimi Kato, Iseya Knives, Shigeki Tanaka, Katsushige Anryu, Seisuke, Takayuki Iwai, Hideo Kitaoka, Misono, Sukenari, Kunihara, Miyako, Takamura, and many more.
- Location: Ishikawa, Japan (e-commerce)
- Web traffic: approx. 84.59k in the last 6-months (14k per month).
JAPANESE CHEFS KNIFE
- JapaneseChefsKnife.com – In their own words: “Finest Japanese chef knives direct from Japan (JCK, Established in 2003) is the direct internet sales division of The Kencrest Corporation. We supply a wide range of top quality Japanese Chef’s knives at lower than Japanese Retail Prices direct from Seki City; the Japanese cutlery capital where fine knives are produced using over 800 years of Samurai sword-making tradition and history.” If that has your attention, don’t let their very basic website in regards to design detract you from buying from them because the content on their site is very good because the passion that the individual(s) have towards this craft/cutlery comes through.
- Some of the brands carried are Hattori, Fujiwara Kanefusa, Glestain, Hinoura, Hiromoto, Kanetsugu, Masamoto, Misono, Mizuno, Mr. Itou, Shiki, and more.
- Location: Seattle, Washington, and in Seki City, Japan (e-commerce).
- Web traffic: approx. 122.06k in the last 6-months (20k per month).
JAPANESE KNIFE IMPORTS
- Japaneseknifeimports.com – this overall post took A LOT OF TIME to put together, so I almost got sloppy and left this retailer off. If I did, that would be pathetic on my end because the dude behind this Beverly Hills based company is Jon, and he went to Colorado College with a Bachelor’s in Asian Studies. Why does that matter, well, that school is in Colorado Springs, and I’m also a CO native. So, to leave him and Sara off would have been a shame.
- Some of the brands carried are En, Gengetsu, Gesshin Ginga, Gesshin Heiji, Gesshin Hide, Ginrei, Gonbei, Ikazuchi, Jin, JKI specials, Kintaro, Kochi, Mitsuaki-T, Pomme, Rinkaku, Ryusen, Suien, Yuri, and Zakuri.
- Location: Beverly Hills, California (brick and mortar and e-commerce).
- Web traffic: under 5k a month.
- KnifeWear.com – Kevin Kent, owner and president, was a sous-chef at the legendary chef Fergus Henderson at St. John restaurant in London, England, and the dude has one of the best “meet the team” pages. If that is any indicator of how great a company is, I would say this must be a great company from my experience because they must know they are only as good as their staff. On top of that, I will also add that they have a cool logo. One of the only businesses, if they had a shirt, I would wear it.
- Some of the brands carried are Haruyuki, Masakage, Fujimoto, to Tojiro,
- Location: Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Vancouver, Canada (brick and mortar and ecommerce).
- Web traffic: approx. 131.42k in the last 6-months (22k per month).
- Korin.com – based out of New York, I love this company and another Japanese kitchen supply store, but out of the two, Korin is very well known around the world as a cutlery store and for their knife sharpening services. If you have not heard of them, there are countless articles about them, but I would suggest checking out the Buzzfeed “$8 kitchen knife vs. $800 kitchen knife” video and Vice/Munchies “How to sharpen a knife with a Japanese master sharpener” video.
- Some of the brands carried are Korin (their own brand), Togiharu, Suisin, Nenox (Nenohi), Masamoto, Sohonten, Masanobu, Glestain, MAC, Sugimoto, and Kochi.
- Location: New York, NY (brick and mortar and e-commerce)
- Web traffic: approx. 110.29k in the last 6-months (18k per month).
- MTCKitchen.com – if you read any of my other posts, you might know that I really do love MTC, but I deal with them on a B2B level because Mutual Trading Company is the premier Japanese food, alcohol beverage, and restaurant supply specialist.
- Some of the brands carried are Takamura, Tsukiji Masamoto, Nenox, Haku, Sukenari, Kintaro, Sakai Takayuki, Aritsugu, Misono, Seki Kanetsugu, Sakon, Shun, Global, Ikkaku Donryu, Caddie, Ajimisaku, and Kyocera.
- Location: New York, NY (brick and mortar and e-commerce)
- Web traffic: approx. 91.08k in the last 6-months (15k per month).
- KnivesEdgeJapan.com (shiroyama USA) – “Providing knives and sharpening services so that chefs can enjoy cooking more.” More about Knives Edge “my name is Yosuke Suzuki and I am the proud owner of Shiroyama USA (Knives Edge Japan). Shiroyama USA is the sole distributor of SHIROYAMA Hamono Japan. We are dedicated to selling well aged, rare, better performing, high-end kitchen knives for helping both professionals and everyday people create and enjoy excellent food.”
I know very little, so if you want to learn a thing or two from people who know, I relied on these resources along with the numerous amazing vendors listed above:
- Onthegas.org – this site is amazing because the content comes off very balanced without coming across as biased or with an agenda like one of the supposed “knife review” websites.
- Reddit/chefknives – you should not be surprised to find that Reddit is a good resource when researching.
- TheChefDojo.com – I got to support this dude because his goal is to become the ultimate FREE resource to learn Japanese cooking. Plus, he sounds a lot like me although he lived in Japan for a couple years, so he’ll bring that experience to the table.
- Burrfection – there’s a ton of great videos by Burrfection, but I highly recommend you watch this video specifically “How To Spot a Fake Japanese Knife Scam” because I, unfortunately, watched it after I did the research. In only 7mins, he covers the vast majority of my conclusions which I’m SMH at for not doing first. Having watched his vid, I would have ramped up a whole lot quicker.
- Outdoor Chef life – how could a YouTube channel not make it as a resource and this is just one because there are many more. Except Taku and Jocelyn just have to be added.
- Life Where I’m From – “How Japanese knives are made – over 700 years ago, a katana master from Kyoto was searching for the perfect place to make katanas, found that Echizen had the best water and ingredients, and set up shop.“