Almost every foodie and chef knows that Japan produces some of the finest kitchen knives in the world, crafted using many of the traditional techniques employed in the forging of katana, the legendary swords of the samurai. However, just as there as many different styles of kitchen knife as there are types of ingredients on which they are used, there are also a wide range of manufacturers and grades to suit budgets of every size.
With so much variety and differences in price, it can be difficult to know what the best Japanese knives for the task at hand is and also how much to spend for a quality blade. We turned to the staff of Azuma Minamoto Masahisa of Tsukiji Market, a storied purveyor of some the finest culinary blades in world located just outside the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo (a few minutes' walk from Tsukiji Cooking), for some professional advice on what to look for when shopping for hocho (kitchen knives).
A variety of handmade Japanese kitchen knives to match every need are available
What’s your best-selling kitchen knife?
Our top three best sellers are gyuuto (butcher’s knives) forged from Damascus steel, the santoku-hocho (all-purpose kitchen knives), and banno-hocho (similar to the santoku but with an inverted sharp tip).
When buying just one knife, what type do you recommend? How much should you budget?
Well, that depends on whether you’re planning on using it at home or in a professional kitchen. For the former, the gyuuto and the santoku are the best because they can be used for a wide variety of ingredients from vegetables to meat and fish. While either type can get quite expensive for higher-end materials and craftsmanship, you can get one with a very sharp edge for around 10,000-20,000 yen that will last for many years with proper care and maintenance.
For the latter, it’s best to ask the retailer since it really depends on the application; for example, in the case of slicing sashimi, a sashimi-hocho or wa-hocho is best, but for gutting a fish, you’d be better off using a deba. For this reason, professional chefs often buy several different types of knives as a set, which is also more economical since usually you can get a discount if you purchase multiple knives at once
What’s the best way to sharpen a kitchen knife?
The best way to sharpen a kitchen knife is to do so using a dampened whetstone, but for yo-hocho (Western-style kitchen knives), it’s also okay to use a handheld knife sharpener. However, since the former method requires a certain level of skill, it’s best to ask a professional knife dealer to do it for you if you’re not confident of your technique. We will sharpen any of the knives we sell for free for the life of the product, but even without sharpening all of our knives will hold a sharp edge for at least a year from purchase.
Is there anything that potential shoppers from overseas in particular should know about the best Japanese knives?
Many of our overseas customers worry about whether or not they will be able to bring knives that they purchase in Japan on the airplane back home, but basically there’s no issue if you pack them in your checked baggage. We can also ship them directly overseas and accept orders via our website.
Also, we offer a free name engraving service to our customers–we can engrave your name in katakana (or kanji if you bring us a copy of the characters you would like) in about 5 to 10 minutes right in our shop.
Our knives are individually forged one at a time by master craftsmen, and we believe that our dedication and technique is reflected in their quality.
It’s important to note that Japanese kitchen knives tend to be more delicate than Western-made ones and require a little more attention to care, but their sharpness and ability to hold an edge is unmatched and they will last a lifetime if properly maintained. The more you use one, the more you’ll love it and everyday cooking will become even more pleasurable.
Azuma Minamoto Masahisa 東源正久
4-13-7 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Open: 5:30am – 3:30pm
Closed: Sun/national holidays/market closure day
Visit their website