Japanese cutlery

Japanese cutlery

There are a number of different types of Japanese kitchen knives. The most commonly used types in the Japanese kitchen are the "deba bocho" (kitchen cleaver), the "santoku hocho" (all-purpose utility knife), the "nakiri bocho" and "usuba hocho" (Japanese vegetable knives), and the "tako hiki" and "yanagi ba" (sashimi slicers).

Types of Japanese Kitchen Knives

There are two classes of traditional Japanese knives forging methods: Honyaki and Kasumi. The class is based on the method and material used in forging the knife. Honyaki are true-forged knives, made entirely of one material, high-carbon steel. Kasumi are made from two materials, like samurai swords of old: high-carbon steel and soft iron forged together (known as "san mai" blades), with the steel forming the blade's edge and the iron forming the blade's body and spine. Honyaki and Kasumi knives can be forged out of either ao-ko or shiro-ko steel. Based on their "kirenaga" (duration of sharpness) and hardness, however they are more difficult to use and maintain. Additionally, there are high-grade quality Kasumi knives called Hongasumi and layered steel Kasumi called Damascus which have longer kirenaga.

Originally, all Japanese kitchen knives were made from the same carbon steel as katana. More expensive "san mai" knives have a similar quality, containing an inner core of hard and brittle carbon steel, with a thick layer of soft and more ductile steel sandwiched around the core so that the hard steel is exposed only at the cutting edge. Nowadays stainless steel is often used for Japanese kitchen knives, and this "san mai" laminated blade construction is also used in more expensive blades to add corrosion resistance while maintaining strength and durability.

Japanese Cutlery Production

Much high-quality Japanese cutlery originates from Sakai, the capital of samurai sword manufacturing since the 1300s. After Meiji restoration, carrying of sword by samurai class was banned in an attempt to modernised Japan. Though demand for military sword remained and some swordsmith still produced traditional samurai sword as art, majority of swordsmith refocused their skill to cutlery production.

The production of knives in Sakai started in the 16th century, when tobacco was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese, and Sakai started to make knives for cutting tobacco. The Sakai knives industry received a major boost from the Tokugawa shogunate (1603 - 1868), which granted Sakai a special seal of approval and enhanced its reputation for quality (and according to some references a monopoly). During the Edo period (1603 - 1867) (or more precisely the Genroku era (1688-1704)) the first deba bocho were manufactured, soon followed by a wide range of other styles. Making kitchen knives and related products is still a major industry in Sakai, using a combination of modern machinery and traditional hand tools to make stain-resistant carbon steel blades.

Another famous center for traditional blacksmiths and knifesmiths is Miki City. Miki is well known to all of Japan for its knifemaking traditions, and its knives and tools recall the pride of Japanese steelmaking. Most Miki manufacturers are small family businesses where craftsmanship is more important than volume, and typically produce fewer than a dozen knives a day. [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/23/business/23pursuits.html?_r=1&oref=slogin "How to Succeed at Knife-Sharpening Without Losing a Thumb"] "New York Times", September 23, 2006. Accessed September 23, 2006.] .

Seki City, in Gifu Prefecture, is today considered the home of modern Japanese kitchen cutlery, where state-of-the-art manufacturing and technology has updated ancient forging skills to produce a world class series of stainless and laminated steel kitchen knives famed throughout the world.

Japanese Cutlery Design and Philosophy

Different from western knives, Japanese knives are often single ground, i.e. sharpened in such a way that only one side holds the cutting edge. As shown in the image, some Japanese knives are angled from both sides, and others are angled only from one side, with the other side of the blade being flat. It was originally believed that a blade angled only on one side cuts better and makes cleaner cuts, though requiring more skill in its use than a blade with a double-beveled edge. Usually, the right hand side of the blade is angled, as most people use the knife with their right hand, with ratios ranging from 70-30 for the average chef's knife, to 90-10 for professional sushi chef knives; left-handed models are rare, and must be specially ordered and custom made. .

Since the end of World War II, Western style double-beveled edged knives have become much more popular in Japan, the best example being that of the Santoku, a Japanese adaptation of the "gyuto", the French chef's knife. While these knives are usually honed and sharpened on both sides, their blades are still given Japanese-style acute-angle cutting edges along with a very hard temper to increase cutting ability.

Professional Japanese cooks usually own their personal set of knives, which are not used by other cooks. Some cooks even own two sets of knives, which they use alternatively each other day. After sharpening a carbon-steel knife in the evening after use, the user normally lets the knife 'rest' for a day to restore its patina and remove any metallic odour or taste that might otherwise be passed on to the food.

ee also

*List of Japanese cooking utensils
*Kitchen knife
*Honyaki: True-forged Japanese knives
*Deba bocho: Kitchen cleaver for fish
*Nakiri bocho: Standard vegetable knife
*Usuba bocho: Professional vegetable knife
*Tako hiki: Sashimi slicer
*Yanagi ba: Sashimi slicer
*Fugu hiki: Sahsimi slicer for fugu
*Unagisaki hocho: Japanese eel knife
*Udon kiri: Knife to make udon
*Soba kiri: Knife to make soba
*Hancho hocho: Very long knives to fillet tuna
*Oroshi hocho: Extremely long knives to fillet tuna
*Santoku: Meaning "Three Virtues", so used for Fish, meat and vegetables, western style knife


*Japanese Cooking: A simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji, Kodansha International (1980)

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