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jalanpipes
07-11-2013, 11:45 AM
Hey folks,

I'm leaving Saturday for nearly 3 weeks in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, & Kyoto). I'd like to pick up a new blade when I'm there, but honestly don't know where to start. Have any of you made the trip before and have suggestions from your experience? I'd love to get a lesser known blade (in the US) that is unavailable here. I'll probably be mailing whatever I buy home since I'm not checking my bags. I use my 240 & 270 gyutos exclusively these days. So I'll probably buy another since I want a knife I'll use.

Thanks!

Jeff

mhlee
07-11-2013, 12:45 PM
I spent a whole day at Tsukiji at the end of last year, eating, browsing, then more eating, and more browsing. I didn't really take a careful look at all of the knife stalls there (there are a number of them), as I was more interested in the seafood market itself. But, Tsukiji, as a whole, is definitely worth a look.

I ended up buying a 300 mm White #1 Yanagiba with saya at Tsukiji Masamoto for a good price. I mostly looked at single bevel knives at Tsukiji Masamoto when I was there, but also quickly looked through the western knives. They had a full selection of western handled, wa handled, single bevel and double bevel knives when I was there.

However, I have to say that the quality and fit and finish seemed to vary greatly between similar knives so it's extremely important to pay attention to what you're buying. Look carefully at the grind, fit and finish, especially the ura, the shinogi line, and around the machi if you're considering buying a single bevel knife. The western handled knives I looked at did not have rounded spines or choils.

That being said, the price was significantly less than expected going in, but cash only, although they do take dollars and convert at a better than published rate IIRC. They were very accommodating as far as letting me carefully inspect a number of knives that I was interested in.

Timthebeaver
07-11-2013, 12:56 PM
As above, Tsukiji is definitely worth a visit.

Aritsugu Kyoto in Nishiki market has a lot of stuff (like stainless-clad carbon gyutos for instance, or at least they did 7 years ago.) that isn't widely available through the established channels (Korin is the only place which stocks them that immediately springs to mind, Aritsugu Tokyo [A-Type etc.] knives are obviously more common) It's worth a visit, cash only and relatively expensive due to it's prime location, reputation, etc.

tripleq
07-11-2013, 01:02 PM
As above, Tsukiji is definitely worth a visit.

Aritsugu Kyoto in Nishiki market has a lot of stuff (like stainless-clad carbon gyutos for instance, or at least they did 7 years ago.) that isn't widely available through the established channels (Korin is the only place which stocks them that immediately springs to mind, Aritsugu Tokyo [A-Type etc.] knives are obviously more common) It's worth a visit, cash only and relatively expensive due to it's prime location, reputation, etc.

Just a little correction here. Aritsugu at Tsukiji does take credit cards. Aritsugu Kyoto does not.

Bram
07-11-2013, 01:27 PM
You can visit Tsukiji and Kappabashi in Tokyo, Doguyasuji in Osaka is another one, and Nishiki in Kyoto - all market areas with accessible cookery/knife shops and fun to visit. However, you have to know what you're doing to find a good 'lesser known blade' though it's certainly possible. If you can really do some research or have connections or know some of the language there are shops scattered all over the place that should be worth a visit, and which aren't heard of here. There's no one amazing or super convenient place to go to, though, and you'll feel that you understand a lot more of the knife world reading on the internet than when over there taking in countless seemingly identical knives with unknown kanji. In the end I think Japanese knife seekers will often buy through recommendation, word of mouth and connections, so things aren't well laid out for visitors from abroad. There's no knife superstore. If you're really intrepit, I'd try poking around Sakai or Sanjo and see what happens. In the end, if you find a good knife and there's some story behind it it's all the more interesting.
And yes, bring cash for any (un)expected purchases.

tripleq
07-11-2013, 01:32 PM
Jeff - There are a lot of options for your trip, especially if you have a some free time in Osaka. You can get on the train at Osaka's Namba station in the early AM, head to Sakai, visit a bunch of shops and be back at Namba station in the afternoon. Some of the shops like Sakai Yusuke will mail the knife back to you for a reasonable price. They sent a gyuto to me for about 1,500 yen (15$). Osaka proper has a bunch of interesting shops too including Chuki Ichimonji.

Be on the lookout for small shops along the way. Some makers have gained a lot of notoriety in the west by the fact that they are able to promote or represent themselves in English (or have otherwise found representation) but Japan is full of makers who are restricted to their local market. If you are looking for something uncommon it would be worth it to ask around.

If you go to any of the shops at Tsukiji (which are all located in the outer market) I would advise that you arrive early. The inner market only allows tourists in at 9:30 and by that time the knife shops will be packed. Service and your ability to inspect a lot of knives will be severely affected. You'll also want to catch what goes on in the inner market and if you take any time after 9:30 in the knife shops you'll likely miss most of it. The 9:30 entrance coincides with the winding down of the market so there isn't a lot of time to see the action after that.

Everyone will recommend Aritsugu in Kyoto but don't overlook the other shops. There is a covered shopping arcade adjacent to the Nishiki market (where Aritsugu is) where you will find a small shop called Hisahide. Doesn't look very interesting from the outside but they stock a good number of nice knives. The last time I was there they had some Shigefusa behind the counter.

Most of the shops are cash only but there are some interesting exceptions. If you are looking for anything more specific PM me and I'll give you all the help I can.

Timthebeaver
07-11-2013, 02:24 PM
Just a little correction here. Aritsugu at Tsukiji does take credit cards. Aritsugu Kyoto does not.

Sorry if I was unclear, I was saying that Aritsugu Kyoto does not take cards.

kungpao
07-11-2013, 03:13 PM
Picked up my 240mm Artisugu A-Type in Tokyo on my visit to Tsukiji Market. Seriously awesome knife that lived up to my expectations and continues to impress me today, with ease of sharpening and edge retention especially.

jalanpipes
07-11-2013, 03:38 PM
That's all really helpful advice. Thanks to everyone! I'll be staying in Shiodome only a few blocks from Tsukiji, and we plan to go early (4:30am, I hear) to the tuna auction for fun. I'll be sure to look around there for some knives. I just remembered that I need a yanagiba too. I'm sure I may come home with more than I intended.

Tripleq, thanks for the Kyoto recommendation. I'll do some research and see how feasible that is with our schedule.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like the japanese knife market (and culture) is so expansive that there are far more labels than an are seen or know in the US.

Bram
07-11-2013, 03:52 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like the japanese knife market (and culture) is so expansive that there are far more labels than an are seen or know in the US.

Sure, but not only the US of course. (International forum, right?) Lots not known in the realms of this forum and lots that is pretty common knowledge on this forum which isn't known there. Not sure, but if you go around in Osaka and say 'Shigefusa' they might not know it at all, though perhaps if you say 'it's from Sanjo' they might say 'ahh...' with some understanding, as it's from the other end of the country as far as they're concerned.

tripleq
07-11-2013, 04:00 PM
Absolutely. I've come across a few mom and pop shops selling beautiful knives. I liken it to some of the famous blues artists like R.L. Burnside who were completely unknown till someone with a camera spread the word. If it is a quality piece don't worry abou the brand.

In Kyoto most itineraries being people to Nijo castle. You can conveniently check out 2 shops that are only a few blocks away. The first is Shigeharu. He makes nice knives. Some interesting pieces in stainless clad Aogami Super too. Another shop is Yasushige which is very close to Shigeharu. These are two shops that are known within the knife community but as they have no distribution, etc. you'll hardly ever see them outside Japan. They don't see a lot of tourists either.

As for the tuna auction it is good that you are only a few blocks away because there is no public transportation that early. Beware that you will have to arrive closer to 4am for the auction. You'll have to stand in line for tickets and there are a limited number. Take the opportunity to wander the outer market for breakfast after the auction. There are a bunch of shops selling the best sushi and sashimi in the world.


That's all really helpful advice. Thanks to everyone! I'll be staying in Shiodome only a few blocks from Tsukiji, and we plan to go early (4:30am, I hear) to the tuna auction for fun. I'll be sure to look around there for some knives. I just remembered that I need a yanagiba too. I'm sure I may come home with more than I intended.

Tripleq, thanks for the Kyoto recommendation. I'll do some research and see how feasible that is with our schedule.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like the japanese knife market (and culture) is so expansive that there are far more labels than an are seen or know in the US.

lowercasebill
07-11-2013, 04:47 PM
stumbled across this http://s1217.photobucket.com/user/antlum621/library/Japan%20Knife%20Tour?sort=3&page=0 you may find it helpful [and hurtful to your wallet.. photos of this guys knife tour.. have fun

Noodle Soup
07-11-2013, 08:19 PM
Wow, some of those shops make even Korin look like a small town flea market booth. I might have to rethink putting a trip to Japan on my bucket list.

tripleq
07-11-2013, 08:46 PM
Wow, some of those shops make even Korin look like a small town flea market booth. I might have to rethink putting a trip to Japan on my bucket list.

On yeah. A salesperson at Ichimonji told me told me they usually have over 5000 knives in their in-store inventory.

mhlee
07-11-2013, 09:02 PM
There are a bunch of shops selling the best sushi and sashimi in the world.

The fish is most certainly extremely good, but it can be rather haphazardly made.

alex9635
07-12-2013, 06:24 AM
Map for shops:
https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=214458933792917222484.0004a6a1bd7fe1d02ce7 7&msa=0

JBroida
07-12-2013, 06:27 AM
just keep in mind that many of the places on that map are not storefronts, but rather workshops... workshops arent set up for visitors and it can be extremely rude to just show up (and sometimes people arent even there). Visiting stores, on the other hand, is much easier and set up for people to come in.

Bram
07-12-2013, 07:28 AM
That's an excellent map and great for knife tourism! ;) It's true you don't usually know if any of the places are set up for visitors or not, but I'd say it's worth a try to see. You should be able to hire a bike anywhere and then just take your map and try and find a few places. If you're polite yourself, I really don't think anyone would be offended or rude to you and if they're busy or you can't go in then fine and you'll understand and can be on your way. It's Japan after all so people are nice, and I think they'd at least appreciate your interest (even if a surprise visit form a foreigner might be awkward, and don't expect anyone to speak your language). But does sound like it's better to phone ahead if possible.

Will be very memorable if you can visit a few places, especially a workshop or two. Good luck!

Sara@JKI
07-12-2013, 06:34 PM
"it's just Japan after all" attitude, I think, can sometimes really hurt though :( Setting a bad example (even though yourself wouldn't be yelled at or anything) can hurt everyone else from foreign countries as well. I always think just showing up is not just rude but offensive.

pkjames
07-12-2013, 07:59 PM
Map for shops:
https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=214458933792917222484.0004a6a1bd7fe1d02ce7 7&msa=0

Wow, nice stuff! Saved for my Japan trip this later this year!

jimbob
07-12-2013, 09:55 PM
load up pk, ill buy some!

mhlee
07-12-2013, 09:58 PM
I always think just showing up is not just rude but offensive.

+ 1

I can't recall a single time either in Japan or here in the US that either I, my parents, or relatives have ever dropped by another Japanese person's house (including my own relatives' houses), farm, workshop (either in Japan or here in the US) unannounced. It might be acceptable to younger generation Japanese (I don't know if this is the case), but to older generation Japanese, politeness and etiquette require some kind of advance notice prior to arrival.

chinacats
07-13-2013, 12:06 AM
^^ When in Rome...

JBroida
07-13-2013, 01:23 AM
i think what happens is that japanese people tend to be super nice to foreigners and so foreigners think that anything is ok, but this is not the case.

franzb69
07-13-2013, 05:38 AM
i've always wanted to visit some makers in japan and have looked into it before, but am disappointed to hear from some that visits are considered rude. however, i'm not so sure. one maker i'd love to visit is hide and i'm guessing they accept visitors, for example. from what i can tell, many of the sakai workshops have promotional welcome banners placed out front to encourage visitors, as you can see in this photo:

http://i670.photobucket.com/albums/vv68/3franzb69/644759_435786659837970_1363069206_n_zpsbac87aa0.jp g (http://s670.photobucket.com/user/3franzb69/media/644759_435786659837970_1363069206_n_zpsbac87aa0.jp g.html)

but i guess not all knife makers would welcome them.

personally, if i was a craftsman and there were tourists or anyone who would want to visit my shop, i would welcome them with open arms. sure i would be selective of some, but any business or buzz from absolutely anyone is good for me.

JBroida
07-13-2013, 08:38 AM
actually, you'd be surprised to know that this is not the case... their workshop is not really set up for visitors at all to be honest. While i was there recently, a couple of people showed up unannounced and it was quite a difficult thing to deal with. They are craftsmen, not retailers. In this case, when they do sell things, it is most often by going to a restaurant with whom they have a relationship... not by someone coming to visit them. Every time, someone did visit them, it was preceded with a phone call and, at that point, a time was set up, if it was convenient. Last minute phone calls were not always accepted for a visit.

*consequently, it was literally just a few days ago that i was having a conversation with them (exactly the people in the picture above) about how foreigners can be rude by doing this kind of thing. I kid you not. I guess its happened a couple of times and they didnt understand why people would just show up.

maxim
07-13-2013, 08:58 AM
I think its not only rude in Japan !! :D
Will also be in DK or any other place i have been.

Many workshops is in they privet homes. And i think its really rude to just dump in to someones home

Even when we visit some, we say it in very very good time and bring ton of gifts :D

franzb69
07-13-2013, 09:40 AM
this is good to know and yes id heard workshops were often next to the craftsmens homes. however I also thought that they were interested in receiving visits, especially because of the 'welcome' banners in a place like sakai. many will also sell knives direct like Hide i have read. if they didnt want visitors they would take the banners down. but it looks like the local craftsmen and city office are trying to promote the craft business.
we all want to support good independent craftsmen. if we visit there please advise on the best way to make contact.

JBroida
07-13-2013, 09:42 AM
the banners arent about welcoming people... they are more about being proud of sakai uchihamono. And the truth is that more often that not, craftsmens workshops (like hide) are not set up for visitors at all. Visitors are expected to go to shops and other places dedicated to retail sales.

jalanpipes
07-13-2013, 02:52 PM
Wow, that map is a really great resource. Thanks so much for sharing it!

jalanpipes
07-13-2013, 02:58 PM
Agreed, on the points of dropping by a workshop. I have a workshop for my business at my home and would be shocked and probably pretty put off if a customer or potential customer just dropped by unannounced. I have work to do and a life to live. I'm typically happy to accommodate visitors, but only with pre-planning. And many times, even with a scheduled visit, I have no finished work to offer to the visitor for sale. Craftsmen don't typically carry inventory--not if they're any good at what they do, at least.

jalanpipes
07-15-2013, 06:36 PM
I spent yesterday afternoon with a pair of friends here in Tokyo, one of whom is an craftsman, who has visited and seems to know well a blade smith of a fairly high local reputation. I'm off to Maebashi for a few days, but when I return to Tokyo I plan to visit the retail shop if it can be arranged by my friends. Fun fun!

franzb69
07-16-2013, 12:04 AM
pictures!

Brad Gibson
07-16-2013, 03:30 AM
I spent yesterday afternoon with a pair of friends here in Tokyo, one of whom is an craftsman, who has visited and seems to know well a blade smith of a fairly high local reputation. I'm off to Maebashi for a few days, but when I return to Tokyo I plan to visit the retail shop if it can be arranged by my friends. Fun fun!

ahh!! I want some souvenirs!!!

jalanpipes
07-17-2013, 07:07 PM
I don't know if it's okay to do so, but I could provide a link to my Instagram account where I've been posting photos. It's for my business, but I'm not in the knife business and am not trying to sell you all anything. Can someone let me know if its kosher to post the link here?

So I'm visiting an artisan in my field and his wife walks out to the workshop with a bowl of veggies, a salmon filet, and a pair of knives in boxes. She tells me about the nakiri and yanagiba, and then shows me how she uses them to prepare the foods for her family. It was a really fun experience to see japanese knife and food culture right in their home. She then totally surprised me by boxing up the knives and giving them to me as a gift. It really blew me away.

Brad Gibson
07-18-2013, 04:18 AM
Nice!

jalanpipes
07-21-2013, 05:09 AM
Here are a few shots from the trip. I pulled a couple photos from my Instagram feed and the others are from today and yesterday.

A couple shots of the impromptu lesson from my friend's wife who then very generously gave me a nakiri and yanagiba. She said they were so that I could practice before buying nicer steel. A really lovely gesture, for sure, and one that I'll not soon forget.

http://i610.photobucket.com/albums/tt184/jgracik/ad5777a50e97d0b727f6d4e977a4d320_zps3f800199.jpg

http://i610.photobucket.com/albums/tt184/jgracik/c742c2c8bb30822fa00ff99e52b50853_zpsf03feae1.jpg

Yesterday I finished the work portion of my trip, or at least the part where I was working in a studio, to join up with my wife and a group of friends and clients who had just arrived. My wife and a friend made it to the tuna auction and spent the early part of the morning checking out Tsukiji browsing shops while they waited for me. As soon as I arrived we went down to the market area as things were winding down around noon. I had a chance to see some knives in the masamoto and sujimoto shops. There were a bunch of other shops, but since my friend who speaks japanese wasn't with us, I didn't catch the branding. Here's a panorama of the wall in one shop.

http://i610.photobucket.com/albums/tt184/jgracik/A2659ADF-90F4-4BE2-AE66-CC22D00B2617-6561-00000322052DD84B_zps8ab9da3b.jpg

Then we headed to the kitchen district to see some more blades and check out a store specializing in restaurant samples for window displays. We ended up spending a while in the Kamata shop. The employees were very helpful and took quite a lot of time with me. I ended up buying three of their shop branded waterstones in addition to two blades. I wanted a Yanagiba, but will wait for another shop to get it. I did buy a 30cm gyuto with kuro-uchi finish and an Ai-Deba-mioroshi. The prices were really reasonable, I thought, and the blade quality seemed very good.

http://i610.photobucket.com/albums/tt184/jgracik/0CF725FE-5718-47D4-8E04-A65660A2F9A8-6561-0000032214A77993_zps538c603f.jpg

http://i610.photobucket.com/albums/tt184/jgracik/C340CAD9-5BAD-451F-AC51-F8911BEE415C-6561-000003221D2D25F3_zpscf3ded05.jpg

After all the shopping I really wanted to try some Kobe, so we we had a tasting meal that was really incredible. The beef sushi was out of this world, and the Kobe shabu shabu exceeded my high expectations. So far so good. :-)

http://i610.photobucket.com/albums/tt184/jgracik/E14138EC-A986-4852-B018-156069FD217B-6561-000003222DB4DF8A_zpsf041439c.jpg

tripleq
07-21-2013, 12:53 PM
Mmmmmm. Shabu Shabu. Looks like the shots above are from Tsukiji Masamoto. If memory serves they have the main shop in the outer market and a smaller shop more toward the inner market. Aritsugu has a pretty big shop toward the inner market and a very small shop on the perimiter of the outer market. The smaller Aritsugu has no branding whatsoever on the shop front. You have to look at the knives to see the branding. Looks like a great trip! Have fun!!!

mhlee
07-21-2013, 05:00 PM
I'm pretty sure that's not Tsukiji Masamoto, at least the one just outside the main Tsukiji market. I spent about an hour at that shop last year, looked through a lot of their stock, and bought a knife there.

I noticed that Tsukiji Masamoto only sells a few non-Masamoto knives. The kanji on those knives vary and do not appear to be Tsukiji Masamoto.

gic
07-21-2013, 05:26 PM
I'll be visiting Japan as well and I wonder if there are any stores known for really good prices on stones and knives - and of course have a reasonable selection of cool stuff. Or, is Japan a place of fixed prices, so pretty much everyone sells things for the same prices (except of course amazon.jp which seems ot make its own rules :- ) )...

tripleq
07-21-2013, 10:30 PM
I'm pretty sure that's not Tsukiji Masamoto, at least the one just outside the main Tsukiji market. I spent about an hour at that shop last year, looked through a lot of their stock, and bought a knife there.

I noticed that Tsukiji Masamoto only sells a few non-Masamoto knives. The kanji on those knives vary and do not appear to be Tsukiji Masamoto.

You may be quite right. There is actually a Tsukiji Masamoto knife on the bottom row and that is why I came to that conclusion. The kanji was a lot clearer and darker. I couldn't really see the others. Good observation though. Thanks.