View Full Version : The World of Hocho

12-12-2012, 09:17 PM
We started JKI in March, 2010. For Jon, kitchen knives were something Jon always felt strongly about and was passionate about. To me, this world of hocho was something very new and, in a lot of ways, unknown.

The word "shokunin" is most commonly used to describe craftsmen for kitchen knives. Some of them are qualified by the national crafts center and are referred to as "kogeishi" (master of crafts) or “dentokogeshi” (for example, the stickers on our Gesshin Hide knives certify that all of the work done on those knives was done by dentokogeshi in the traditional manner). In Japan, the world of craft and art are two different things, and so are craftsmen and artist. I was more connected to the world where artists live because of my parents (they are artists making traditional yakimono, or pottery) and their crazy artist friends.

Initially when we started JKI, I really wasn't fully aware of what I was getting myself into. I had no clue what my future looked like with this new company - the hours, troubles, emotional up and downs, and also the happy rewards.

We met a lot of "kakkoii" (Japanese for “cool”) shokunin-san through our business. I found the beauty in their philosophy of making tools. Sometimes they make tools (knives, sharpening tools, or whatever they may be) that are so beautiful and artistic, but at the end of the day, they are all functional tools. This was something so new to my eyes. It was so refreshing as was the idea that one can't know how "great" knives are unless they use them.

A lot of our hocho craftsmen told us that "sharp" is not a good enough measurement for kitchen knives, because that's what they are supposed to be as a minimum requirement. It's a regular assumption people have that a knife cuts well, but the real judgment comes with ease of sharpening, edge retention, and the "taste" of cutting (how well it cuts or performs, called kireaji in japanese). Also, most of them say that they are never completely satisfied with their knives because they are always striving for better, and at the end of the day, what is "good" is totally up to the end user. If the knife wasn't the best fit for a user, this knife clearly isn't a "good" knife, not mentioning the "best" knife (not to say it’s not an objectively good knife or not, but that the concept of objectively good has little meaning when it comes to these things).

I thought this mentality is somewhat selfless - of course not in a bad way, but almost in an altruistic way. Maybe this is what differentiated artists from craftsmen? I can't be 100% sure why I thought the two terms feel different and are used in different ways... but I felt that could be it. I find beauty in both crafts and art though.

I decided to write this down and share what I see from the world of Japanese kitchen knives. My view will change with time, but I wanted to share what I see at this particular time... This kind of thing seems not to be online so much, but in the spirit of appreciating our tools, I feel this is something important for me to say.

What we bring from Japan is very inspiring and each thing carries bits and pieces of each craftsman with it...

12-12-2012, 09:35 PM
great post, Sara!

12-12-2012, 09:48 PM
Well said Sara, and thank you for sharing your thoughts. I've had thoughts very similar to these in regards to working in the restaurant industry. Craft versus art is a compelling subject.

12-12-2012, 09:52 PM
really glad to have this place to share thoughts like this one. This kind of things gets buried easily when I'm being busy, but it's nice to step back and put it into words.... thanks for taking your time to read it.

12-12-2012, 10:26 PM
great post, Sara!


12-12-2012, 10:28 PM
Very well said Sara, thanks for taking the time to put it to words for us.


12-12-2012, 10:42 PM
Excellent Post Sara

12-12-2012, 11:12 PM
Wonderful post! My career was in making custom jewelry, and I have often thought of the line between art and craft in the pieces that I created.

12-13-2012, 01:49 AM
Well said Sara, and thank you for sharing your thoughts. I've had thoughts very similar to these in regards to working in the restaurant industry. Craft versus art is a compelling subject.


12-13-2012, 02:02 AM
Awesome Sara, very eloquently said. I wish more people in my world could understand.......

12-13-2012, 02:20 AM
Thanks for sharing that, Sara!

12-13-2012, 04:02 AM
Great post, thanks!

12-13-2012, 06:18 AM
Great post indeed, thoughtful in many ways. It makes me wonder if, on some level, a craftsman has somewhat less freedom than a "pure" artist as it has to find the perfect blend between what his/her inspiratons dictate and a practical level of efficiency for the tool in regard to its final use (and final user, as you've so clearly explained in the case of knives).

12-14-2012, 05:12 PM
Being more aware of philosophy and mentality of craftsmen and artists, I think, makes a big difference in everyday life. I have more appreciation for everything I purchase (or grecieve) - I have much more respect for tools. I actually care where and how these things were made. In an intense consumption based society we live in, we are often driven by the idea to buy, buy and buy as opposed to taking more care and using something for a lifetime.

Maybe there is a place for disposable goods, but I am committed to chose long lasting good quality things! I appreciate that all the craftsmen we met and artists I know have given me this perspective in my life. Am I too picky for my own good? No, I think my life is more interesting and flavorful this way :) !

12-16-2012, 04:12 AM
Yeah, I agree thanks for the post, very nice of you to share :)

12-16-2012, 05:25 AM
I do REALLY like this post. Somehow it comes down to the trend that western and westernized societies have taken: expendable items or the discovery that the industry and commerce at one stage made it so that mass production and demand created a system where it is possible to buy something cheaper and just throw it away when consumed, rather than buying something in a considerated way and hold unto the purchased item and keep it in functional shape as long as possible. Some identify this with mr. Bic and his "new" way of interpreting commerce:disposable and cheap lighters and razor blades... if someone wished there could possibly be room here for some philosophical considerations... But better stick with healthy, sharp and shiny blades! :)

12-19-2012, 12:07 PM
Excellent post thank you Sara

12-26-2012, 04:27 PM
quantumcloud509 , ChiliPepper, Sarge -

Thank you for taking your time to read it. I'm very proud to tell stories about our craftsmen and to carry quality of products from Japan... It may take extra care and maintenance, as well as skills, to use our products properly, but they not only perform in such an amazing way, and they can last lifetime and even more. Our products also speak by themselves about how much craftsmen care about what they do. It shows through their performance and ability to be repaired relatively easily in right people's hands.

I hope we are doing justice to what we carry! We always strives to be a better vendor so that we deserve to have these amazing products.