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Thread: The 'kanji' on our knives

  1. #1

    The 'kanji' on our knives

    I take it that only a few members here know more than a few Japanese words - sushi, sashimi, tsunami and the inevitable knife stuff like nakiri, kasumi, sujihiki etc. In fact you probably know more knife words than other words in Japanese! Anyway, despite spending over 2 years in Japan I'm not really that different as I used English at home and work, and it was also more than 10 years ago. I know a bit of Nihon-go, but would like to learn a bit more - especially knife-related these days - and so was wondering if anyone could contribute to a thread on how to decipher a bit of what those etchings on our knives say? (Or stones...? and so on.) Maybe this kind of stuff hasn't been posted much before and could be useful.

    First of all, I can contribute this: I'm not sure how many people are actually aware that Japanese traditionally uses 3 different scripts, of which kanji is just one. Sometimes people post things like, 'I can't read kanji.' However, I'm not completely sure if this means that they can read the 2 other main scripts, hiragana and katakana, or not. Probably not, I'd guess.

    They're not that tough to tell apart, with a little practice, and they have different roles. Kanji is the most complex-looking one, Chinese characters that began to be used in Japan a couple thousand years ago, for example: 漢字 (kanji), 日本 (Japan), 東京 (Tokyo), 堺市 (Sakai), 重房 (Shigefusa). They're terribly complex and can mean different things, with many/most characters having more than 1 pronunciation, I believe. I only know a few of these - and for good reason as it's an absolute mess. Unfortunately, these are what we usually find on knives, they give the maker's name, and so I try to recognise them a bit.

    Hiragana is the best-looking script, I think. It's less complex than kanji and is kind of loopy: ひらがな (hiragana), おさか (Osaka), はもの (hamono). It's generally used phonetically, which makes it way easier to learn, with each character usually representing one Japanese 'sound', such as ひ (hi) ら (ra) が (ga) な (na). Hiragana's used to represent hard kanji and for grammar, etc. You don't really see it on knives, though.

    Then there's katakana, the simplest-looking script; straighter lines than hiragana. It's basically always phonetic and matches the Japanese sounds as hiragana usually does too: ナイフ (knife or 'na-i-fu'), キッチェン (kitchen or 'kii-chi-n'). This is the script I learned first as most words recently imported into the Japanese language are written in katakana. Very helpful when doing grocery shopping and reading labels, for example, even if the Japan-ised version of a word is a bit different. (Canned tuna, I remember, isn't called 'tuna' in Japanese but シーチキン or 'shiichikin' - 'sea chicken' - which I always thought was hilarious.)

    (Incidentally, romanji - our roman alphabet - is used quite a lot in Japan. Indo-Arabic numerals - 1,2,3... - are probably more common than their kanji equivalents.)

    Here's some useful kanji as an example: 白 is white and 青 is blue, while 一 is 1 and 二 is 2, and so if you see 白 and 二 you can pretty much be sure a knife is shirogami #2. With katakana you might see スウェーデン which is pronounced as 'sue-de-n' and so you know you've got Swedish steel. Or you might see a kanji/katakana combo like 青紙スーパー 鋼 which contains the 'blue' kanji and also the katakana スーパー or 'suu-paa', and so you know you're got Aogami Super steel.

    Hope this is interesting/useful. Please post if you have something to add.
    Last edited by echerub; 09-24-2012 at 10:33 PM. Reason: Inserted missing words at OP's request

  2. #2
    Senior Member chinacats's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Very informative, thanks.
    once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right

  3. #3
    Well, not the most overwhelming response to this thread so far. Must mean that, a) people aren't really into learning a bit of Japanese, or b) people don't know enough to contribute, or c) maybe both! However, I like it and will still try to contribute now and then when I find something that could be useful.

    Found this, which just came up on a recent 'ID this knife'-type thread:

    作 = make/made and could help to ID the maker's name; thus, if I take the most common surname in Japan - Satou or 佐藤 apparently - and he's a knifemaker, you could end up with 佐藤作 on a blade, for example.

    登録 = can mean registered/certified; it was pictured on the blade in this thread

    I'm also wondering if anyone can spot it on the 'reg'd in Sakai' stickers on Sakai knives? I also see it on this cert http://

  4. #4
    登録重房 - authentic or 'registered' Shigefusa; probably their older style

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  5. #5
    I totally forgot to post a thank you! I appreciate your post. Keep it up.

  6. #6

    Zwiefel's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Little Rock, AR
    Just read this....nice write-up!

    I knew about the 3 different character sets...and aside from knife/food terms know--well, USED to know--a lot of judo/aikido terms

    That's about it for me though.
    Remember: You're a unique individual...just like everybody else.

  7. #7
    Interesting thread! I've only got one funny story to contribute. I don't have the pictures with me but I did take some macro shots of my knives and then posted them to a Japanese professor (from japan) in my University. I just wanted to ask what the writings say on my Tanaka and Shimatani knives. And also the knife boxes and such.

    The reply I got was pretty short and the japanese teacher said "Oh sorry, it seems the knives carry the makers names which I cannot read. If you have been shown such a name (with such a writing style) and you have memorized it, then you can read it. But if it's a name you haven't seen before then you can't even guess." So I didn't get a reply what names might be on the knives. The professor did say that one of the knives carried the steel mark, ("This is interesting, something like blue paper number two, does that make any sense?" she said), the city in which it was made and then the steel manufacturer also.

    So what I learned was that "hey I speak japanese!" won't help much if the writings on our knives carry old family pictograms or rare names etc. Must be a complex language to write in!

  8. #8
    Senior Member DeepCSweede's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Mequon, WI
    This is very interesting - hopefully some more people can contribute - I have nothing to share only to learn.

  9. #9
    hmmm I don't know much about japanese but Kanji is basically traditional Chinese and the meanings will be the same. It's true that each individual character has multiple definitions, but taken in context, there's only so many things a character can mean. So if you were really motivated, you could get your self a traditional Chinese-english dictionary and figure these out. Looking up Chinese characters via strokes is actually fairly easy despite how complicated some of these characters look.

  10. #10
    Montrachet's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    In Québec near Montréal.
    Thank you Sir for these helpfull informations. Hope to read and learn more. Very interesting for me.

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