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...