Advice for sourcing knives from Japan

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Mr.Masse

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Hello everyone! I have been thinking a lot these days about opening up a knife and culinary supply store in my town. I was wondering if there's any knife shop owners that had some advice for someone looking to get started. Whether it be where to source, or what to look for or what to avoid and stay away from. As I am just vent venturing into this idea, any information or advice would be well received.

Thank you so much ! 🤙
 
There are many shops here in Japan with unheard of blade smiths that do make high quality knives. Your hardest problem would be first finding these shops and second the language barrier. I'd recommend finding someone to work with that lives here and also speaks Japanese to seek out these smaller shops. I recently had a knife made from a store in Kyoto, give Yagi san a call or Email is probrobly better with Japanese translation.

Also a smaller shop I know of and have bought from is Kikuhide Knives in Yokosuka. Hope this helps.
 

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The absolute easiest way is to get started with somebody like Korin selling some of their house brand items. Another plus side is that many of Korin's items are well-suited to selling to the general populace - especially the Togiharu line.
 
Plus their staff speak English, they have great B2B support, and everything on your end is domestic so you don't have to worry about import nonsense.

I'd say start there and try importing more high end items if you really want to once you get cash flow established.
 
Study a lot and realize that when it comes to sourcing knives from Japan you might be late to the game.

The knife industry in Japan usually works producer to wholesaler to retail. So when you see a shop like the one mentioned above you have to realize they are not the producers (even with all the pirate tales and lore) and source from somewhere else. Now they maybe a wholesaler as well as a retailer and might be willing to sell some of their stuff. But currently most producers are maxed out in production and there a long wait times, so don’t expect getting anything directly from producers imo.

Your best bet as said by Ocha is going through a wholesaler who is already established and willing to take on new clients if they can.
 
What is it exactly that you want to offer, what could set you apart? There's always a need for people who are very passionate and knowledgable about something, but as the Ochazuke and Osakajoe said, it's not an easy business as basically all the makers are known and have well established business relations, and waiting times have become longer and longer over the past years. The unknown brands and places are related to retailers and wholesalers, not the producers themselves, and there's no secretly kept master bladesmith or anything (that names are often not disclosed has other reasons). Still, I've heard of a few businesses that have opened recently and unsurprisingly, they source their stuff from wholesalers like Hitohira. There's also other retailers of culinary ware such as Kama-asa, some of which have opened stores abroad. Some of these could be interested as well. All in all, I can only repeat what the people above me said, talking to wholesalers is probably the best way.
 
Thank you everyone for your help. Some very knowledgeable responses. Definitely a lot of research to be done on my end. I'm a chef of 15 years and I've always been very passionate about Japanese knives. Over the past year I've taken to learning how to restore knives and get my sharpening game on point (no pun intended 🤣) I have been rehandling some of the restored knives and selling them within the chef community, as well as offering sharpening services. I plan on expanding to selling new knives as well as creating handles and eventually learning how to create sayas. Now that I see there is a bit of a demand for awesome Japanese knives in the community I'm hoping to get my hands on a variety of product that way I can reach out to people of all price ranges and taste, as well as offer some higher quality, Industry standard culinary cutlery and tools that real chef's can appreciate.
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Maybe start with a focus on online sales with a heavy lean on handles and a side of affordable refurbs along with whatever new knives you can get?
 
There is also knifewear to contend with. Between them and Ai & Om, there’s quite a lot of stock and variety available. However if it’s handles, I can see your game already starts out on top.

Best of luck!
 
Not to be discouraging but like osakajoe said; you might be late to this party. There's already a lot of stores fighting over a limited supply to sell to what is actually also a very limited market. Corona kinda shifted everyone's purchase patterns which led to a huge boom in J-knife sales but I think that's gonna change significantly now that everything opened up again and we're actually shifting into the recession. Not really perfect timing to start up a luxury goods outlet.
If you're good with handles it could actually be worth considering hooking up with one or several of the existing shops?
 
There is also knifewear to contend with. Between them and Ai & Om, there’s quite a lot of stock and variety available. However if it’s handles, I can see your game already starts out on top.

Best of luck!

Plus Tosho and Cooks Edge.

Not to say you can't break into the market (look at what Sugi Cutlery has been doing) but you need to make sure you're doing something different.
 
Not to say you can't break into the market (look at what Sugi Cutlery has been doing) but you need to make sure you're doing something different.

I started Sugi Cutlery in 2020, so I will offer some of my thoughts.

I’m a handle maker that sells knives, more than a knife shop owner. When I opened Sugi, It was not my intention to make money, as I make plenty with my day job. I thought it would be cool to have a bunch of knives and then I could make the handles that I wanted to pair with the blades.

I really love making handles, it’s my way of expressing creativity. So much of my time is spent daydreaming about handles, it’s a bit silly (my family might say annoying). It’s not just the physical process, but everything that goes into it : learning about different woods and materials, experimenting, seeing the finished product, daydreaming, hearing back from people who appreciate the handles and inspiring others to make handles. Unless you have the passion, which it seems you do, then don’t bother.


After a few year of it, here’s what I will share:
Start up Timing - like others said, it may not be the best time to start a luxury goods shop. That may not be bad, as it gives you time to prepare.
Capital - There is an initial investment, ensure you have access to cash, more than you will think. The timing of delivery isn’t known, so cash flow isn’t steady. Be prepared when a big invoice pops up
Reputation - I made handles for years before starting Sugi. In addition to 1-1 clients, I sold handles to shops in multiple stores throughout the Americans, Europe and Asia. This really helped, as some of the blacksmiths knew my work and helped introduced me to a vendor
Japanese Culture - I have made some errors due to my lack of understanding how businesses work in Japan. It’s easy to make a mistake, harder to make up for your mistake. Don’t dive in feet first and not expect to make a splash.
Delivery - it takes time before you will get knives. I started in Feb/March with the idea of having some stock ready for the end of year holiday season. I was able to get enough in to keep me going, but it really takes longer than that. 6-30 month wait is not uncommon, many knives have 12-18 month wait.

Good luck, hope it works out.
 
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