Comparative Review: Three Small Sanjos

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I spent most of 2021 revisiting makers that had made my day back in 2020, and still most ended up on BST – again. Not that they’re not good enough, but you know how these things go… With all the possible digressions that could have lead me to different places, I really only tried little new makers along the way and besides my custom HSC all of them from Sanjo: Toyama, Hinoura, Wakui…

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By mid-year most of the revisiting and Sanjo exploration was already accomplished, and some of my focus diverted onto trying a couple Nakiris to see if one in particular would stick, and still hunting the perfect Bunka as well… This on and off as there were other knives and stones and distractions along the way, yet miraculously I came into 2022 with a clear head and full focus on these two shapes since I could see little else I really wanted to buy – even stones.

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One of the surprise I had in 2021 is with trying a 165mm Nakiri (Sakon Ginga). Really thought I’d find it too small, which in fact I sort of did, yet the compactness of it for the height lent itself well to high-speed chopping and once I was there with it I was really happy. Opened another parenthesis in my mind especially with it being a Yo handle with short forward balance: it felt like I’d need to try a couple more of this size to know, a Wa one at that. Yet what had pushed me into Nakiris again was fond memories of my Maz Nakiri, bought and sold two years ago now – longer, taller, heavier and super forward.


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This Wakui 180mm Nakiri – W#2 Migaki – was ordered at the very end of December 2021 opening 2022 with the right tone and a unit kindly similar to the Maz but leaner. Sold the Sakon to avoid being distracted from this one. Started exploring different 165mm Nakiris across vendors online: never really looked at that part of the market much and there are a lot of these shorter guys! I’m still not drawn to any specific units yet. They all look like tons of fun.

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In the meanwhile, I just stumbled on this Kaji-Bei 165mm Santoku – B#2 Migaki – that looked bunka-ish, and for the cheap price couldn’t resist the urge to try. Then the next one is a maker I had sworn never to buy again. Didn’t jive with the flat of his Santoku and Gyuto… Yoshikane 165mm Bunka – SKD-12 Nashiji.

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All this might seem like it’s preordained in some way, like I deliberated myself into these Sanjo purchases, into mostly “known” terrain. But I really was looking at anything but, every time. The Wakui I had crossed a hundred times on Ai & Om in the last months, yet never really stopped to consider it – but when I did I purchased it. Same with the Kaji-Bei on Cook’s Edge – albeit it doubled into a project knife in my mind and I sure wanted one for the fun of it. The Yoshi admittedly was obnoxious all along. Superbly ignored it for months, hoping it’d go out of stock or something to ease my mind - but truth was it fitted my criteria most aptly in specs and stance. One night I was rather drunk and… that’s what she said.

And if that vendor would have had the Yoshi SKD Nakiri in stock as well, it would have been a much tougher decision. Then again, with “what ifs” a lot of things could have happened. If I hadn’t bought the W#2 Wakui Nakiri, I would surely have ordered the Yoshikane W#2 Nakiri when KnS put a sale on it soon in 2022: it’s still there. And then they also had a sale on a S. Tanaka Ginsan Nakiri, but I had three of that maker including one Ginsan to give me pause, and it went sold out before my desires caught up with my wallet. There was a lot of such mindful/mindless ping-pong in the last months, and each purchase was really a spur of the moment in the end, even the Yoshikane.

Of course, I won’t go into full blown reviews of each Sanjo here. You’d be liable to die of old age – or boredom - before getting through half of it… Pictures, specs, regular topics in a nutshell, and some of these peculiar things I’ve found interesting along the way.
 

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Wakui

01.jpg


MAKER
Toshihiro Wakui
TYPE & LENGTH
Nakiri 180mm
STEEL & BLADE
Shirogami #2 Stainless Clad
FINISH
Migaki
WEIGHT / BALANCE
181g / +40
HANDLE MATERIAL
Ho/Buffalo Horn
TOTAL LENGTH​
334​
BLADE LENGTH​
207​
EDGE LENGTH​
183
HEIGHT AT HEEL​
55
HEIGHT AT MID BLADE​
54​
HEIGHT AT UPSWEEP​
49​
SPINE THICKNESS
(3.9 mm out of handle)
HEEL​
3.3
MID BLADE​
2​
UPSWEEP​
1.3​
WIDE BEVEL EDGE THICKNESS
@ 21-25 (Shinogi) / 10 / 5 / 1mm over
HEEL + 10mm​
2 / 1 / 0.5 / 0.1​
MID BLADE​
1.9 / 1 / 0.4 / 0.1​
UPSWEEP​
1.6 / 0.9 / 0.4 / 0.1​


Separation: think of Yoshikane and don’t be shy. Just as awesome they are in cutting, just as possibly frail BTE (mine was plenty) so keep that in mind. But man, what a cutter.
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Release: no high point but overall it works well in push cutting, quite well when used with some momentum. I think the Migaki final polish might be a little too fine for its own better good here.
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Grind is carried superbly and real close to perfect symmetry; I wouldn’t expect much of lows or highs on the bevels. One close look at that knife and you’re entirely confident that Wakui’s got skills. Handle is not the worse kind of Ho, and balances the knife aptly.
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Fit and finish is outstanding with Wakui: spine and choil well-rounded and very smooth, and if the handmade horizontal Migaki here sure isn’t seamless, it’s still focused and finished to a nice sheen. I like that he also consistently works out a near-mirror core polish on even his cheapest lines: I’ve rarely seen it even on knives twice its price and over. Only the faintest scratch pattern left to see under cold light.
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One peculiar thing about this Nakiri is just how much work is carried towards thinning the front end quite extensively. Let’s take your average Nakiri, and if it’s a thin spine to begin with, chances are you’ll find it remains static all along. You could possibly see a bit of additional taper, or more probably just some slight additional chamfer/rounding carried at the very nose to reduce some of the bluntness there. With thick spines like the Wakui, most of the taper is usually carried well before mid-blade to a static thickness from there to the nose indeed. Again, same additional work as above can sometimes be seen. Most often, especially at Wakui’s price point, most of this is not even bothered with.
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There’s a logic behind that of course: Nakiris are blades of containment, tying together the height, grind, and relatively flat edge profile. The nose area is not intended to be a distinct segment like a tip. Any additional belly there, or the typical upsweep at least, are but to provide I guess some relief in push and pull cutting motions. Most of the time, there’s not much of an attempt to even have the upsweep sharp.

And it’s not like Wakui only does some extra front end work: he does all of the above and then some. There is additional taper past the mid blade, there is quite an extensive extra work carried into keeping the nose real thin, both pretty obvious in the spine shot. The upsweep is ground real thin going quite high, and is sharpened to some degree OOTB, if a bit squarely. More surprising still perhaps is quite a geometry transformation happening from heel to nose - so much so that what starts as a 3.3mm thick spine over heel to a 2.1mm thick Shinogi there, and is still 2mm thick spine to 1.9mm thick shinogi at mid-blade, ends up 1.3mm thick spine at the upsweep to a 1.6mm thick Shinogi. Additional work is still carried from there, spine ending up 1mm thick at the very nose.
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For a comparison, my old Mazaki KU was 1.5mm thick at the very nose, thinner than Ittetsu (2.1mm at upsweep) or Sakon Ginga (1.8mm throughout); Maz 185/55 weighed 220 grams (carrying a Ho very much the same as this Wakui); Ittetsu 180/48 weighed 199 grams; Sakon 163/51 weighed 191 grams (Yo pakka full tang w/o bolster). The Wakui weighing in at only 181 grams for a 183/55 Nakiri is quite telling. Of itself a thrilling knife, yet if I was asked just how much the additional nose work adds to the performance, I’d have nothing to answer but that it possibly makes the knife feel nimbler for its heft forward than you’d expect handling such a blade size, but otherwise just seems quite a bit overzealous.

10.jpg


Well, who knows what it would be without it… what I’m positive about is that it IS a tremendous knife.
 
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Kaji-Bei
Note: write it however you want, there seem to be a couple variations across vendors.

01.jpg


MAKER
Kaji-Bei
TYPE & LENGTH
Santoku 165mm
STEEL & BLADE
Aogami #2 Stainless Clad
FINISH
Migaki
WEIGHT / BALANCE
129g / +20
HANDLE MATERIAL
Burnt Chesnut/Buffalo Horn
TOTAL LENGTH​
310​
BLADE LENGTH​
182​
EDGE LENGTH​
168
HEIGHT AT HEEL​
48
HEIGHT AT MID BLADE​
44​
HEIGHT 35mm TO TIP​
35​
SPINE THICKNESS
(3.9 mm out of handle)
HEEL​
3.3
MID BLADE​
1.9​
35mm TO TIP​
1.6​
10mm TO TIP​
1.4
EDGE THICKNESS
@ 10 / 5 / 1mm over
Average
1.3 / 0.7 / 0.2


Separation: geometry in mind, the knife avoids severe wedging by a fair measure, but we’re far here from the Wakui before or Yoshikane coming after. It’s a solid edge however, one you can rough up a fair bit. I myself do not dislike the extra feeling in cut, especially in view of…
02.jpg
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Release: very nice in this case, especially where the OOTB edge geometry is sure allowing use of joyous momentum. A beater Santoku with a nice balance of compromises at it.
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Grind is a rather marginal stance from Sanjo, very interestingly minimalist. A couple rather shallow overgrinds and a tip kept a bit too thick make for the worst I could say about the grind. Not exactly thick behind the edge OOTB, so in many cuts separation is rather seamless, but of course the low beveling plays against it in a more prominent way than your regular wide bevels and most Sanjo knives you’ll encounter. A project knife alright if you really want its highest ratio of performance, but indulgent as it comes, and indulgent in what work needs to be carried – very little in fact but makes a huge difference if you aim to just keep close to its basic charm and behavior while upgrading cutting abilities grandly.
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The burnt chesnut handle is not very refined, and possibly the compressed plastic ferrule leaving a sizeable gap at the junction looks really cheap or is something some will utterly dislike, but I kind of like it for this knife, and in hand it does work splendidly: nice texture and grip while the smaller ferrule makes it less chunky right behind the pinch for that blade size. Fit and finish overall is nothing extraordinary of course, but surprising for the price paid: spine is half rounded and pretty smooth but the edges still a bit sharp, the choil more of the same, and as for the Migaki, while rudimentary work for sure, I like that the pattern is quite straight and consistent. I’d even add that Kunio Ishikawa (the maker) has just the perfect idea of what grits horizontal Migakis do their best against food sticking/suction.
08.jpg


The worst of that package deal being the clad line is real low – like cheap ugly low. I’m peculiar for the price paid here but it has to be said. At least consistently spaced from the edge but it’s not like that is going to make your day – mostly just balance things as an afterthought. It’s a quite elementary knife but a surprisingly nice one as well. I’d say – there’s a market for it: I’ll readily suggest these from now on.
09.jpg

Otherwise, there IS a form of “contained pitting” at some spots (finish only, bevels clear of it), quite readily noticeable here on the left side. I consulted with the vendor and that’s when I learned a few interesting things: vendor is adamant that Ishikawa “basically forge welds everything in his garage”… and that, in Sanjo tradition, he does everything else down to fitting the handle too. Vendor supposition for the stainless clad here is that Ishikawa probably uses recycled steel. His usual Kurouchi are iron clads. Bottom of it is pitting is common with his Migakis: vendor sent a few pictures of other units afflicted in a similar way at various spots – while offering me to return it if I wasn’t satisfied. I really didn’t mind much. Some sandpaper refinish after thinning couldn’t hide most of it: it would require stronger work at lower grits and I wouldn’t see a point to it even cosmetically: this knife just wears its rough looks really well and I’m not sure just how much it could actually achieve of any desirable result here anyhow.
10.jpg


So… a lot of suppositions for only some nuggets of possible truth… hence back to the knife I have in hand: possibly “garage born” and forge welded there… with quite a ready amount of skills and care… for really 200 miserable CAD dollars going through a reseller and a vendor? Not only is it not bad, it’s pretty darn impressive and an even greater value overall than I had pegged it for especially as a project knife!
 
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Yoshikane

01.jpg


MAKER
Yoshikane Hamono
TYPE & LENGTH
Bunka 165mm
STEEL & BLADE
SKD-12 Stainless Clad
FINISH
Nashiji
WEIGHT / BALANCE
145g / +10
HANDLE MATERIAL
Teak/Buffalo Horn
TOTAL LENGTH​
316​
BLADE LENGTH​
182​
EDGE LENGTH​
167
HEIGHT AT HEEL​
51
HEIGHT AT MID BLADE​
43​
HEIGHT 35mm TO TIP​
35​
SPINE THICKNESS
(4.5 mm out of handle)
HEEL​
3.7
MID BLADE​
2.3​
35mm TO TIP​
2​
10mm TO TIP​
1.2
WIDE BEVEL EDGE THICKNESS
@ 21-22 (Shinogi) / 10 / 5 / 1mm over
Average
2 / 1 / 0.6 / 0.1


Separation: we’re back to Wakui Migaki laserish performance… that IS regular Yoshikane territory, and in this case, a real good OOTB edge, which was more or less the case with the two above – or the vast majority of knives out there.
02.jpg
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Release: this unit confirms the trend of the first two Yoshikane I owned in that it’s no high point. Decent at best, it does better in pull cutting, rather poorly in push cutting, but at least the finish does a good job of being easily wiped off and overall not sticky-sucky.
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F&F… in comparison with the cheaper Tsuchime units, this knife I believe is worth what roughly amounts to more or less 100$ CAD difference for a same type/length. Just that they basically tend to come with better handles is almost worth it. F&F is of another class entirely, and the Nashiji finish looks so much nicer. First impressions are of “luxury” befitting price tags beyond its own.
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But what can I really add to Yoshikane’s rep, or say against it? Its presence in this review is merely comparative, for we all know these guys can cut a giant step above the casual J-knives game… However with all those good makers KKF tend to advise for, they get a whole lot of competition. More interesting even is just how much competition they still have, to some extent, by the Wakui and Kaji-Bei here.

One thing for sure is that any Wakui has a better F&F – AND more sex appeal – than the average Yoshikane Tsuchime. If talking purely F&F, they also stand up very well to Yoshikane Nashiji. Even in the cosmetics department, Wakui W#2 Nash or B#2 KU-Nash are quite leveled with this Yoshikane Nashiji. As I mentioned earlier, Wakui consistently ships a near mirror-polish core, whereas with all Yoshis I’ve had the scratch pattern is clearly visible on the core and even finish. Now, units like my Wakui B#2 are more expensive and closer to Yoshikane ballpark, so no real winner there but one’s preferences.

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However, in a fair comparison of a Wakui Nash W#2 against its Yoshikane “counterpart”, there’s a good buck to be saved. For performance, a Wakui Migaki W#2 MIGHT have nothing to envy to Yoshikane for a good buck saved as well. What I find really nice though is that there are basically two ideas of a Wakui, where his Nash/Ku Nash have a chunkier wide bevel, if you’d rather go in for better food release sacrificing the “laser” stance of his Migaki and any Yoshikane. Yoshis however are always Yoshis to me:

Looking for a laser

09.jpg


Bringing the Kaji-Bei into the comparison as well, of course separation takes a hit, just as does F&F – big time. But separation is still not bad OOTB, finish is quite nice as well overall, and the pitting… well if it was ongoing pitting, it’d be disastrous, but as it came to me, no shy of a lot of it, it was already settled OOTB. I don’t think it’s a problem if not for cosmetics. Price paid ridiculous all things considered.

10.jpg


There’s nothing to add to that. All comparisons done, still no reason to dismiss Yoshikane. That I knew by the second one I’d never be thrilled with much more than cutting performance (and didn’t like the dead flat) yet still went buying a third one is saying something. My personal reasons for going into it again have no value towards this review (but this one sure settled the dead flat for me at least): all I can say is that this Nash cuts like a dream come true once again while reconciling my expectations towards F&F. The price I find rather steep for what they are personally, but looking at the glass half full, if you love a Yoshikane they’re not expensive knives at all. Or let’s just rather say you could easily happen to have pricier tastes. And their SKD-12... love it so much I think it’s the main reason I went for a third one.
 
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ModRQC

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Afterword

Sanjo as a knifemaking region is awesome. Can’t love them all but you’ll easily find purchase to respect each and every one knife coming from there. IMO I’ve found no region to be quite its equal in quality, knife after knife, for the price paid – which often times is indeed ridiculous for what you get.

For further Sanjo poetry, make sure you’ve visited my Wakui A#2 comparative review:

“Memory Lane” Review: Sanjo Knives, Oddballs And a New Wakui

I said there’s basically two ideas of a Wakui, and that the Migaki W#2 were rather laser-ish. For sakes of clarity I think he’s changed his grind with the latter towards leaner. Could be variance in grinds towards a same average, but I still assembled this little comparison of choils that give the idea of what I’ve seen here and there since I’ve started looking into Wakui. Which was a year before I actually ever purchased the first one.

AOOldMigW2.png

This a Wakui Migaki W#2 240mm Gyuto Ai & Om have in stock since “forever” – since I started shopping there at least which would be somewhere in the summer of 2020;

I’m sure that back then he also had the 210mm in stock with a similar grind and a 180mm also. Back then Tosho had their own stocks of the Nashiji line of the same steel and I seem to remember that they ALSO carried a very similar grind. The only thing I can say with a level of certainty is that the “Wakui grind” was imprinted in my head as something like above until I bought my Gyuto and started looking into the recent stocks of his here and there.


AONowMigW2.png

…This a Wakui Migaki W#2 180mm Gyuto Ai & Om had stock at least since I bought the Nakiri, but now sold out;

The old convexity is there, but the overall grind is so much thinner, more alike mine Nakiri.


ToshNowNashW2180.png

…This a Wakui Nashiji W#2 180mm Gyuto Tosho Knife Arts had in stock for about three seconds somewhere this winter;

Now commonly seen crispier shinogi wide bevel on all Nashijis W#2 and KU-Nash B#2 of his. It’s almost the exact copycat of mine B#2 and nothing like the old fat convex wide bevel I remember seeing on all W#2 no matter the finish.

And then compare all of these with the Nakiri as showed a couple posts up….

Could be wrong… grind variance, dimmer memories, who knows? So in the end all I can say is this: the B#2 KU-Nash compared to the Migaki W#2 Nakiri I own are so entirely different grinds you’d never recognize them as a same maker in cutting. Not even a resemblance so much or even a distant, faint recognition.

NOW… I’d purchase that remaining 240mm Gyuto of Ai & Om with the old fatter convex grind just to try it and see for myself if it… blends both I experienced? Is yet something different entirely? But then again as a 240mm unit it’s actually a narrower blade than my 210mm KU-Nash and I don’t expect to love a fat convex so much in as narrow a blade for length. But it’s tempting…

*****

To finish this a couple of pics of the work done on the Kaji-Bei...

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04.jpg


Killing most of the Shinogi on the left side, putting asymmetry forward, thinning BTE and raising that clad line a bit on both sides but mostly the cutting side...


06.jpg

Some love on that handle...

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And a bit of smoothing the sensible areas...

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Last but not least getting that tip real thin. Not sharpened yet on any of these pics BTW
 

blokey

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Thank you for the detailed review! The Wakui nakiri is such a fun little thing, loves mine.
 

MattPike4President

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This was a real interesting read, neat to see the Kaji-Bei project pics. Definitely looks like a steal at that price.

Of itself a thrilling knife, yet if I was asked just how much the additional nose work adds to the performance, I’d have nothing to answer but that it possibly makes the knife feel nimbler for its heft forward than you’d expect handling such a blade size, but otherwise just seems quite a bit overzealous.

I was definitely curious about that, thanks for clarifying. If nothing else, it's an impressive display of skill

*edit: changed some punctuation to sound less sassy
 
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ModRQC

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I was definitely curious about that. Thanks for clarifying. If nothing else, it's an impressive display of skill

That's a good comment actually. I tried to condense this as much as possible but I seem to have rounded some sharper corners.

For my defense...

Wakui

....

Grind is carried superbly and real close to perfect symmetry; I wouldn’t expect much of lows or highs on the bevels. One close look at that knife and you’re entirely confident that Wakui’s got skills. Handle is not the worse kind of Ho, and balances the knife aptly.

Buuuut... I'd still add to this that my take was not in criticizing, more of wondering for about 250$ CAD why on earth does this excellent guy goes that much extra miles into something - with Nakiris - that is mostly futile. Skills he's got. And downright dedication to those. It could be just what you say - knowing he can go there he just goes there.

Thanks for reminding me, albeit I think it's obvious through the review, the respect owed to a maker like Wakui. If my words can be construed as criticism I'm really deeply sorry about it.
 

MattPike4President

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Thanks for reminding me, albeit I think it's obvious through the review, the respect owed to a maker like Wakui. If my words can be construed as criticism I'm really deeply sorry about it.

I think I've come across poorly myself. I was actually curious whether it made any difference and really did appreciate you touching on the topic.
 

ModRQC

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I think I've come across poorly myself. I was actually curious whether it made any difference and really did appreciate you touching on the topic.

Not at all, you had me think back on the compressing of it all. This review was started somewhere mid-January on the Wakui alone, and I had like a full page dedicated to the nose of it, but never could go forward with it. Thought it would be pedant. Then the other ones were bought along and I diverted focus on a comparison instead leaving most of my full nose page behind on the Wakui.

In fact to be honest the Wakui is no longer with me. Not because short of skills. Just because it's what I do.
 
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