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Newbie needs some help - going to Japan

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Tandrup

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Hi all,

I joined the forum thinking that the two $50 Sabatier knifes I use were hard-core bad-a## kitchen knives. I am taking the family on a trip to Japan this summer (July) and I started researching Japanese Kitchen knifes. I have always been fascinated by knifes and samurai swords, but have never really had the time to geek out on them. I am an IT-guy with a technical background which means that I have to research the heck out of a topic before I make buying decisions...

I like cooking at home, but am by no means a pro. I don't know how to sharpen a knife, but I am willing to either learn how to do it or send my knives somewhere once in a while to keep them sharp. Based on my research I think I am looking for:

- Something that looks "Japanese" - I like that look/blade/handle much better than traditional Western
- I think I need 3 knives:
1) a Nakiri or Usuba for cutting veggies (don't know what the difference is).
2) a small Paring (to replace one I have today). Probably 10cm
3) a knife for trimming and cutting meat and fish. Probably 24cm

With regards to 3), I love the look of a Yanagiba, Kiritsuke, Takobiki (especially the Sakimaru Takobiki)

With regards to steel, I really don't know what to look for. I like the look of damascus, but I am not married to it. Realistically I need a knife that I am not going to have to sharpen every day - so Kirenaga is important. I have looked at Kasumi or Hongasumi styles since that sounded like it would match what I was looking for?

Finally, I am trying to figure out where to buy. I am going to Tokyo and Kyoto this summer and will have 10 days so I can easily fit in a little knife shopping. Apart from the fact that it would be cool to tell people that I bought the knifes in Japan I am trying to figure out if I can save by doing it or if I should just buy them online here in the US.

Has anyone been to Union Commerce in Kappabashi - I have read that that's one of the places to go. I was also planning on going to the Aritsugu retail store in Kyoto.

With regards to budget, I am thinking I want to stay under $250-$300 per knife. I am willing to spend a little more and then maybe just get 2 knifes.

Ok, I know that's a lot of questions and that I have a lot to learn, but I hope that some of you will help me out in my quest. Even if you can just give me a perspective on some of the things I am hoping to learn more about, that would be really helpful. I am always really impressed by how much knowledge is out here on forums like this and how willing people are to help.

Thanks in advance,
Lars, San Francisco
 

Andrew H

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1) Nakiri are double bevel knives, Usuba are single bevel knives.

2) I (and many others on this forum) find 100mm to be a little small for petty knives. I think 120 is a more versatile size.
The konosuke HD is a great one - http://www.japaneseknifeimports.com...e/petty-knife/konosuke-120mm-hd-wa-petty.html

3) I agree with you that takobiki are great to look at, but a yanagiba or sujihiki is more versatile. A yanagiba is single bevel and a sujihiki is double bevel.
For a suji the konosuke HD is also very good, and matching sets are always nice. http://www.japaneseknifeimports.com...e/sujihiki/konosuke-270mm-hd-wa-sujihiki.html

For your first knives I would probably stay double bevel, but that's up to you.
Also you might want to think about replacing a nakiri / usuba with a gyuto (chef's knife) which is more versatile.

EDIT: I realized you might not know what double or single bevel means. A double bevel means it is sharpened from both side of the knife. A single bevel means the back of the knife is flat, and the right side (for right handed people) is sharpened.
Not very accurate model:
V (double bevel) |/ (single bevel)
 

Tandrup

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Thanks for the reply - I will look at the Konosuke. You mentioned the difference btw double or single bevel. How does that translate into how the knife works or handles - is there a big difference?

I was looking through a lot of other threads tonight and found some references to Masamoto KS - series. Does anyone have good or bad experience with those knives - and would they fit my description of what I am looking for?
 

bishamon

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There is a huge difference in single vs double bevel. Single bevel can get very sharp, but is also more delicate. You should not use a yanagi on anything with bones, including fish. They are used to cut sashimi that has already been sectioned. It is not a general purpose knife. The takobiki is even more specialized. The kiritsuke is a general purpose single bevel knife, but again it is more delicate than a western knife (but can get sharp as heck) and takes time to learn to use effectively. Also, you have to consider sharpening, the knives will need it.

Single bevel knives can 'turn' in when cutting into thick foods, ie start to curve toward the inside while cutting down until you get used to it. I don't mean to steer you away from single bevel knives, IMO they are better in a lot of ways, but they are a different animal altogether from western knives. Your lineup lacks a general purpose knife, so I would suggest a wa-gyuto or wa-sujihiki (these have the traditional japanese looking handles). If you want, also get a yanagi or single bevel knife as a slicer, too, for special use.

Normal western knives are double bevel. Here is a picture of what right-handed single bevel looks like (left handed has the angled edge on the other side instead), notice that one side looks flat, although it is a little concave:




"flat" back


As a side note, real damascus pattern knives are very expensive, and don't give noticeable performance gains IME. Take note that carbon steel knives will rust if not dried after or during prolonged use (carbon steel is better though as far as performance overall - sharper, easier to sharpen, good kirenaga especially blue steel (aogami)). In kyoto, as I mentioned in the other thread, you should visit Kikuichimonji too. It's not more than a 20 minute walk from Aritsugu.
Kappabashi has several stores along it that sell knives. You can see them from the street as you walk past, so they're easy to find. Tsukiji fish market area has Aritsugu also, as well as Masahisa. Nenohi is around there too, not sure where, but those are $$$$$.
 

JohnnyChance

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Thanks for the reply - I will look at the Konosuke. You mentioned the difference btw double or single bevel. How does that translate into how the knife works or handles - is there a big difference
There is a big difference in the way that single and double bevel knives work, yes. Much less of a learning curve with double bevel knives. You basically already know how to cut stuff with a double beveled knife, as that is what you most likely have been using most of your life. Also, the type of food and cuts we use in the west are much more suited to double bevel than single bevel knives.

Wa handles can be found on single and double beveled knives, so if that is part of the look you want, it wont be a problem to get it. Takeda has a kiritsuke shaped gyuto with a wa-handle that is double beveled. His knives also have that "authentic/rustic" look with a wa handle you might like.

A gyuto/chefs knife is usually the most used and versatile, so you most likely want to end up with one at some point. After that, a parer/petty and a slicer/sujihiki are very useful. Nakiris are more single task oriented than a gyuto, but still fun to have. I would also decide what your total budget is, and then allocate more to either one or two knives that you use more often. You don't need to spend 250-300 on a paring knife. If you had $900 to spend, I would rather spend 400+ on a chefs knife, less than 100 on a parer, 200ish on a suji and still have money left over for a nakiri.

As for shopping in Japan, I can't help you much there.
 

Seb

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Aren't there a bunch of cutlery shops at the Tsukiji Market?
 

oivind_dahle

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If you want a knife of great story I would go for a 240 Honyaki Gyuto.

A massproduced knife would not impress me, they are cheap and have no particular cool story. If you want that special knife go at least for a Honyaki.
And be prepared to pay for the right one. If you just want great knife go for massproduced either from Konosuke, Nehoni, Tadasuna, Sakai Yusuke, Mizono or another famous brand :)

However if you wanna have a knife to impress your friend I would rather have a custom, but they are expensive.

If I ever went to japan I would team up with a member in this forum: DrNaka. I would offer him money to show me around, and to find me that special knife I could be proud to own. You might even get lucky and meet the maker ;) That would be awesome :)
 

Lefty

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Really quickly, I'll add this:
I got to handle a Masamoto KS, recently, and they feel and look incredible! If you like the shape of your Sabs, the KS will feel strangely familiar, even though they are quite obviously worlds apart.
The KS is beautifully crafted and the tip and taper seem to be spot on!
As for performance, maybe dmccurtis will weigh in on this one! :)
 

bishamon

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A massproduced knife would not impress me, they are cheap and have no particular cool story. If you want that special knife go at least for a Honyaki...If you just want great knife go for massproduced either from Konosuke, Nehoni, Tadasuna, Sakai Yusuke, Mizono or another famous brand
I'm not sure I'd recommend a starter to get a honyaki knife, especially if it is going to be their workhorse...but I never bought in to the 'only honyaki matters' bandwagon. And I don't see how you can call Konosuke, Nenohi, Tadatsunas, etc. cheap and uninteresting...many are made to order.
 

Rottman

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If you want a knife of great story I would go for a 240 Honyaki Gyuto.

A massproduced knife would not impress me, they are cheap and have no particular cool story. If you want that special knife go at least for a Honyaki.
And be prepared to pay for the right one. If you just want great knife go for massproduced either from Konosuke, Nehoni, Tadasuna, Sakai Yusuke, Mizono or another famous brand :)

However if you wanna have a knife to impress your friend I would rather have a custom, but they are expensive.

If I ever went to japan I would team up with a member in this forum: DrNaka. I would offer him money to show me around, and to find me that special knife I could be proud to own. You might even get lucky and meet the maker ;) That would be awesome :)
Hey Oivind,
don't you think it makes more sense to get an idea on shapes and steels he likes for his first real knife first before shelling out muchos dineros on a custom or a honyaki that he'll most likely ruin?
 

Seb

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Me, I am all about quantity over quality!
 

Lefty

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Hahaha. You got some great "crap" knives then, Seb!
 

Lefty

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To the OP, I'd steer clear of single bevel knives. If you get a usuba, you will chip it...many times!
Take a good hard look at Masamoto, and Aritsugu will have a huge variety at their shops, so you will likely find something worthwhile there, in your price range.
If you can find a properly thinned Aritsugu A-Type (you won't...but if you can) it would give you ridiculous durability and retention (from what I've read).
 

oivind_dahle

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If a person finds his way into a forum like this, its probably because they are a little more interested than the normal person :)

A Guyto is a knife that is the most versatile in the kitchen. Most home chef needs just one knife and it is a Gyuto and 240 is probably the perfect length.
I agree that Konosuke and the others can make insane knives, but will you find this one on a marked in Japan? I also got the impression the threadstarter wanted something special with some kind of history. I recommended to get in touch with DrNaka, that might tip him on the right knife for the right price.

I know I would feel stupid if I got a knife in Japan, and found it on Sur La Table when I came back home. The reason I suggested a Honykai (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honyaki) is that it is a piece of art and history in one knife. At least the threadstarter now knows that there are difference between a massproduced knife and a honyaki made by an old master.

And to be honest if this person goes all the way to Japan to see the old tradition of making knife and end up with a massproduced knife, its like being tricked and hustled like no other. And as I said: DrNaka might be the solution for this man. And if you go to japan to end up with a massproduced medicore japanese knife you could just by it at home or on the net.

My 2 cents :)

Then again, all the threadstarted really needs is a stainless/semistainless/cladded 240 guyto....
And this he can buy on the net for a lower price than at the touristmagnets in Japan :)
 

bishamon

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And to be honest if this person goes all the way to Japan to see the old tradition of making knife and end up with a massproduced knife, its like being tricked and hustled like no other. And as I said: DrNaka might be the solution for this man. And if you go to japan to end up with a massproduced medicore japanese knife you could just by it at home or on the net.
Well from the sound of it he's not going to Japan to look at knives...it's a family vacation and he'll stop by a few knife places while he's there.
Keep in mind there are lots of 'mass produced' honyaki knives (if apparently we're dropping Konosuke, Tadatsuna and Nenohi in the mass-produced list), in fact a lot of the same craftsmen make both kasumi and honyaki. You can get honyaki knives from any of the shops already mentioned in this thread too (I was just there and saw them on the shelves). It's not a top secret, members only club deal produced by two old sages living on a mountain top. And well made kasumi knives are in no way 'mediocre', and in fact the performance difference is not overly large IME between a high end hongasumi knife and a honyaki. Implying that getting a hongasumi knife is like being swindled doesn't sit right with me.
But to each their own I guess. The original poster will have to take this all in and decide himself.
 

Cadillac J

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A massproduced knife would not impress me, they are cheap and have no particular cool story.
I'm really tired of hearing you post things like this in every thread where someone is looking for a knife.

Not everyone who ventures here is willing to spend the kind of coin you always refer to...and how can anyone really know what they want in a custom if they have no experience with their likes/dislikes?
 

Tandrup

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Wow - I didn't mean to start an almost "religious" discussion between Honyaki and Kasumi. I am pretty certain that based on the little research I have done, a Honyaki is not what I am looking for. Thanks to everyone for chiming in though - I appreciate your insight and willingness to help and I am learning a lot with every post. With regards to Oivind's comments, I appreciate your sense of quality and I might ultimately turn into a serious knife geek, but for now I am trying to "step up my game" a notch or two compared to what I have and know about knives today. So here is what I am thinking:

- I need to revisit my selection of knifes, as it sounds like there is consensus that I need a Gyoto in the lineup. Maybe the gyoto replaces the Nakiri? I don't cut meat with a lot of bones in it - so I think a knife like the Yanagiba/Kiritsuke stays in the mix. I would rather get 2 or 3 knifes now and then keep my old Sabatiers for the "dirty work". After all, I am going to use them at home and I don't butcher things. So maybe the lineup becomes:
1) Gyoto
2) Paring
3) Yanagiba/Kiritsuke
4) Slicer or Nakiri if my budget allows

- I think I need a combination of single bevel and double bevel. I understand that there is some learning involved in using single bevel and keeping them sharp, but I am willing to invest that time to learn it. The difference is now clear to me - and I want to try both. Many of you also commented that the single bevels are more traditional, can get crazy sharp and at least need to be part of the portfolio.
- I shouldn't pay for Damascus - although it looks cool, there doesn't seem to be any performance impact to having it/not having it.
- With regards to buying here vs. Japan, I am still not sure if it will be cheaper. I will probably have to zoom in on some knife makes and models and then compare the prices when I get there. I tried to compare prices on the Masamoto link that someone posted (tsukijimasamoto), but it's really hard to figure out what series I am looking at - even with Google translator. Does anyone know which knives on that website are in the KS series?
- I also learned that I probably don't have to spend the same amount of money on every knife - invest my money based on how much I am going to use them.
- Masamoto KS looks like it's still something to consider along with Takeda and a couple of other brands you guys have mentioned.

How does that sound?
 

oivind_dahle

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Well in that case, the threadstarter is better off using the net, than get hustled at a knifestore made for tourists.
I guess this will be the perfect knife: http://www.**************.com/todpwa24.html

Or he could even have DrNaka get him a Yoshikane or a Shigefusa for far less than he would have payed on a marked in Japan :)
If he wants to impress friends then he should at least know what he is buying. Because its rather embarrasing going to Italy to buy a car to show all your friends and familiy and telling them all sorts of stories about this Italian muscle car made by experts with a long list of customer waiting for their special car, and its this one you bought: http://drpinna.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/800px-Fiat_500.jpg and your friend actually thought you bought this one: http://www.exoticcars.ws/cars/ferrari-enzo-doors-open.jpg

but I admit, there are cool history among cheap knives as well: http://www.jendeindustries.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=JENDE&Category_Code=BOMBCUT
But the threadstarter wants to get into things before he buys. Lets inform him about the possibilities ;)
 

JohnnyChance

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If he wants to impress friends then he should at least know what he is buying.
I believe most of us buy knives we like to help us cook at home or professionally. Impressing friends is not that important, as most do not care about kitchen knives. Even in a professional kitchen some people do not care. You should not buy knives to impress people, or recommend that is what other should do.

If you went to japan on vacation and bought a Masamoto or a Takeda or a Konosuke or whatever, you would come home with a great knife AND a cool story behind it. The knives we discuss here are better than 99.9% of the kitchen cutlery out there. You will not end up with a "bad" knife no matter which of our recommendations you go with. Custom knives are great, but like the top 0.1% of anything, their cost is much higher than their added performance. Does the Ferrari get you to work any faster than the Fiat? Probably not. If so, not much.

NOT EVERYONE CAN AFFORD OR NEEDS CUSTOMS. You need to stop recommending them to everyone, and talking poorly about "mass-produced" knives. It's not like we are talking about stamped Chicago Cutlery here with molded plastic handles. And if everyone had customs, yours wouldnt be special, and what would you do then?
 

SpikeC

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I don't have the kind of experience with a variety of makers like others on this list do, but after a lot of looking and study I bought a Takeda 210 gyuto as my first Jknife, and I am in love with it. It has obvious marks of hand craftsmanship, a properly patinaed cladding and an amazing core steel. And it just feels so natural in my hand, a true extension of it.
I would recommend at least checking them out.
 

tk59

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Your budget is more than adequate to get awesome performing knives that look nice, too. If I were you, I would go to Japan Woodworker across the bay and hold some knives with your hands and/or talk to Jon Broida (or better yet go for a visit). Look at the thinness the last two inches from the tip and note the thinness the last cm behind the edge. Even if the steel is mediocre (which it won't be), blades that are thin in these areas will cut like crazy. Aside from that, make sure it's comfortable wherever your hand makes contact with the knife/handle and you're pretty much set. If you have to do it blind, I'd go with KonHD 240 (gyuto or suji) with an upgraded handle and pretty much any 150mm petty made out of stainless or semi-stainless. I've decided I'm not going to recommend A-types anymore. It is true they are wear-resistant and take an awesome edge but the steel is too soft (hrc 58 ish), imo. The edge deforms too easily for the way I use my knives.
 

Pensacola Tiger

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Lars,

Sorry to have to tell you that research will only take you so far in the process of selecting a knife. There is a strong personal component involved that seems to defy quantification. I say this not to discourage you, but to forewarn you that the knife that meets all of the criteria you have set down on paper may not prove to be the knife you expect it to be once you actually use it. To put it in IT terms, think of NetBeans vs Eclipse. Both are good Java IDEs, but personal preference plays a big part in which one you favor, and you can't tell without using them.

For this reason, I would advise you against buying all three of the knives you mention while in Japan. I would suggest instead that you buy one knife as a souvenir of your trip, but one that might happen to be useful in the kitchen. Brands to look for are Aritsugu, Monzaburo and Masamoto.

You should understand that the traditional Japanese knife styles (usuba, deba, kiritsuke, yanagiba/takobiki) were designed for the techniques of preparing traditional Japanese cuisine. They are far less suited for the tasks of a Western kitchen, and you will find using them for that purpose can be a frustrating experience.

For example, the yanagiba excels in producing thin slices of raw fish, but is hardly the tool of choice for carving a turkey or slicing a roast. The usuba is an excellent tool for katsuramuki, but does not perform as well in dicing onions or slicing tomatoes as a Western chef's knife. Unless you are planning a complete change of your cuisine from Western to Eastern, put aside the notion of getting a set of traditional Japanese knives to use in your Western kitchen.

What I think you need to outfit a Western kitchen is the Japanese equivalent of Western knife styles. The gyuto is the rough equivalent of a chef's knife; the sujihiki is the equivalent of a slicing or carving knife; the petty, or petit gyuto, is a long paring knife. The nakiri is unique, in that there is no Western counterpart, but it is an excellent vegetable knife.

From your original post, a nakiri or gyuto, a petty, and a sujihiki would serve you well. You may want to ask Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports to suggest some choices. You are close enough to LA to consider a trip there to see the knives in person.

Good luck, and have a great vacation.

Rick
 

JBroida

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i'd be happy to speak with you about knives in Japan... shoot me a PM or e-mail if you're interested
 

Cadillac J

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If he wants to impress friends then he should at least know what he is buying. Because its rather embarrasing going to Italy to buy a car to show all your friends and familiy and telling them all sorts of stories about this Italian muscle car made by experts with a long list of customer waiting for their special car, and its this one you bought.
Who buys knives to impress their friends?

If I can sharpen and cut better with my 'cheap, mass-produced' Konosukes...how does that make them inferior to your customs for their intended purpose?

Also, in your car example: What I think would be more embarrassing would be someone buying a genuine Ferrari Enzo just for how people perceive them, but not having the skills to drive or maintain it properly. If someone could take a Corvette Z06 (cheap and mass produced in comparison) and tune it to be faster, better handling and they were able to drive circles around you...then would you still try to knock them down a peg because your vehicle costs much more?

I'm not trying to rag on you, as you are entitled to your opinions. But for you to continually criticize the majority of knives we discuss here (especially to newbs), all because you are on some high-horse with your customs, is asinine and makes you come off as extremely pretentious.
 

tk59

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...But for you to continually criticize the majority of knives we discuss here (especially to newbs), all because you are on some high-horse with your customs, is asinine and makes you come off as extremely pretentious.
CJ, haven't you read OD's favorite quote? The one about being "insensitive?" Also, he does love the HiroAS which is a mass produced knife. So... Basically, he's knuts. I'm sure the OP can figure that out. :lol2:
 

oivind_dahle

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If you really believe what your are writing - how come a Kramer goes for 20 000 USD on ebay?
The best part is that they will most likely never be used. Damn people must be dumb!

Nah, you see a lot of customers out there want the best of the best, even though they cant handle the knife like it should. I honestly think most users here are far more skilled with the knife compared to me, I also believe most people here are better sharpeners than me. But so what? For me knives is a hobby, and its a rather cheap hobby as well. I used to be into hifi, photo and computers. That was a far more expensive hobbies than collecting a few knives....

Most Norwegian chefs I know (and some of them have won really high medals internationally) dont have a japanese knife, and even use a dull knife for cutting. But their food is awesome, so perhaps a knife in the long run dont matter at all? Victorinox is the brand top chefs in Norway uses.

What Im saying is that customers are not only interested in how the knife preforms and how sharp it will get. A lot of buyers are into history, the craftmanship and the true beauty of the knife. And if you go to Japan, you should know a little about knives or you are better off using the web or visiting your local store and try some out. But we have different standards you and me. If someone ask for a beautiful lady I would recommend Megan Fox, you on the other hand would recommend Rosanne Barr. Both would give you an orgasm, but one of them you wouldnt brag about to your friends :)

I will continue to recommend the top makers, and they may not make a far more better knife than a japanese brand like konosuke. But thats not the point. Someone wants a little special in the kitchen - and a massproduced knife is not that special... Why would anybody buy a Custom of Devin, if all they needed was a ITK? :S

Its time to realize that knives are not only tools, but to a lot of customers its something more.... :)
 
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