Sanjo and Other Regional Preferences?

Kitchen Knife Forums

Help Support Kitchen Knife Forums:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

HumbleHomeCook

Embrace your knifesculinity!
Staff member
Global Moderators
KKF Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2020
Messages
9,273
Reaction score
20,157
Location
PNW USA
So I realized that I apparently have an affinity for knives from the Sanjo region. I love Watanabe and Yoshikane and I like Tadafusa. This wasn't planned in any way and I didn't even realize the connection until last night. What other makers are in this mix? Wakui and Mazaki I think right?

I know I've read many times about regional influences but I was never really sure how much that actually applied in the modern day so didn't give it much thought. I just bought knives I liked.

Have you found that you have a regional preference? Maybe it's Seki or maybe it's Sweden?
 
Last edited:
Over time I've noticed comments about folks moving to western makers and it seems, at least to me, that there's been an uptick in this sentiment.

Curious, if you're preference has edged over to western makers vs. Japan, why?
 
Over time I've noticed comments about folks moving to western makers and it seems, at least to me, that there's been an uptick in this sentiment.

Curious, if you're preference has edged over to western makers vs. Japan, why?
I like to mess with different steels and this is very limited coming from Japanese makers. Customs are also almost nonexistent from Japanese makers. In general there is more variety and better chance of getting what you want from western makers.
 
Over time I've noticed comments about folks moving to western makers and it seems, at least to me, that there's been an uptick in this sentiment.

Curious, if you're preference has edged over to western makers vs. Japan, why?
I wouldn't say just western makers, there are a lot of non-Japanese makers willing to try a lot of different things, from steel to grind, to me it is very interesting.
 
Over time I've noticed comments about folks moving to western makers and it seems, at least to me, that there's been an uptick in this sentiment.

Curious, if you're preference has edged over to western makers vs. Japan, why?

The Western makers are more upfront about the different types of grinds they offer. Also they’re doing some very creative things in terms of profile, grind, steel, damascus, san mai, handles, etc. Plus you get a more personal connection if you order a custom or even just follow them on social media (a lot of them regularly post to instagram). They also seem to sweat fit and finish quite a bit, and take a lot of pride in each and every knife they make.

The Japanese makers on the whole seem to be in this “tradition” mindset. They make the one type of knife in different shapes, maybe a few different steels, and that’s it - that’s what they’ll be doing for the next decade or three. And buying is 3rd party via a retailer, not direct.

I guess I realized I have enough legit high-performance knives. So now I’m looking for more unique and interesting knives (they still have to perform in the kitchen though) combined with a personal experience plus the feeling that I’m supporting a small independent artisan.

If I were still on a quest for the “best cutter” regardless of looks and f&f and maker, I’m sure I’d still be looking at both. But I’m not, so I’m not. Anyway, I think <$350 the j-knives own that category. $350 and up, I’d rather go Western (or more accurately, non-Japanese) and get the personal experience and creativity.
 
Last edited:
The Western makers are more upfront about the different types of grinds they offer. Also they’re doing some very creative things in terms of profile, grind, steel, damascus, san mai, handles, etc. Plus you get a more personal connection if you order a custom or even just follow them on social media (a lot of them regularly post to instagram). They also seem to sweat fit and finish quite a bit, and take a lot of pride in each and every knife they make.

The Japanese makers on the whole seem to be in this “tradition” mindset. They make the one type of knife in different shapes, maybe a few different steels, and that’s it - that’s what they’ll be doing for the decade or three. And buying is 3rd party via a retailer, not direct.

I guess I realized I have enough legit high-performance knives. So now I’m looking for more unique and interesting knives (they still have to perform in the kitchen though) combined with a personal experience plus the feeling that I’m supporting a small independent artisan.

If I were still on a quest for the “best cutter” regardless of looks and f&f and maker, I’m sure I’d still be looking at both. But I’m not, so I’m not. Anyway, I think <$350 the j-knives own that category. $350 and up, I’d rather go Western (or more accurately, non-Japanese) and get the personal experience and creativity.

Awesome answer. Thank you.
 
So now I’m looking for more unique and interesting knives (they still have to perform in the kitchen though) combined with a personal experience plus the feeling that I’m supporting a small independent artisan.
Pretty much sums it up for my reasoning.

There are still Japanese knives I'm looking to try, but some are so hard to acquire that I've been looking elsewhere for new stuff to try. Some non-Japanese stuff is also almost impossible to get so I got back to Japan, then the circle continues
 
Another way I'd look at it is a lot of us have tried a ton of Japanese makers already. And because of the culture (maybe this isn't the right word), there isn't as much as diversity in Japanese knife offerings. I.E., a lot of ex-Yoshikane makers have very similar knives.

I think there is some selection effect here too. There are Japanese makers who experiment, but the people who seek Japanese knives want the traditional white/blue steel (along with the traditional look), so it's hard as a Japanese maker to try new stuff because they need to play to their strengths. I feel like recently we've seen more breaking of the mold though, which is exciting.
 
Another way I'd look at it is a lot of us have tried a ton of Japanese makers already. And because of the culture (maybe this isn't the right word), there isn't as much as diversity in Japanese knife offerings. I.E., a lot of ex-Yoshikane makers have very similar knives.

I think there is some selection effect here too. There are Japanese makers who experiment, but the people who seek Japanese knives want the traditional white/blue steel (along with the traditional look), so it's hard as a Japanese maker to try new stuff because they need to play to their strengths. I feel like recently we've seen more breaking of the mold though, which is exciting.
I'd say Sukenari is one of the better companies to offer more than just White or Blue steels.
 
I'd say Sukenari is one of the better companies to offer more than just White or Blue steels.
Absolutely.

Also, Tosa has amazing bang for buck.

I don’t have particular favorites, I think Sakai, Echizen, Sanjo, Kochi, Tokyo and Tosa have all carved out little places in my cabinet. (Also Osaka and Kyoto by way of New Mexico prefecture and New York prefecture).

I think Sakai is easy to latch onto at first because of the high finishes, the classic look. It’s easy to “get” what they’re about. As you become a heavier user and tinkerer, the stone finishes and defined bevels start to appeal.

Western makers have as well. I think the best pay close attention to Japanese orthodoxy, and allow themselves personal flair. I think distal taper is something where it helps to go to Sanjo, Kochi or custom westerns.

But recall, the demand for the most recent Massdrop outstripped the earlier three. Japan is still the spiritual homeland of the best kitchen knives.
 
Sukenari definitely seems underrated. They definitely have serious heat treats, but it’s probably the sterility of them that makes them less popular/perception of being “manufactured”

I think there’s a certain sentiment that western makers are underrated as a whole but IMO no because when you try to get a knife that is
1) under 400
2) available (ie open books and no indeterminate wait)
3) a known quantity (meaning there’s sufficient feedback on the maker being good or not)
, there are a lot more Japanese options.
 
Interesting question, I never thought about it; I am not sure which regions the knives I have and like are from. I am not a fan of machi gaps (is it Sanjo or Sakai?) and thats about it. Perhaps, there is a pattern, but Im too lazy to put any effort into looking for it.

I like non-J makers as well, but prices and availability are barriers for sure.
 
Pitting Japanese blacksmiths against Western blacksmiths.... Is it really apples to apples?

I wonder if the names we have in our heads are doing equivalent volumes? If they are not... then should we expect similar service/flexibility? For lack of a better word, I see many of the Japanese blacksmiths as 'semi-industrial' in the volumes they produce. Once you get to a certain scale, making bespoke knives for each customer becomes inefficient or impossible. The only way to fulfil larger volumes of orders is to setup a production line and produce knives to a certain specification - this is what the makers become known for. Blacksmiths who have done this will have less incentive for deviating from their production process (there is opportunity cost in doing that). Some of the Western blacksmiths we talk about appear to operate at lower, 'artisanal' volumes. Since they might not have established a 'standard' knife, most orders can be custom within limits. But we are seeing more Western smiths offering 'standard' knives as they increase in popularity.

Another thing I wonder... when we buy Japanese knives, we are usually filtered through distribution houses and other third parties. If you spoke Japanese and lived there, I bet you would have greater access to blacksmiths willing to do custom work. The odds of the western world not having visibility of those options, strike me as being just as likely as those options not existing.

A final thought... the 'semi-industrial' market of handmade Japanese knives has helped bootstrap the fine-knife market. In reality, the number of knife nerds is small compared to the total market of kitchen cutlery sales. Enthusiasts have benefited from the different profiles and grinds coming out of Japan. The internet has facilitated access and discussion about these knives. This has combined to help create an international market for Western blacksmiths. They now have access to savvy customers who know what they want and are willing to pay for it.

... just some thoughts...
 
Last edited:
I like the steel from Tosa best. I’ve gotten some questionable grinds from that region but never bad steel, always inexpensive and somehow Always a pleasant surprise.
Me too.
Years ago (~15?) when Murray Carter moved to a new workshop, he offered a sharpening promo if you signed up to his email list. I sent in a Tosa. He sharpened it and wrote a short note about how he was impressed with its steel/treatment.
 
Pitting Japanese blacksmiths against Western blacksmiths.... Is it really apples to apples?

I wonder if the names we have in our heads are doing equivalent volumes? If they are not... then should we expect similar service/flexibility? For lack of a better word, I see many of the Japanese blacksmiths as 'semi-industrial' in the volumes they produce. Once you get to a certain scale, making bespoke knives for each customer becomes inefficient or impossible. The only way to fulfil larger volumes of orders is to setup a production line and produce knives to a certain specification - this is what the makers become known for. Blacksmiths who have done this will have less incentive for deviating from their production process (there is opportunity cost in doing that). Some of the Western blacksmiths we talk about appear to operate at lower, 'artisanal' volumes. Since they might not have established a 'standard' knife, most orders can be custom within limits. But we are seeing more Western smiths offering 'standard' knives as they increase in popularity.

Another thing I wonder... when we buy Japanese knives, we are usually filtered through distribution houses and other third parties. If you spoke Japanese and lived there, I bet you would have greater access to blacksmiths willing to do custom work. The odds of the western world not having visibility of those options, strike me as being just as likely as those options not existing.

A final thought... the 'semi-industrial' market of handmade Japanese knives has helped bootstrap the fine-knife market. In reality, the number of knife nerds is small compared to the total market of kitchen cutlery sales. Enthusiasts have benefited from the different profiles and grinds coming out of Japan. The internet has facilitated access and discussion about these knives. This has combined to help create an international market for Western blacksmiths. They now have access to savvy customers who know what they want and are willing to pay for it.

... just some thoughts...
I think you sort of took this into a direction it wasn’t meant to go. We are not saying one is better than the other, we are just answering the question why many of us after trying many Japanese knives got Interested and started buying more western/non Japanese knives.

What you say about not speaking Japanese, not being able to contact makers directly, or semi industrial way of production is all true. It is also clear that many or even most Western makers were influenced by knives from Japan. Some were taught there and some clearly picked up many of their ideas from Japanese makers. At this point in time, for most of us if we want variety or custom, personal work, Japanese makers are not an option.
 
I think you sort of took this into a direction it wasn’t meant to go. We are not saying one is better than the other, we are just answering the question why many of us after trying many Japanese knives got Interested and started buying more western/non Japanese knives.

No! Dont get me wrong... I am not trying to impute some sort of quality or value judgment here.

The point I was trying to articulate is why custom work might be biased towards Western makers. Which also isnt really the original question in the thread 😉. I view custom Western knives as a level of maturity in the hobby. These buyers know what they want and are looking for somebody to collaborate with. Like you say, this is often done after experimenting with what is available on the market. You dont have to place a custom order with these smiths... but you may as well!

I think your observation about steel is interesting.

To the original question of this thread: "regionalisation". "Western" blacksmiths is a big bucket. I am not thinking too deeply about this... but German vs French profiles immediately comes to mind. Beyond that, it seems to me that region does not play a strong role? Maybe I am wrong? Instead, I get the impression Western blacksmiths build a reputation on the sort of work they do. It is more individual? Informed customers will approach these blacksmiths knowing their portfolio.

And again.... I guess the internet also flattens "regionalisation" a bit? Blacksmiths can jump onto the internet and take inspiration from anywhere.... they can also log onto these forums and see what the trends are! That is a good thing... hopefully it makes both buyers and blacksmiths more adventurous?
 
Absolutely.

Also, Tosa has amazing bang for buck.

I don’t have particular favorites, I think Sakai, Echizen, Sanjo, Kochi, Tokyo and Tosa have all carved out little places in my cabinet. (Also Osaka and Kyoto by way of New Mexico prefecture and New York prefecture).

I think Sakai is easy to latch onto at first because of the high finishes, the classic look. It’s easy to “get” what they’re about. As you become a heavier user and tinkerer, the stone finishes and defined bevels start to appeal.

Western makers have as well. I think the best pay close attention to Japanese orthodoxy, and allow themselves personal flair. I think distal taper is something where it helps to go to Sanjo, Kochi or custom westerns.

But recall, the demand for the most recent Massdrop outstripped the earlier three. Japan is still the spiritual homeland of the best kitchen knives.

Well said, especially about the transition in what appeals to us.
 
So I realized that I apparently have an affinity for knives from the Sanjo region.

Out of curiosity.... why?

I do as well. For the few that I have tried, I suppose my reasons are the strong distal taper? I currently enjoy middle to heavyweight knives.... so I enjoy a spine with some body to it. A large distal taper can give you a comfortable region to hold and makes the heel section feel quite authorative (stiff I suppose). None of my knives taper to a laser but with a really aggressive taper you could. I also just think tapered spines look really nice. They also make me think more 'craft' was put into forging the knife (whether true or not)... 3D curves are difficult to do!!


When talking about preferences you also have to consider that people's preferences drift. Or at least there appear to be bubbles of interest within the community. I am glad I gave lasers a go... but I never bonded with them. I do like my knives thin behind the edge... but like I said... I like a solid spine. If I were to commission a knife, I *think* I would ask for a knife with heavy spine and dramatic distal taper (Sanjo-esque) with a wide bevel. Workhorse at the top towards the heel... laserish towards the edge and tip. I think at 60mm tall? But I freely admit I might not fall in love with that reality... or it might be compromised....
 
One last thought.... on regional influences...

I guess there is functional style and aesthetic style?? Part of the attraction of owning a honyaki is the romance behind the method/craft (absolutely nothing wrong with this). Clearly, the aesthetic of the final product plays a huge role. Getting a desirable hamon or banding is likely to take precedence over geometry (cutting) for some people. In this regard... I suppose Sakai is over represented?
 
Back
Top