What Japanese knife brands only became famous in Japan after they became famous outside Japan?

Kitchen Knife Forums

Help Support Kitchen Knife Forums:

josemartinlopez

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 27, 2020
Messages
250
Reaction score
49
Location
Singapore
If you want to get a Konosuke in Japan, you have to contact them directly, which is not because they wouldn't sell in Japan or because they were designed for Western customers and don't really match the people's needs here, but because their capacities are already exhausted by distributors from abroad. Even if you visit them, they probably won't have more than just a couple of knives in the small and beautiful showroom. That's also the reason why they were never established as a famous brand in Japan. At the same time, you might want to know that many brands only became famous in Japan after they were discovered abroad. It might be surprising at first, but almost all people here including chefs don't really care much about knives anyway, but just get what they were recommended by their seniors or what was advertised, without having any idea about steels etc.
Branching off from the epic Konosuke Fujiyama thread...

I'm really intrigued by this comment. What Japanese knife brands only became famous in Japan after they became famous outside Japan?

Has the reverse happened, where there are brands with a strong following in Japan but not outside it? Is it a factor that there are traditional knives used in Japanese cuisine that would have little application outside this?
 

McMan

Senior Member
Joined
Feb 15, 2018
Messages
1,368
Reaction score
770
What Japanese knife brands only became famous in Japan after they became famous outside Japan?
Has the reverse happened, where there are brands with a strong following in Japan but not outside it?
These are neat questions. I'll be interested to see answers from people that know about brand history, etc.
 

Noodle Soup

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2011
Messages
1,665
Reaction score
72
Knifewear up in Canada put out one but I don't think its something that will satisfy the really hardcore fans of Japanese kitchen knives
 

parbaked

Senior Member
Joined
May 10, 2017
Messages
1,524
Reaction score
1,076
Location
San Francisco
Lexus launched in 1989 in the US but wasn't introduced to the Japanese market until 2005...
 
Last edited:

jacko9

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 31, 2014
Messages
1,111
Reaction score
312
Location
Northern California
I have a 2001 Lexus GS300 and it hasn't had one problem in all this time. One tire change, and a few oil changes and it drives like it's brand new.
 

blunt_cutter

Member
Joined
May 10, 2020
Messages
16
Reaction score
10
Location
pa
Toyota just didn't call them Lexus in Japan until 2005. They have always been selling them in Japan as Toyotas just as Honda sells Acuras and Nissan sells Infiniti they believe stupid american buyers need a separate brand name to identify luxury.
 

jacko9

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 31, 2014
Messages
1,111
Reaction score
312
Location
Northern California
The GS Lexus is a rear wheel drive car and weather or not they were selling them in Japan as Toyato's I could care less as my car is 20 years old and in pristine shape.
 

Luftmensch

Supporting Member
Joined
Dec 13, 2017
Messages
982
Reaction score
746
I'm really intrigued by this comment. What Japanese knife brands only became famous in Japan after they became famous outside Japan?
Nice question to ask!

It is hard to quantify the veracity of these claims. I am not necessarily claiming they are false, I just view them with mild scepticism. This forum is a bubble. Most people globally, chefs included, are just not that obsessive about knives. This isn't just a Japan phenomenon. To me, the question really comes down to what it means by 'famous'? How many people would you have to stop on the street before they could name a small Japanese blacksmith? That said; how many people would you have to stop on the street before they could name any three knife brands in less than 15 seconds?

The knife market is absolutely saturated in Japan (and globally). Why would any one buy a particular brand? I can see this happening various ways: through excellence (the knife is good), advertising (somebody told you to) and distribution (it was there and convenient).

If a craftsman or brand is truly excellent, customers will recognise that. In time word of mouth will generate a reasonable base of customers. For advertising and distribution to work, the producer generally needs scale. Either enough revenue to market their products or enough revenue to spend time generating contacts and distribution channels (or both!).

I can't see how you would reach either recognition or scale without being a known entity. It would seem unlikely to me that a Japanese knife manufacturer could become 'famous' overseas without having some local track record. That isn't to say it hasn't happened. But how do foreign distributors discover 'the newest talent' without insider knowledge and contacts? I'll assert they don't.

I rather suspect what @EShin really means is that the demand for many smaller Japanese brands did not outstrip supply until the west 'discovered' them. After all... there are about 1.3 billion people in the OECD and 'only' 126 million in Japan.

Just a thought! But I am interested to see what turns up :)
 

EShin

Member
Joined
Mar 16, 2020
Messages
12
Reaction score
23
Location
Japan
I rather suspect what @EShin really means is that the demand for many smaller Japanese brands did not outstrip supply until the west 'discovered' them. After all... there are about 1.3 billion people in the OECD and 'only' 126 million in Japan.
Yes, I completely agree with your well-articulated view! For example, Kato and Shigefusa knives are sought after in Japan now too, but this only happened after they became famous as exceptional makers abroad. A similar thing happened with Japanese whiskey. Yamazaki whiskey was easy to get and quite cheap until Jim Murray awarded one product as whiskey of the year and demand went crazy.
As with the whiskey, it is also the case with these knife makers that they had been forging blades for many decades before. At the same time, they mostly produced knives for stores that sold them to people who didn't know about the blacksmiths and sharpeners, which is still common today. Actually, many well-recognised makers produce a great many traditional Japanese blades that are aimed at Japanese chefs like that, and all these models wouldn't usually be known or sold abroad. On the contrary, they are often approached by foreign distributors, asking them to produce specific blades.
This might be one of the reasons why e.g. Watanabe doesn't have much information on kitchen knives on his Japanese website, but a lot on his English website - the Japanese knives would be produced for certain stores so that there's no direct relation to customers anyway. However, it is also true that some of these makers decided to produce mostly for customers abroad. After all, producing directly for people who care a lot about knives and the makers behind them should be a lot more rewarding.
I guess that's the main examples that come to my mind right now. Another example might be Yoshikane. Their knives were readily available until a few months ago, but disappeared suddenly. I'm not completely sure about the reason why, but I guess it will have to do with overseas demand.
 

parbaked

Senior Member
Joined
May 10, 2017
Messages
1,524
Reaction score
1,076
Location
San Francisco
Toyota just didn't call them Lexus in Japan until 2005. They have always been selling them in Japan as Toyotas just as Honda sells Acuras and Nissan sells Infiniti they believe stupid american buyers need a separate brand name to identify luxury.
You're wrong about Lexus
Acura and Infiniti launched with rebranded Japanese models.
Lexus launched with brand new cars that shared no major components with the luxury cars they made in Japan (Crown & Century).
It was called the F1 project and it was radical stuff for a Japanese company.
A significant investment to try to do something better...

If you're interested this Wiki page does a good job of outlining the history:
 

M1k3

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 28, 2018
Messages
2,994
Reaction score
2,740
There's also the whole covid pandemic going on lately. Could be a combination of overseas demand and less production.
 

Ruso

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2013
Messages
1,546
Reaction score
185
Yes, I completely agree with your well-articulated view! For example, Kato and Shigefusa knives are sought after in Japan now too, but this only happened after they became famous as exceptional makers abroad.
I belive Shigs were always looked after in Japan and were well regarded knives.
Kato could be the case, but was not he or his family making swords before moving to knives? Could be that his/his family swords were already popular in Japan.
 

blunt_cutter

Member
Joined
May 10, 2020
Messages
16
Reaction score
10
Location
pa
You're wrong about Lexus
Acura and Infiniti launched with rebranded Japanese models.
Lexus launched with brand new cars that shared no major components with the luxury cars they made in Japan (Crown & Century).
It was called the F1 project and it was radical stuff for a Japanese company.
A significant investment to try to do something better...

If you're interested this Wiki page does a good job of outlining the history:
I found on the same webpage you referenced that it was a new model but it was also sold in Japan as a Toyota Celsior. Western buying habits greatly influenced the final vehicle but it was still a Toyota where it was built and therefore essentially a rebadged Toyota when it hit US shores.
 

EShin

Member
Joined
Mar 16, 2020
Messages
12
Reaction score
23
Location
Japan
I belive Shigs were always looked after in Japan and were well regarded knives.
Kato could be the case, but was not he or his family making swords before moving to knives? Could be that his/his family swords were already popular in Japan.
As Luftmensch pointed out, all these makers didn't become popular outside of Japan out of nothing, but had been renowned before, I agree. However, they weren't "stars" with a huge following, and until just a few years ago, you certainly didn't have to place an order years ahead. Now, these kinds of bubbles might be less the result of the demand outside of Japan but more due to online sales (well, the two go hand in hand, I guess). Most people here are very easily influenced ("oh, this famous guy on TV (who might be barely able to cook) uses this knife, so it must be very good and I should have it, too"), and while they wouldn't have gone to a knife store, they would order online (that has happened with e.g. Moritaka hamono after they were shown on Japanese TV).
 

Ruso

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2013
Messages
1,546
Reaction score
185
As Luftmensch pointed out, all these makers didn't become popular outside of Japan out of nothing, but had been renowned before, I agree. However, they weren't "stars" with a huge following, and until just a few years ago, you certainly didn't have to place an order years ahead. Now, these kinds of bubbles might be less the result of the demand outside of Japan but more due to online sales (well, the two go hand in hand, I guess). Most people here are very easily influenced ("oh, this famous guy on TV (who might be barely able to cook) uses this knife, so it must be very good and I should have it, too"), and while they wouldn't have gone to a knife store, they would order online (that has happened with e.g. Moritaka hamono after they were shown on Japanese TV).
Do you have any evidence that the long wait times and insane prices are mainly related to the domestic demand instead of huge western demand?
 
Last edited:

EShin

Member
Joined
Mar 16, 2020
Messages
12
Reaction score
23
Location
Japan
Do you have any evidence that the long wait times and insane prices are mainly related to the domestic demand instead of huge western demand?
From talking to some people directly I know that in most cases, only a very narrow range of the products are sold to overseas, and the blacksmiths are usually extremely loyal to the stores that have been selling their products for decades. Waiting time and prices can vary from store to store, and traditional stores treat loyal customers completely different than "outsiders". So I think that many blacksmiths would only cater to relatively new business relations such as overseas vendors once they met the demand of "first priority customers". (That's not to say that they wouldn't respect the overseas vendors such as say JKI very much, but the stores that already their teachers or fathers had been doing business with have a totally different status again.) So their capacity is already limited, and when there's suddenly a hype for certain brands, things add up quickly. Now, the hype can be non-domestic or domestic, or both. I don't have any clear evidence, but as far as I can see, it's usually the case that such a hype first starts abroad and then the media here would report on it, thus adding to the hype.

By the way, Japanese handles on Western chef or Petty knives wasn't popular in Japan until a few years ago, but it's still a minor thing. Some years ago, TF didn't even sell Japanese handles in his store because there was no demand for it. The same goes for Kurouchi - valuing it positively and as something beautiful is still not very common. But then again, the average customer in Japan as well as anywhere prefers fancy factory made knives anyway.
 

Ruso

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2013
Messages
1,546
Reaction score
185
From talking to some people directly I know that in most cases, only a very narrow range of the products are sold to overseas, and the blacksmiths are usually extremely loyal to the stores that have been selling their products for decades. Waiting time and prices can vary from store to store, and traditional stores treat loyal customers completely different than "outsiders". So I think that many blacksmiths would only cater to relatively new business relations such as overseas vendors once they met the demand of "first priority customers". (That's not to say that they wouldn't respect the overseas vendors such as say JKI very much, but the stores that already their teachers or fathers had been doing business with have a totally different status again.) So their capacity is already limited, and when there's suddenly a hype for certain brands, things add up quickly. Now, the hype can be non-domestic or domestic, or both. I don't have any clear evidence, but as far as I can see, it's usually the case that such a hype first starts abroad and then the media here would report on it, thus adding to the hype.

By the way, Japanese handles on Western chef or Petty knives wasn't popular in Japan until a few years ago, but it's still a minor thing. Some years ago, TF didn't even sell Japanese handles in his store because there was no demand for it. The same goes for Kurouchi - valuing it positively and as something beautiful is still not very common. But then again, the average customer in Japan as well as anywhere prefers fancy factory made knives anyway.
I have nothing to argue here, everything sounds solid and completely in-line with my way of thinking.
Let's look at this thread title: "What Japanese knife brands only became famous in Japan after they became famous outside Japan?"
It makes total sense that if a knife maker/workshop/operation is at 90-80% capacity delivering to its domestic partners because they already have a good recognition and solid demand domestically will be struggling to deliver when you add all the interest from the "Western" buyers.
However, this example does not satisfy the criteria of the OP, does not it?
 

EShin

Member
Joined
Mar 16, 2020
Messages
12
Reaction score
23
Location
Japan
However, this example does not satisfy the criteria of the OP, does not it?
Yes and no - Japanese brands that would literally satisfy the criteria must be very few, and Konosuke might be the best example. However, I think Luftmensch made an important point when stating that all of these brands already had some local popularity and only then became *famous* outside Japan, before finally receiving more public (but still limited) attention in Japan. Was trying to elaborate on that, which I hope wasn't completely besides the point.

Another thing that needs to be mentioned is that the concept of branding can be complicated. A company can sell knives made by different blacksmiths and sharpeners under the same name, or again a blacksmith would produce blades for many different brands. Traditionally, that has been very intransparent, and they wouldn't even disclose the steel, which had less to do with the craftsmen but with the salesmen for all I know. I think the move towards transparency is driven by demand outside of Japan.
 

Ruso

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 20, 2013
Messages
1,546
Reaction score
185
Yes and no - Japanese brands that would literally satisfy the criteria must be very few, and Konosuke might be the best example.
Pretty much. We are not discussing the Japanese brands that a popular in the “west”. This is not a discussion in vacuum or an en exercise of mental agility. OP had a question and the answer is what it is.

To your second point, this is still the case. We do not even have to look at Japanese stores to see that the maker(s) are not disclosed of a particular line of knives. At the same time, not many ppl discuss the sharpener who's contribution to the final product could be as important as the smith’s.
But this discussion is outside the scope of the thread.
 

Corradobrit1

Senior Member
Joined
May 2, 2015
Messages
2,919
Reaction score
1,504
Most of Kiyoshi Kato output supplies the local market. Only JNS as far as I know is a foreign vendor and his supply is very sporadic. All Hiroshi Ashi's Honyaki are sold locally. Razorsharp used to get them but I don't think they have had any stock for several years. I don't think that demand has anything to do with their appeal to Western buyers. That said the local flippers are taking advantage of poor supply outside Japan.
 
Top