Buying a high quality kitchen knife in Tokyo/Osaka
I would like to buy a very high quality kitchen knife on my trip to Japan. I am looking for something handmade and of superior quality, and also somewhat unique but still practical. I was thinking something along the lines of the knife Anthony Bourdain buys from a small shop (I think in Kyoto, but may be wrong), if anyone's seen the episode. We will be in Tokyo, Nagano, Osaka, and day trips to Hiroshima, Kyoto, and maybe Kobe. Thanks for the help.
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We picked up two knives from Aritsugu during our trip this spring. They're located in Kyoto's Nishiki Market, which itself was a fun experience. You can look them up on the Internet yourself but in short, they've been making knives for hundreds of years and their origins are from sword crafting.
It's a somewhat small shop so it was kind of crowded. Very helpful staff though. The person who helped us spoke very good English, despite her modesty saying she only spoke a little, and took her time explaining things to us.
We picked up a Yanagiba style sashimi knife (long slender) and a kansai style Usuba knife (standard chef's/kitchen utility). The sashimi knife has gotten less use as we only use it once in a blue moon when we make maki or sashimi. We use the Usuba knife pretty regularly. It's pretty much a standard chef's knife. Both are fairly light (compared to our Henkels) with a wooden handle.
You have some options in your selection. There are different lengths of course. Some knives have one or two sided blades (left or right handed if you choose single bladed). You also can choose carbon steel or stainless. We chose a carbon steel blade since it holds its edge better but of course it'll rust if you don't give it the attention it needs.
They'll also engrave your name on the blade.
The two knives ended up around $250CDN. I'm sure they had higher end knives but we're just wannabe's in the kitchen. [Plus, my wife was watching me and our budget like a hawk. ] They don't take credit cards so bring a chunk of Yen.
Didn't do enough research that I would have liked but I believe there are also some very good knife stores in the outer areas of the Tsukiji fish market. I think Aritsugu has a branch there too.
When I did a search on Anthony Bourdain and knives, I found a couple of references where he mentions he recommends Global knives which are a Japanese brand of stainless steel knives. However, I don't think they're hand crafted if that's what the OP is looking for.
We went to Aritsugu in Kyoto. Absolutely wonderful experience. The knives look great and we are very excited to go back to the States to cook with them. Staff was helpful and did their best despite limited (but adequate) English skills. The knives were engraved with our names in Japanese script free of charge. The shop had no trouble putting different names on different knives, as some were gifts. Price wise, i bought a small knife for vegetables and a large Santouku for 18600 yen.
I am (so far) a very satisfied customer.
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Great idea, and great souvenir!
Years ago when Anthony Bourdain wasn't old enough to smoke and I'd never heard of Henkels, or Forschner I bought several knives directly from butchers.
First was a heavy steel clever from a butcher in an Asian market (in San Diego) exactly what he was using. Great for cutting pizza or slaying a deer. Still one of my favorites.
Second were two Forschner "french chef" 10" knives from our local butcher through his supplier. $30 each as I recall AT THE TIME.
Then a friend in Los Angeles had sort of a connection with the folks who sharpen and rent knives to chefs. Got 5 Forschners of various sizes but the blades were seriously thinned out by the constant sharpening. Visualize large paring knives. A very nice piece of equipment.
This was over 30 years ago! and those knives are still my absolute favorites!
Two years ago my mother moved to a retirement home and we found a real treasure: the 30 year old Forschner chef knife that we gave as a gift and it had never been used! Identical to the one we've loved over the years, the blade is at least 1/4 inch wider and 20% thicker than the one we've been using and honing for 30 years. I's really nice to have this brand-new, so to speak, replacement.]
Word of advice: magnetic bars to hold the knives, and remember to point all the cutting edges in the same direction.
I personally like the Misono UX10 line of knives. Light, well-balanced & sharp enough to converse at a mabo-fest.
A good place for knives in Kappabashi is the Union Commerce store. (This is an english link because the store website is nihongo only). Service in the store is bi-lingual & the owner is a gem. FWIW, he may try to steer you into their own line of knives (sharp, but too heavy for my tastes).