Why do you need Japanese steel?

I am a Gear Snob.

I love stuff, and I love having nice stuff.

In the same way that I search for an ingredient, wanting the best possible quality, I go about my search for the tools I use to prepare these ingredients. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in my love of chef’s knives. I have been using an assortment of mostly Shun knives, with examples from the Classic, Pro, and Ken Onion lines, along with some miscellaneous brand knives. I try to buy knives so that there are no repeats, and that any new knife fills a purpose that had been lacking before.

I really like Japanese knives, but in the year that I have been here, I haven’t yet purchased any. I have been in a few knife shops, but they are usually very small with older ladies and gentlemen that don’t speak a lick of English. And my Japanese is somewhere between non-existant and saying hello based on what time of day it is. Up until recently, because of a hellish work schedule, I wasn’t doing a whole lot of cooking, so I didn’t feel the need to purchase any more knives. We were going out a lot, and when we did eat in, the missus was doing all of the work. Well, with a change in my work situation and the very recent birth of our first child, we are now doing a lot more cooking at home, and I have gladly taken on the role as the primary cook.

So about the knives. . . I knew what I wanted, and was biding my time. My awesome Mother-in-Law, who had been staying with us for the birth and subsequent month, finally left Japan to head home to the States. Before her departure she insisted on getting me a birthday present, which is still 2 months away. So down to the better of the knife shops I had been to before. I ended up getting 2 knives, including, gasp, a repeat of a knife I already have.


The top knife was the one I had been aiming to get in the first place. I had thought (until a few minutes ago actually) was a Nakiri, a vegetable knife. Instead, after said research, I ended up with an Usuba knife, which still serves the same purpose, but has a single side bevel instead of both sides. After using it to break down some carrots and yellow squash tonight, I can attest it is very effective. I found myself cutting the carrot slices thin enough to be nearly transparent. It is very nice to look at and hold, and surprisingly heavy. The maker’s mark is hand etched down the side, and I only wish I knew what it said.

The bottom knife was a bonus. The prices on these hand made works of art are far less than I expected. Cheaper than the Shuns, though not by too much really. So MIL told me to pick out another one. This knife is called a Deba, generally used for breaking down fish and poultry. If you look at my bacon recipe post, you can see my other one assisting me in skin removal. This new one, in addition to being absolutely gorgeous in its overt hand-wrought-ness, is longer, narrower in blade height, and thicker in the spine. So not a complete re-hash, but still a bit redundant.

It was a cool buying experience. There were nearly no words shared, with the exception of ‘Arigato Gozaimasu’ at the end of the transaction. I pointed to the case at a particular knife I was interested in seeing, and the old shopkeeper, probably in his mid-80s, pulled it and 2 others like it down. I tried them all out, and with both types of knives, my initial instincts had been correct for my preferred blade shape and weight. After deciding on these two, the old shopkeeper took them back to a little nook behind a curtain that I had previously not noticed. Pulling out a large variety of stones, and with a skill of a master craftsman, sharpened these already very sharp knives to being razor blades. A joy to watch, and you could tell that he had done that very thing hundreds of thousands of times. They were put in their boxes, wrapped in newspaper, and handed over. When it came time to tally up the bill, he pulled out. . . and abacus! I have been around the world, and purchased stuff in many different countries, but this was a first. Again, it just made the experience that much more surreal and awesome.

So, thanks again to my wonderful Mother-in-law, and I will hopefully have some happy times in the kitchen with these. And hopefully not lose a finger. Did I mention they are sharp?


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