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Why are Japanese knives so popular? - Kakushin

Why are Japanese knives so popular?

Japanese kitchen knives have been gaining major popularity in the culinary world. Whether it's in our home Canadian market, the US market, or even the European market, we've been seeing their demand highly increase. But are they truly that good? What are their downfalls?

In today's blog, I wanted to share with you our observations on Japanese knives. As a Canadian retailer that has been selling these knives for now several years, we have gained valuable insights from manufacturers, blacksmiths, and even consumers.

Introduction to Japanese knives

In the very early 1870s, when it became illegal to make samurai swords, many sword makers transitioned to kitchen knives, and then from family to family, the experience has been passed on.

In this modern age, many legacy blacksmiths and even junior blacksmiths continue to operate the forge of their family passed from generation to generation. Following, many Japanese factories have made their way up the chain to compete with the Western knife market, known to be more affordable due to their automated production. While many will love their Western knives, which are also good for some users due to their overall wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and lower care needs, Japanese knives offer higher sharpness, edge retention, and cutting precision.

The benefits of Japanese knives
Top Notch Sharpness

Japan is known for making top-quality steels, especially for crafting knives, allowing them to forge some of the sharpest kitchen knives available on the market. The way that their steel is quenched, Japanese kitchen knives will be seen with a steel hardness of 57 HRC all the way up to 67 HRC. A harder steel also means that the way the secondary edge is ground, it can be thinner than western knives, promoting a sharper angle at the primary bevel, often seen as low as 10 degrees, but commonly seen around 15 degrees.

Increadible Edge Retention

Everyone dreams about a forever sharp knife 'as seen on TV,' but realistically speaking, such knives only exist in movies. That being said, Japanese knives are known as the knives that will keep their sharpness for the longest. The steel hardness discussed above will not only mean that Japanese knives will take a sharper edge, but that they will also keep that edge sharpness for longer, meaning better precision and control for an extended period than we are used to with our cheap knives.

Precission and Control

Traditional Japanese knives are often designed lightweight and feature thin, narrow blades with aggressively sharpened angles. The best way to compare how their geometry allows for more precise slicing, chopping, and dicing is to compare a razor blade to an axe. While both can be very sharp at the tip of the edge, the geometry that follows is equally important to ensure the edge bites and glides through your ingredients instead of just making an incision and slipping away through with force. High-quality steel and a sought-after edge geometry make it a perfect combination for incredible precision.

All these benefits combined make the Japanese knife one of the most popular for its performance and edge retention, however, their downfalls must also be considered before making the purchase of a Japanese knife.

The downfall of Japanese knives
High Price-Tag

Buying a Japanese knife for what it's truly known for comes with a higher price tag when compared to Western-style knives. Unfortunately, many buyers will be seeking out that 'Made in Japan' tag, assuming they'll immediately be rewarded with a high-quality knife when, in fact, that can be misleading. Japanese chef's knives can be found for as low as $10 CAD, and while Japan is known to produce some of the best culinary knives on the market, don't assume that you're simply getting an amazing deal, as it will be worth what it's worth and can lead to disappointment.

Japanese knives should be properly researched and thought through before being purchased, which is why at Kakushin, we take the time to discuss the differences with our clients, allowing them to make an educated decision and even, at times, steer them away from a Japanese knife when it's simply not meant to be.

High Maintenance

What most underestimate is how higher performance is often attached to a higher care level. While this can vary depending on the steel discussed, Japanese Carbon Steel knives are known for their ease of sharpness and also for how sharp you can get them - that being said, the fact that some steel have an absence or low quantity of chrome (and other contents) means that they need to be properly cleaned and dried every time to avoid them from rusting, which will in the long run degrade the blade.

Carbon Steel blades are also known to discolor as they will naturally create a protective layer called 'Patina'. And lastly, you will notice that the internet is covered with pictures from users who have chipped their blade or broken off the tip of their Japanese knife, often a result of user error or negligence.

So the bottom line is that Japanese knives will offer incredible sharpness but at the cost of higher maintenance.

In conclusion

Japanese knives come in to fill a gap left behind by Western knives, meaning that both have their place in the industry to complement each other. High-end Japanese knives are typically forged from steels that are higher in carbon and lower in chrome, which allows them to take on a sharper edge and maintain that sharpness for longer. However, they are more brittle and prone to rusting.

On the other hand, Western knives come with a lower price tag and offer high resistance to wear and corrosion, thanks to their greater blade thickness. They are often machine-made with lower carbon and higher chrome content, meaning they may lag behind in performance.

So, which one do you believe is for you? Are you willing to put in more maintenance for superior performance, or do you prefer a hassle-free option that can be used by everyone in the family without the fear of not caring for it enough?

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