In Australia and America western style blades are still more commonly used. Despite that, for the past 10 years, Japanese knives have been coming more and more popular. Why?
Why Japanese Knives & Why Not?
Japanese knife usage has been exploding beyond Japan over the past ten years. This is despite the fact that they are (on average) far more expensive (usually around the $200 mark and up) and even often requiring a little more maintenance. Some would say that you would normally look for lower cost and maintenance however knives have become like cars - if life was all about low cost and maintenance the Porsche would not exist (nor would the Jaguar, Ferrari, Maserati, etc). The reason people buy Japanese knives is similar to why car lovers buy Porsches - they love them and want the best performance on earth.
Top 8 Reasons that people buy Japanese Knives
8. Obsession with Knife Making
When Japanese people make something they obsess about how it is made. A prime example of their obsession with perfection and endless improvement was the making of the Toyota car. Due to global expansion Toyota spread it's factories across the globe. They had factories in America and Japan. Interestingly the average employee in America had (on average) a suggestion of two process improvements per year. In Japan the average number of suggestions per employee per year was over 180. The Japanese culture is about constant improvement and persistent pursuit of perfection knowing that we will never get there but we will never stop pursuit. Knives are no different. Japanese constantly look and obsess how we can improve and the Japanese knife is no different.
7. Precision & Perfection with a Japanese crafted knife
A Japanese noodle maker had been pursing the making of noodles with his father for over 40 years. He was approaching his 60's and still working through his apprenticeship. 40 years. Still an apprentice. He wasn't making ramen noodle soups, vegetables or anything else. Just noodles. For 40 years. Still an apprentice. Much like all Japanese professionals the pursuit of perfection is one that never ends. The day they think they are perfect is the day they cease to improve. So they never do. Japanese knives have been made for a long, long time and forever improvement is pursued.
6. Specialization of Japanese Knives
A western Knife collection is typically a bunch of knives that can do everything (chef's knife, different sizes of chef knives, a paring knife, etc). Japanese knives are typically built for specific purposes. The Deba knife for fish bones, the Nakiri knife for vegetables the Yanagiba or Sujihiki is for slicing the Honesuki knife is for boning. Every knife has a specific purpose. Even the Deba knife itself has many different lengths based on the size of the fish being cut. Japanese knives are far more specialized than the western world.
5. Beauty of the look of the knives
Japanese goods are stunning. Whether it's a plate of food, the wrapping of a present or the position of the feet when performing Japanese care a lot about the look and presentation of everything they make.
Japanese knives are no different. Whether it's the handles, the blade edge, the steel representation or the box in which it is delivered the Japanese care.
As a result Japanese knives are the most beautiful knives on the planet and the gifts are stunning (they make great Xmas gift presents)!
4. The History of the worlds finest sword makers
There is no dispute that Japan was (and still is) the home of the greatest sword makers on the planet. It is rumored that in cooling the steel a still warm human body was used to cool the steel as it had unique advantages and composition in the blood.
What few people know is that nearly 400 years ago the knife skills begun when the sword makers stopped. At that time the Japanese emperor made it illegal to enter into public with a sword. As a result roughly 10 thousand sword makers had to make a change - and they became knife makers.
The rest is history and these people, along with the family evolution, make the best knives on the planet.
3. Carbon Content = Sharper Japanese Knives
Most Japanese knives have higher carbon content in the core of the blade. This is important as higher carbon leads to a harder, tougher blade edge. As an example iron only is 1000X less hard than iron fused together with carbon. Carbon makes a big difference.
Typically western knives have low carbon amounts (mainly as this ensures lower corrosion). Western knives are usually less than 0.8%.
Japanese knives, on the hand, are high in carbon, anywhere from 1-3% carbon. This may lead to high corrosive however there are ways to control this also (chromium, vanadium, etc).
Long story short Japanese knives are higher in carbon making them the hardest and sharpest knives on the planet.
Japanese like light knives so they can move quickly through the kitchen. The main weight in most knives is the steel and the difference between the Japanese and the west is in fact the handle. Most Japanese knives are made with what is referred to as a "Half Tang." The half tang is essentially the steel extension into the handle. For a Japanese knife it is all hidden with the handle. For western knives the steel continues right through the handle and you can see the blade spine in the handle itself.
This difference in handle construction means a big difference in weight. If you want a light knife half-tang, the Japanese knife method of handle perfection, is the way to go.
1. The Sharpness of the Japanese knife
The most important aspect of a knives ability to cut is it's sharpness. Butter knives are great with butter but if you try to slice a tomato you're in trouble.
Japanese knife makers have done a series of things to make their knives the sharpest in the world. The three most notable aspects that Japanese knives own are:
- High Carbon. As mentioned carbon addition drives hardness. Japanese knives simply have more carbon in the steel
- Single Bevel. Many Japanese knives only sharpen and bevel on one side. This means that instead of dropping at 30% you drop at 15%. It's twice as sharp.
- Sharpening itself - Japanese knives come with the appetite for sharpening. Even though they actually don't need to be sharpened as often as western knives the holders sharpen more. This means that they are not only the hardest knives on day 1, they remain the hardest knife forever.
So there it is. 8 reasons that people like me can't stop investing in Japanese blades. The beauty of this approach is that we never reach the end of improvement and our constant and continuous pursuit is what drives us to perform everyday. We love Japanese Knives :)