In this article, we ask Mr. Sakaguchi, the manager of Miura knives Store, about the appeal of Japanese kitchen knives, the depth of the maintenance process, and advice on how to choose a kitchen knife for those who want to enjoy the art of cooking all the more.
It's also worth reading about his thoughts that go far beyond the simple kitchen knife.
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The "Appeal of Japanese Knives - Why They are Popular across Borders
- What attracts people to, and are the strengths of Japanese knives in general?
The most important aspect of the knife is the traditional steel. The biggest difference between a Japanese knife and one made overseas is that the knife is created with the experience of a blacksmith and brings out the best features of the material, which can be seen in the sharpness of the knife and the artisans care for the finish.
The Japanese knife is unique in that it has a single edge. You can't find knives like those used by authentic Japanese food craftsmen overseas.
In general, we are most proud of the sharpness of the blade. Overall, various factors combine to create a unique sharpness to Japanese knives.
- Do foreign knife blades combine materials?
Traditionally, this was the case. Nowadays, there is a boom in Japanese kitchen knives, and there are many that imitate Japanese kitchen knives. Also, when it comes to stainless steel knives, there are cases where foreign knives are superior. However, when it comes to Japanese kitchen knives (single-edged knives), Japan is still the leader, I believe.
For example, knives unique to non-Japanese countries would detail the shape of the cross section of the blade, not the outline. A non-Japanese made kitchen knife is unique in that it can do many things with one knife. It can be said that the kitchen knife is versatile.
Japanese kitchen knives are designed to be used for one purpose at a time, so you have to change them according to the purpose. So there are those differences. Also, depending on the region, you can find different shapes for the same use.
- Of course, it must depend on the material, but how long does it take for a typical household item to go bad if not properly maintained?
The basic premise is that steel things get worse (turn blue) while in use.
For example, if you cut an onion, it will easily rust in about 10 minutes. On the contrary, stainless steel knives can be washed in water.
When it comes to sharpness, there is nothing better than a steel knife that has been painstakingly crafted by a craftsman. However, the process of "grinding" is essential.
Caring for your Kitchen Knives
Mr. Sakaguchi explains with enthusiasm, "It is true that taking care of the knife is a lot of work. But at the same time, I find it profound when I feel that the knife and I are one, and to see how far the possibilities can be tested".
- Then, what is the appeal in the care of a knife? People tend to think negatively about maintenance, that it must mean that the blade gets damaged easily, hence requiring attention.
It really is true that a properly maintained blade can perform well for decades.
I do encounter many people who touch a knife for the first time and feel that it is troublesome to take care of it. However, I believe that all tools, not just knives, need to be cared for on a daily basis. When you take care of your tools with your own hands, you can deepen your understanding of them, get an idea of how long they will take to rust, and learn how to apply the right amount of force. As a result, you will be able to use the tools better. The feeling of "becoming a part of you" is the quintessence of "caring".
Knife grinding is very rewarding because you can see the visible results in the form of sharpness. The choice of grinding stone is also important, and the maintenance of the stone itself is also necessary.
If I were to send some advice to people from outside Japan, it would be that when it comes to tools, it is easy to purchase, say a Japanese grinding stone, online. Also, there are how-to videos and such, but honestly the content can be good or bad. This is why it is important to sort out the exact techniques for proper maintenance.
Learning from Sharpening Knives: the Spirit of "No Rush"
Mr. Sakaguchi continues, "Grinding knives makes me more aware of the fact that nothing goes right if you're in a hurry," he said sincerely. "If you're pressed for time or trying to get things done quickly, you'll never do a good job. I'm learning every day that you have to take the time to face everything. I think the accumulation of these lessons is also connected to 'mindfulness'".
- I see. It's not as simple as "more expensive means longer life", is it? Please tell me about the mentality of taking the effort to maintain an old knife yourself, so that the knife will respond to you. And does it translate somehow in other aspects of your life?
Sharpening is essential for knives. One of the charms of grinding the blade yourself is that it brings out more love in you.
The other is the act of sharpening itself. It requires many years of skill, which is difficult even for us who are professionals in the field, so we need to ask a craftsman. It is such a deep world. However, it is possible for amateurs to grind for everyday use, so I hope you will give it a try.
Again, I am realizing more strongly that "hurry is not an option". Knife sharpening must not be a chore, but at the same time, you must always be thinking about your knowledge and the best way to sharpen the knife. This simultaneous progress is very difficult. However, each person has their own stance, so there is a lot to learn by listening to different people's stories.
Each craftsman has his own policy and way of thinking when it comes to his work. For example, each craftsman has his own policy and way of thinking, and if he is a blacksmith, he has his own specialties. It is truly profound. There are also craftsmen who work from a single piece of iron, just like in the old days.
It is a wonderful traditional Japanese culture, but the number of craftsmen is decreasing every year. In the past, it was passed down through the family, but this is not necessarily the case anymore. We also accept young people from outside for training. In Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, the home of knife making, the whole city is involved in a project to train knife makers.
Making Japanese cooking more fun and accessible - Introduction of recommended kitchen knives
Mr. Sakaguchi politely explains the connection between knives and Japanese cuisine.
"I can say that Japanese knife making is the reason why Western food is typically thought of as a cuisine of addition while Japanese cuisine is subtraction. For example, in the case of Western food, spices and herbs are added to create flavors, while Japanese food takes care to apply the least amount of work to the ingredients when they are at their best and anything unnecessary is omitted. In order to bring out the true flavor of the ingredients, Japanese cooking is very particular about the cut, sharpness, and surface area of the knife that touches the ingredients.
- So, do you have any thoughts on cooking in connection to Japanese kitchen knives, not just as tools, but in a broader sense? Please give us some advice on how to use and enjoy them.
It's a simple point, but I believe that using a sharp knife makes cooking a fun and pleasant experience.
Japanese food is a delicate cuisine, so the quality of the knife directly affects the quality of the dish. I would like you to have a good knife and experience the fun of using them.
What kind of kitchen knife do you recommend to a customer that is new to Japanese knives? Would it be stainless steel, which is rustproof and relatively easy to clean, or is it steel, which emphasizes the traditional Japanese sharpness?
Since it may be difficult to find a variety of authentic Japanese knives with different usability, I recommend "Santoku knife" or "Gyuto", a universal kitchen knife that came from overseas (originated overseas, but through twists and turns became the current form) as a first choice.
With these two types, you can use them for all kinds of meat, fish, and vegetables, so you will not regret having them for home use.
For example, a Santoku knife is easy to use because the blade is not too long. Most of them have a blade of about 16-18cm. The tip is curved and can be pushed off, making it relatively easy for anyone to use.
The Gyuto was introduced to Japan when Japan opened up to the world and the culture of eating beef was introduced. It was called a "chef's knife" in other countries. It's a style of cooking where you can cook everything with one knife so that you can cook rationally. It has a history from the places where kitchen knives are popular in Europe (around Germany, Holland, and France).
- I see. Then, what kind of knives do you recommend for the second and third knives?
For those who want to master Japanese cooking more seriously, I recommend a "single-edged knife" such as a "Deba" knife or a "Yanagiba" knife.
There are two types of kitchen knives: single-edged and double-edged (blades that are cut symmetrically). For example, "Santoku" kitchen knives and "Gyuto" kitchen knives are "Moroba" which means that the blade is sharpened symmetrically so that both sides can be cut. On the contrary, "Deba" knives and "Yanagiba" knives are sharpened only on one side, and they can be used by different hands (right-handed or left-handed).
If you often have opportunities to cut fish, a "Deba" knife is recommended. The blade is wide, thick, and heavy, making it easy to remove the head.
Also, a "Yanagiba" knife is suitable for pulling the skin of fish or cutting sashimi because its length can be used to cleanly scrape meat. In addition, the blade is attached from one side and the back side is concave, making it easier to cut with less resistance and reducing the surface area that touches the food, so it does not spoil the taste of the food itself.
In this way, the uniqueness of authentic Japanese knives is that they are made with a special focus on a single ingredient, and the thickness, weight, and curve of the blade are carefully calculated.
- Whether it is an all-purpose knife or a specialized knife, would you say the type of the knife will differ depending on the kind of cooking the user is accustomed to?
That's right. For example, if you want to master Japanese food as "home cooking", you should buy "Santoku" kitchen knives and "Gyuto" knives as you level up. On the other hand, if you want to cook authentic Japanese food or are a chef in a Japanese restaurant, you will need a "Deba" knife or a "Yanagiba" knife. Please consider purchasing according to your own style.
Maintenance at Miura Knives Store
- What is the quality of the knowledge, skills, and maintenance of the sales staff at Miura Knives Store?
We do not just sell our knives, but we also provide maintenance services. No matter how expensive and high quality a knife is, if it is not maintained properly, it will not be sharp. We are constantly learning how to sharpen and maintain our knives. For example, we train under the Sakai "Suishin" craftsmen in Osaka, who are our advisors, and we study under craftsmen who specialize in sharpening knives, including their ideas and theories. Customers often come to us for maintenance after their purchase.
If you live outside of Japan and have any questions, please send us a direct message on SNS (Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter) and our staff will respond in English.
The first thing I would like to mention is that Japanese kitchen knives are not suitable for grinding with a whetstone due to the difference in cross-sectional shape and hardness of the knives. We recommend that you purchase a whetstone as well as a kitchen knife at Miura Knives Store. If you have any questions or inquiries about maintenance, please feel free to contact us at any time.
It is realistic to grind your knives at home once a month, and basically you should do it every time when the blade dulls. However, if it is difficult, we recommend that you grind your knives at least once every three months, and depending on the condition of your knives, have them re-shaped by a professional every six months to a year.
Miura Knives Store has a wealth of knowledge about Japanese knives and explained them in a way that was very easy to understand even for beginners. At the same time, he also told us a very profound and interesting story about the spirituality that can be felt through knife sharpening.
Daily cooking will definitely be more enjoyable with these knives!
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