Friday, August 19, 2011

Knife Shops in Japan - Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Sakai

This one is for all the knife enthusiasts out there! If you're planning a visit to Japan, then this will give you a sneak peek at some of the major high-end knife shops.
Click on the links of each maker to access more photos of the knife shop.

My fascination with Japanese cooking knives had been sparked a few years ago and ever since, Knife Forums (KF) has been an invaluable source of information. I had lusted after many of the blades discussed and photographed in countless posts. Most importantly, it exposed me to many brands which you would never find in major (and specialist) kitchen shops. It is also a great source of information on the different types of blades and the qualities of various metals.

I would begin my trip in Tokyo, moving to Kyoto and finish
up in Osaka/Sakai (I would have also liked to travel to Seki and seek out other less accessible manufacturers across the land, but both time and money were a factor). I had printed maps, addresses and direction for all the knife shops and was ready to fit my holiday around my knife shopping trip.

Sakai was the most keenly anticipated of all my destinations. My shopping list exclusively contained Sakai blades. To be able to visit and experience the actual show rooms of the different manufacturers was almost of higher priority than visiting the major tourist sites! It would culminate with a visit to a Sakai blacksmith to see first hand, the blades being forged from a lump of steel to a fine kitchen tool. I have to say a big thank you to my long suffering girlfriend who was dragged around from shop to shop! I also had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Keiichi Omae (see Sakai Yusuke below) from bluewayjapan. It was great to meet a local from Sakai who is knowledgeable and passionate about knives. Better still, that he comes from the source of these great tools and is making them available to cooking enthusiasts worldwide.

I'd like to say that all the knife shops I visited were extremely friendly and welcoming. I never experienced any objections when I asked politely for permission to take some photos. I'd like to thank them all for their generosity and helping to make this post possible.
This meant targeting the shops around Tsukiji fish market and Kappabashi....
Tsukiji Area
Masamoto-Tsukiji: Had two stores based at Tsukiji fish markets.

A smaller shop inside the markets (close to the restaurants) and a larger shop near the market stalls. As you can see from the pictures in the link, the walls are loaded with blades. The larger shop has two employees at the entrance sharpening knives and they range from budget blades up to your mirror polished works of art.

Sugimoto: A small store front, Sugi's are very well known for their high quality cleavers. The staff were very friendly although I was just browsing and didn't handle any knives.

Aritsugu - Tsukiji: A popular make in the
KF circles, there were lots of sexy A-Type knives as well as some mega-expensive yanagibas on stands with beautiful finewood sayas. This was a little taste of what was to come from their flagship Nishiki Market store in Kyoto.

Nenohi (Nenox): Favoured by Iron Chefs Sakai and Morimoto, they were unfortunately closed so all I have is this photo of their locked security door..

Kappabashi Area - This district of Tokyo serves the hospitality industry and you will find everything from pots/pans to plastic model food, not to mention, knives....
TDI: Situated along the main drag of Kappabashi The main knife
brand in stock here was Tojiro (favoured by Heston Blumenthal). They also carried quite a few European brands like Wustof. In addition, there was a good
range of accessories and whet stones.

Kama Asa: Further down the road is Kama Asa who carried all kinds of kitchenware. The knives they stocked were mainly generic and the shop assistant although very nice, couldn’t tell me a lot about the qualities of the various blades – only that I could get my name engraved on the blade.

Union Commerce: A mix of mainly Japanese but also Western knives (Wustof and Victorinox). This shop had a good range of Masamoto-Sohonten and Misono.

Directly across the road from Union Commerce, you will find

Tsubaya. A narrow showroom filled with mainly Japanese brands like Masahiro.

Kamata: Was a surprise packet because I was expecting them to carry mostly their own brand. What I found was an excellent range including the Masamoto-Sohonten, Kumagoro, Hattori and Konosuke Sakai. The prices as you will see, were staggering, but these are hand forged pieces of art.

Masamoto-Sohonten: One of the best known and popular sushi knife makers around, I searched in vain for a Masamoto-Sohonten store (as opposed to Masamoto-Tsukiji). I traced down their head office in Sumida ward but did not have time to visit. Having said that, the sohonten blades are well stocked in all the good knife stores I visited. I would have liked to visit the actual shop (if one exists). If anyone has any information on a dedicated Masamoto-Sohonten store, I’d appreciate any information for my next trip.

Kikuichimonji: Part hardware store, part knife shop. Kikuichimonji ha
d a good range and the shop assistant was kind enough to load me up with a brochure explaining the different steel types. I was pressed for time so could not spend a great deal of time here.

Aritsugu: A very elegant shop in the Nishiki Market arcade. I walked
right past this shop because of the copper pots in the front window. When I doubled back, I found a very slick shop with grinding, sharpening and engraving at the rear of the showroom. The knives (as well as gardening tools) were located on the left wall.

Shigeharu: A little further out and close to Nijo Castle, Shigeharu is a small shop I read about on a few blogs. The shop had a small range of Shigeharu Japanese and Western style knives as well as some Misono and plently of scissors.


Ichimonji Chuki: Is located in the kitchenware arcade Doguyasuji. It's a huge shop with a massive range of knives and cookware. As you enter, you will find the carbon blades on the left wall and the stainless blades on the right. Their 'special' and expensive engraved knives can be found further in. Please note that you are not allowed to take photos of some of the knives near the cash register. There is also a bunch of Misono knives towards the back of the shop.

Sakai is the equivalent of mecca and a must visit for the knife enthusiast. Only a 15 minute train ride from Namba station in Osaka, Sakai is very easy to get to and you have no excuses not to visit for a day trip if you are in the area (remember that even if you are in Kyoto, Osaka is only 15mins away by the bullet train/shinkansen). Several of the top makers are clustered here and there is also a knife museum to visit.

Sakai Knife Museum: About a 15 minute walk from the train station is the Sakai knife museum. It has an impressive room displaying all the various stages of the knife making process. All the various types of Sakai blades types are represented and you will have a great time ogling the
display cabinets. Educational DVD’s play in the background and you can even book to participate in knife sharpening demonstrations. The room on the right sells blades from various local makers and has a knife
to suit all budgets. Best of all, entry is free.

Ikkanshi Tadatsuna:
A small shop that looks more like an old house,
Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, like most knife shops in Sakai is very unassuming. When you walk through the auto-sensor slide doors, you are greeted with two large glass cases of knives. Known for their fit and finish (and used by Iron Chef Michiba), Tads are definitely deserving of their reputation. Plenty of exquisite blades are on show along with some whet stones, scissors and other gardening implements.
Sakai Takayuki: This was not their showroom but their head office and distribution centre (you can see the staff packing boxes in the back

ground in my photos). I knocked on the front door and they were kind enough to invite me in. They really went out their way and the President of the company, Mr Takayuki Aoki, took me up to their boardroom himself to show me more knives in a glass cabinet. That was followed
by demonstrating their new laser engraving machine. Takayuki is quite innovative and of particular note was a ceramic yanagiba (discontinued) and new composite handles. I was given some catalogues in Japanese and English. I was touched by their hospitality and warmth.

Konosuke Sakai: Again, this was their main office and distribution centre. They welcomed me in and Mr. Hiraoka went out the back returning with a large black case. Inside was an Aladdin's cave of blades. There was the prototype of their (now in production) HD gyuto, a gyuto with a mirror polish, lots of pretty laser etched blades and a blue steel beast which was many thousands of dollars more than I was willing to spend. Again, thanks to Mr. Hiraoka who was extremely warm and welcoming (given that this was not their proper store-front and I basically just wandered in off the street!)

Suisin: Favoured by many professionals in Japan, Suisin is located one street back from the main drag. Mr. Tatsuya Aoki as well as his father were on hand that
day. The front counter was full of beautiful mirror finish INOX (stainless) yanigibas. I was also shown a yani forged by the reknowned Mr. Kejiro Doi (the diamond shaped symbol on the blade is his stamp). There was also a yanagiba that had been returned by a customer. Not because it was a faulty blade. The yanagiba that had seen so much use, that profile of the blade was almost flat. When the customer came to pick up his new blade, he returned the old one back to its ‘place of birth’.

Sakai Yusuke: Yusuke has recently appeared in many forum discussions and found favour with many knife nuts. After visiting the showroom I can see why. For the price, the quality of their knives is second to none. The fit and finish of both their Japanese style and Western knives are flawless. On the Japanese style knives, the spine and choils were all beautifully rounded. The join between the handle and blade showed no pits or excess ‘glue’ – perfectly level and smooth. The
handle and buffalo ferrule were joined so nicely, it felt like one piece.
With a large cabinet showcasing knives in white, blue and stainless steel, Mr.Sakai was very accommodating in allowing me to inspec
t knife after knife. So impressed with the quality I bought a yanagiba and petty. I wish I had bought more… On that thought, a big thank you to Mr. Keiichi Omae from bluewayjapan who introduced me to Yusuke. I won’t hesitate to call on Keiichi when I choose to extend my knife collection. He is one of the most helpful and reliable gentlemen around.

Directions to Sakai Yusuke

Visit to the blacksmith: After a few enquiries into visiting a blacksmith, I found myself in the backstreets of Sakai and outside a workshop. Inside was Mr. Enami who happened to be forging some usubas at the time. He was an extremely nice chap and invited me down to the furnace to witness the forging of the steel, explaining how the colour of the fire translated to a particular temperature range. He then let me operate the pedal that feeds oxygen into the furnace and intensifies the heat. Next was the hammering of the blades.
Again operated by a pedal, this was harder than it seemed. The speed of the mechanical hammer was difficult to control, as it would start very slowly and then sped up rapidly. I ‘helped’ pound the blade (quite unevenly I might add) and was sure I screwed the blade with my first time effort. Finally, I was shown the grinding process. No surprises here – a big rotary grinder helped shape the edge of the blade and so concluded my special insight into the knife making process. I’d like to thank Mr. Enami for taking the time to show me first hand the forging and grinding techniques. Apologies for messing up one of your blades!


  1. Wow, so much to learn! I love the blade with the blossomes etched into it!

  2. What a fantastic knife round up for Japan. I was only in Aritsugu a few weeks ago when I was in Kyoto. I know what you mean by walking right past it, you have to go to see that they do have knives and the action down the back.

  3. If I didn't know you I'd be worried about your knife fetish! However, I am seriously impressed that you were allowed into the forge and I applaud your thoroughness and R's tolerance! :D

  4. I love Japanese knives and I adore my Shun knife to death! :D Hmm maybe I should choose my wording a bit better :P

  5. Update! - bluewayjapan is taking a short break from eBay until early September 2011. Expect to see this eBay store up and running again in a few weeks time.

  6. Hi,
    Very impressive blog you have done. Love it.
    Im a Japanese knives lover too, owned about 15 Japanese knives, from 100yen to Doi's knives. Im wondering where do you find these shops address, cos i might be going to Japan on the next march and thinking to stop by all and have a look.

  7. For information on shop addresses, I relied heavily on the good people at knifeforums. They have been good enough to provide the following entries with extensive contact details and even maps. Good luck and happ knife shopping!

  8. Thanks a lot for sharing this Info, seems like you had a blast there!!

  9. Masamoto indeed has a shop at the "head office" in Sumida, but alas the guys there don't speak nor understand a word of English. They have an entire range of their knives on display, but they only sell them at full pop -- about 30-35% more expensive than the same knives sold in the Kappabashi stores like Union Commerce.

  10. Hi great article. I bought my Japanese knife at

  11. Great article! Well written with excellent insight and spot-on reviewing. Thank you!
    If ever back in Osaka, drop by our store in Shinsekai near Tennoji Zoo. We are passionate about our kitchen knives and always happy to talk to other enthusiasts.

  12. Pretty insightful post. Never thought that it was this simple after all. I had spent a good deal of my time looking for someone to explain this subject clearly and you’re the only one that ever did that. Find more best knives .

  13. Wow! I never thought to go knife shopping in Japan. What a great resource you have created here! Thank you for sharing. I love the blade with the cherry blossoms!

  14. Such a brilliant post. I didn't get down to Sakai when I was last in Osaka but won't be making that mistake the next time I'm there later on this year. Thanks for all of the tips.