So I had 2 days-ish in Osaka. I managed to visit the main foodie/touristy area, which is Dotonburi, home to the Glico man etc. Plus also, there’s Doguyasuji, which is like Osaka’s version of Kappabashi in Tokyo. There, you’ll find Ichimonji Chuki and whilst they have really pretty mirror polished mizu-honyaki yanagis for like a few grand a pop, it’s not my deal. I just wanted to go to Sakai.
As a chef, knives are my primary tool. Ferran Adria once said his favourite piece of tech in the kitchen was a knife. I thought that pretty apt even if I know the guy just uses ceramic Kyoceras that I used to think were good. Anyway, I already have all the knives I needed prior to this trip. Whatever I was buying was because others had asked me to help em out. I got a colleague a 270mm Stainless Wa Gyuto from Sugimoto’s CM series, which ran me over 32000yen, which is a lot of dough. The knife wasn’t ground with a super even bevel but I didn’t wanna disappoint my mate, so I got him the better of the two I was shown. I think it’s just about barely passable. I actually asked them for an unsharpened one and they said they didn’t do that. Oh well. I also got another guy a Tsubaya VG-10 Sujihiki for around 17000yen. The storeowner also threw in a peeler and a nail clipper FOC! My girlfriend got herself a Misono Molybdenum 150mm Petty at my suggestion. It ran 4400 yen so it’s cheap and good. Plus she got her name engraved in English by this super nice French/Japanese staffer at Kama-asa in Kappabashi, Tokyo.
By the time I got to Sakai, I was done shopping for knives but I still wanted to go and probably drop some moolah anyway, just because. I got more than I bargained for. I started off at the knife museum. My dad and brother were a little transfixed staring at this TV showing the forging process in English. The knife museum is actually a pretty nice store with a decent selection of stuff you can find in Sakai. What I remembered was they stocked Ashi Hamono, Aoki Hamono/Sakai Takayuki and Hide amongst many more. Prices are basically what you see on the makers’ websites, if they have em.
By the way, there’s absolutely fuckall in Sakai. Knife shops and distribution centers and factories and makers are aplenty but scant else. There’s a few tourist “attractions” but it’s really all about the knives. There’s not much in the way of food either. Just knives. Ok, there’s the house of Sen no Rikyu, the tea ceremony dude but I missed it. I was there for one thing.
I went round the back of the knife museum and found Aoki Hamono but I think the staff were going for lunch and honestly, their “store” was probably more like a distribution center. So we took the tram up a few stops, to Ashi Hamono, OEM makers of many knives but they produce their own Ginga brand of knives, which are particularly popular on knifefora online. My own colleagues also use these knives so I’ve been able to try em out in the flesh before. I knew I wanted a gyuto and a petty whilst my dad also wanted to get something for himself. Ginga fit the bill because they had, well, pretty kanji, great detail in the finish plus the girl who apologetically let us into the tiny workshop space was just too nice, as was the main dude who was surprised to see us. My dad ended up getting a 180mm Stainless Wa Petty plus a Log knife, which is a outdoorsy knife with a wood handle made out of a single branch. I got my housemate a 240mm Stainless Wa Gyuto. The cool part was picking out our own handles but the even cooler part was when we were offered a 20% discount on top.
So the 240mm gyuto is priced at 17150yen plus another 2300yen for the saya. I got it for 16020yen. $160AUD. You can buy it online from Japanese Knife Imports for $250USD excl. shipping and that’s a good deal on a good knife. What I got was a steal.
Happy with our purchases, we said our goodbyes and I wanted to look at some other stuff as well so I parted company from my family and went about knifeshop hunting on my own. Most of the knife shops are in a walkable line down the main street, where the tram runs. Ashi Hamono is right at the top, in a totally separate area.
With a tethered connection from my phone, I used an iPad to find my way around. The first store I got to was Ikkanshi Tadatsuna. I’d read a bit about their knives and them being one of the first popular brands of laser knives. When I inspected the knives, I found that I didn’t like the handle as much as I’d thought I would. The pin just doesn’t look all that good up close. The knife was also pretty pricey and it looked like it came out the Ashi Hamono workshop too. I skipped.
The next place turned out to be at random, when I walked past Mizuno Tanrenjo. Here, they probably forge their own stuff, as evidenced by the fact that the shopowner passed me a couple of amazing honyaki yanagis to check out. I was totally embarrassed because I was mad palm sweating so I apologized and thanked him before leaving. There’s no way in hell I’m dropping more than a G on a knife no matter how pretty it is. I’ll probably never do it either.
I meant to hit up Suisin, partly because I’m still drawn to the hype about the Inox Honyaki line but ultimately, I couldn’t quite find it so I kinda gave up. I did find Sakai Yusuke though. I had a short chat with the store guy and asked for a 270mm Stainless Gyuto. Unfortunately, no saya! Now I can’t remember the exact price because I didn’t buy it but I do remember it being as much of a steal as the Ginga. However, the reason why I considered the Yusuke was because online, the price was the lowest for what is a comparable knife. The Ginga was always more expensive. But then when I was there, with the 20% discount, it was just ridiculous. The Ginga was more than cheap. I couldn’t go about it any other way. I could try to find Suisin and maybe drop close to half a thou on a knife or I could go back to Ashi Hamono and kop more shit for a bit less than that.
So I did. I walked back up to the tiny little workshop. The guy was surprised but I told him I went round, looked at other shit and came right back. This time, I added another 240mm Stainless Wa Gyuto for my girl, a 270mm Stainless Wa Gyuto and a 180mm Stainless Wa Petty for myself, all with sayas. Picked out my own handles and watched as they heated up the tang and slotted the knife into the handle. At this point, the toasty smell of burnt wood and epoxy fills the air and then the sound of the hammer knocking the bottom of the handle to slot the knife in tight. I wasn’t just able to buy the knife that I thought I wouldn’t afford. I got to pick it out and watch it get finished. That was cool and you don’t buy that, nevermind get a discount for it.
Anyway, they also had to fit the sayas which would take a bit of time, so the nice dude who was doing my knives asked if I wanted to look at the factory floor! The storefront isn’t really a storefront. It’s a cabinet with some knives and a steepass staircase leading up to the finishing floor, where they stock the blades, handles and also finish off the Western handles plus fit Wa handles and sayas. It’s the woodwork department more or less. Downstairs, behind the solitary cabinet is the metalwork floor, with a small mezzanine for polishing. The forging work is done elsewhere but here, I was shown the hydraulic stamp press that cut out the basic shape of the knives I’d bought. Then, the knife is heat treated and rough ground. Then the face gets convexed before it’s polished up and the edge is set. To be honest, the factory edge isn’t super ultra sharp but it’s pretty damn sharp anyway. Back home, I used my dad’s petty and it just zipped through these small Korean melons. Suffice to say, if you’re an experienced sharpener, you’ll still want to finish it yourself.
But regardless, my pilgrimage to one of the knife capitals of Japan turned out to be an incredible experience. I was humbled by the hospitality, by the steep discount and the attention to detail and quality. Did I mention the 20% yet? I got 20% off. A total of 62000yen or so for 3 gyutos and a petty, all with sayas. Mad steal. I saw the factory floor. I saw tubs of green anti-liquid. I shamelessly took a few photos but nothing too obvious. I saw a shelf filled with stamps of various brands, recognising a fair few as well. It was like, way cool. I made a promise to return.
If you do ever go to Sakai. Do make the trip up to Ashi Hamono. They are the OEM makers for a lot of other brands and at the retail price they quote on their website, it’s already great value. I wanted to pay them more really but they kept refusing me. Their stuff is just top notch. Good steel, good balance, good heat treat, good grind and profile plus it’s finished well and looks sexy. I can say that I don’t mind missing out on kopping a Suisin or a Ikkanshi Tadatsuna or Mizuno. In terms of bang for buck when it comes to Western style knives (gyutos, sujis, pettys etc), you really can’t beat Ginga.