Japanese Swords and Knives

The Japanese sword (also called nihontou), often considered the “soul of the samurai”, had its spotlight end with the conclusion of the Warring States (Sengoku) period. However, its craftsmanship continued to evolve, finding a continuity in the art of Japanese knife-making. This blog will help give insight into the artisanal skills that have endured and transcended through time from then until the present day and how it’s still changing even now. The image above shows some of the swords that we also stock in store! These are artistic pieces, and properly authenticated. We are especially proud of the Ichimonji Norimune sword at the top, a not-for-sale piece.

Are Japanese Knives Excellent?

In 2016 at a knife equipment store in New York, our company president, Ryo Tanaka heard the following statement:

“Ten years ago, almost all the knives in this showcase were German, and there were only two to three types of Japanese knives. Now, half of them are Japanese. In another ten years, most of them will probably be Japanese.”

Now of course, there may have been an element of lip service - our president is Japanese, and the staff who mentioned it was in a kitchen equipment store and aware of our president’s profession, so a grain of salt needs to be taken. However, there's a tangible sense that the appreciation for Japanese knives overseas is much higher than the impression in Japan itself.

There's also a theory that the recognition of Japanese blades increased thanks to the depiction of Japanese swords in modern media, starting with Quentin Tarantino's movie KILL BILL.

Also, for Japanese chefs working abroad or who have trained overseas, such experiences seem to be common:

  • Attracting a lot of attention when opening their knife case or roll in front of colleagues for the first time.

  • Being asked to sharpen their knives.

  • Being requested to bring back Japanese knives when returning to Japan.

  • Fearing that Japanese knives will be stolen if not taken home every day.

Japanese chefs are often thought to use very sharp knives, and everyone is believed to have highly skilled sharpening abilities. While there are exceptions, there is a chef said the following: “Chefs who are conscious of wanting to learn cuisine in its home country probably don't neglect knife sharpening,” and we find this perspective pretty convincing.

For chefs considering a career overseas (including of course, coming to Japan), honing your sharpening skills from now onwards could be a stepping stone to career advancement. Even a famous German knife manufacturer from Solingen has a factory in Seki, Japan - exporting their products the world over.

Now, why has cutlery developed so much in Japan? This is because knives and their blades have a deep connection to Japan's history.

The Origin of Japan and its Swords

Some of you may be familiar with a sword known as the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi. While the change of eras from Heisei to Reiwa is still recent and fresh in our minds, it's worth noting that one of the three imperial regalia, always passed down during the change of emperors, is the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi. This sacred sword holds significant importance as a symbol of the emperor's authority.

Several monarchies, including those in England, France, and Thailand, have a tradition of passing down swords and daggers through their generations. These regalia symbolize the reigning monarch's authority.

Much like how the history of humanity is connected with the chipped stone tools of old, the establishment of nations is also very closely linked with the symbolism of swords.

Commitment to the Blade

Swords being cherished as symbols of authority isn’t unusual, but the situation in Japan is different from other countries. It’s not the decoration of the handle or sheathe, but rather the iron or steel that makes up the blade that is treasured. In other words, the artistic value was found in the blade itself.

Below we see a masterpiece from the late Heian period, a renowned sword known as "Dōjikiri." The shine of this sword makes it is hard to believe that it was crafted nearly one thousand years ago!

Used under Creative Commons 4.0. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76106919

Development of Blacksmithing Technology

Since ancient times, blacksmiths have existed in all kinds of regions, and the quality of available iron and the techniques employed have varied across locations and the eras themselves. Even scientific analysis by breaking down precious swords provides only a limited perspective. The study of Japanese swords, dating back to ancient times, still leaves many unanswered questions, so we’ll not give specialized explanations in this regard.

However, the idea in Japanese kitchen knives of "forging soft iron and blade metal together" bears a resemblance to the combination of the “core steel” and “skin steel” in Japanese swords, aiming to achieve a balance of high toughness and sharpness.

There are historical roots indicating that swordsmiths began making kitchen knives, and the influence from sword-making is likely to have played a role in steering knife-making development, especially in places like Sakai.

There are many regions in Japan where knives are produced that have their roots in making swords. Below is some more information about what roots some of the famous knifemaking regions in Japan have and what they specialise in now. You can read even more about those regions in our Knife Making Regions of Japan blog here!

Town Prefecture Information



  • -Highest share of knife production
  • -Its roots lie in swordmaking from the Kamakura period
  • -Specializes in Western-style knives
  • -Holds a knife festival with over 100,000 attendees every year



  • -Specializes in Western-style knives with elegant designs
  • -Has its roots in swordmaking from the Nanbokucho period
  • -Reconstruction has taken place focusing on Takefu Knife Village
  • -Nearby is Takefu Special Steel, manufacturer of VG10 Stainless Steel



  • -Roots in Japanese nails from the Edo period
  • -Specializes in simple but sturdy Western-style knives
  • -Many factories with processes all done in-house



  • -2nd highest share of knife production
  • -Also has its roots in Japanese nails from the Edo period
  • -Specializes in Western-style knives, especially ones with stainless steel handles



  • -Developed in many areas, inclusing kobun (burial mound) making, sword making and gunmaking
  • -Highest share of single-beveled knives for Japanese cuisine
  • -Developed through division of labour in each knifemaking process

Banshu & Miki


  • -Roots in large tool manufacturing from the Sengoku period
  • -Good at sawing, chiseling and planing
  • -Sickles from here boast an 80% market share



  • -Developed from swordmaking in the Kamakura period
  • -Field blacksmiths are still active. Specialize in black knives.
  • -Active technical knowledge exchange exists with Sakai, which also makes them good at knives suited for Japanese cuisine

The Roots of Knives in Japan

The roots of Japanese kitchen knives, often overshadowed by the focus on swords, trace back to ancient tomb and burial mound construction through the Sengoku period, and even into the craftsmanship of firearms. Oda Nobunaga, impressed by the power of the matchlock gun, commissioned artisans in Osaka and Sakai to embark on mass-producing firearms. As a result, since the Portuguese arrived in Tanegashima and introduced the matchlock gun, Japan transformed from a country with no knowledge of firearms to the world's largest holder of them within just thirty years, owning approximately 2,000 guns. This period of time highlights the unparalleled technological expertise in Japan of ironworking groups in places like Izumi Province and Sakai.

Common Points Between Japanese Swords and Knives

It's very accurate to say that Japanese kitchen knives have their roots in the Japanese sword. However, when examining and comparing their structures, Japanese swords are far more complex.

The key shared concept is the idea of "reinforcing hard blade steel with a soft iron." This idea, adopted in both double-edged and single-edged blades, has been a cornerstone of Japanese blades, supported by the technology to implement it. And of course, we also see this in Japanese knives too. The sharpness is achieved with blade steel (hagane), while the surrounding layers such as the base metal (jigane) and the core metal (shingane) provide reinforcement.

Conclusion, Further Discussion and Advice

Let's recap some key points and engage in further discussion. See the points below:

  • Japanese knives are accepted around the world

  • Since ancient times, Japan has been focused on the blades of its swords more than other components

  • The roots of Japanese knifemaking are not only in Japanese swords, but also ancient tombmaking and matchlock guns.

  • Japanese swords and knives are not the same in structure and creation

Japanese knives have gained recognition around the world. While Japan has a historical emphasis on swords, the roots of Japanese knife-making also include influences from ancient burial mounds and firearms. However, it's also important to note that the structure and crafting methods of Japanese swords and kitchen knives are not identical.

As a side note, describing a Honyaki knife as having undergone "the same process as a Japanese sword" or Yasuki Steel as "Japanese sword materials" even though its low impurity content is a selling point might be considered an exaggeration.

While there are cases where traditional Japanese swordsmiths make knives or experiment with knives made from Tamahagane, the production of the steel is extremely limited and as a result, the cost is very expensive (a 30cm blade for example is unlikely to be less than 200,000JPY). Creating steel using ancient techniques or equipment can also lead to unstable results. In practical terms, knives made by knife artisans using established knife-specific steel offer better cost-effectiveness and performance.

Each manufacturer and knifemaker has accumulated expertise, so it's natural that knives made by them using knife steel surpass others in terms of cost-effectiveness and craftsmanship.

When considering purchasing a knife, especially when encountering such expressions, it's essential to focus on the connection or story rather than making a direct comparison to Japanese swords.

Here's some kitchen knives with interesting and related designs!