In ancient Japan, it was said that the samurai’s sword was his soul. Today, the same could be said about a chef and his knife.
The art of Japanese cutlery derived from the traditions of Japanese sword making. Many of the same techniques, designs, and skills have been passed on from generation to generation—from the minds of the Japanese masters to the artisan workers.
In fact, the city that was once known as the capital of samurai swords is now a hub for Japanese knife making. During the 1300s, a time of war and conflict for Japan, the government established Sakai City as the reigning capital for samurai sword making by calling all sword masters to settle there and produce weapons. The government would only allow tamahagane samurai swords—or swords made of coveted, Japanese steel—to be produced by the most skilled masters.
One of these sword masters stood out as the best sword craftsman since 1550, and his name was Yoshihiro. His swords were widely desired and nearly impossible to find. In modern day, few swords exist that were made by Yoshihiro’s studio and bloodline. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a Japanese general known for unifying Japan at the turn of the 16th century, stated that "Finding Yoshihiro's sword is like finding ghost," as it was so difficult to do. When the shogunate lost its power and the Meiji Restoration period began, efforts were made to modernize Japan and the samurai class started losing their privileges and power. The demand for swords began to shrink, and many manufacturers—even those who were direct descendants from Yoshihiro himself—turned their efforts to knife making instead. Today, the techniques used by Master Yoshihiro almost 500 years ago are still being used to handcraft quality cutlery and knives in Japan.
While the forging techniques are similar across the board when it comes to knife making, the honyaki knife is the style most similar to a traditional Japanese sword. Crafted from a single piece of high-carbon, hard steel, a honyaki knife stays sharper for longer and is often heavier than a typical chef’s knife. It also contains a hamon, or a wavy line that is created through the tempering technique, which is traditionally seen in samurai swords.