Did you know that the Samurai sword and a kitchen knife share a common history? Culture and history shape a lot of how we treat knives and the differences between India and Japan are startling.
In India, kitchen knives are seen as tools, ones that can be used and discarded after their usefulness has run its course. The idea that someone might keep a knife their whole life and then pass it down to the next generation seems almost unbelievable. But in Japan, that is a very common practice. Knives are treated as family heirlooms and are a link to an ancient legacy. This connection dates back to the age of the Samurai and the shared origin of the Japanese Knife and the Japanese Sword.
It was during the early Heian period that "Japanese swords" were first manufactured in Japan, using smithing techniques brought over from the Chinese mainland and the Korean Peninsula and the oldest ‘knife’ found in Japan was the same shape as a sword. The practice of knives grew and, “Deba” (kitchen knives) and “Yanagiba” (sashimi knives) appeared along with the “Nakiri” (vegetable knives) which are just as popular today. Later, with the introduction of a more Westernised meat-eating culture, "gyuto" (chef’s knives) started to be used too and they slowly became an integral part of Japanese culture. Kai Knives understands the legacy behind Japanese knives and has a legacy of its own. With over 100 years of experience crafting fine blades, their products come bringing a history of excellence.
The Japanese connection to knives goes beyond just fine crafting, however, and they believe that chefs are one with their knives, and knowing how to look after them is as important as knowing how to use them. At the end of every day, chefs will hone and polish their blades which kept them in their ideal state for years. Even modern stainless steel blades like the one on the Kai Chef Knife can be hand sharpened for the smoothest cut.
With all the care and attention Japanese chefs lavished on their blades, it was believed that a small part of their spirit was transferred to the knife. So if for any reason a knife would break, it would be placed on a ceremonial mound called a Hocho-zuka to express their appreciation and honour the service provided by the knife. But thanks to the care, sharpening and polishing that was carried out, it’s more common that knives get passed on to the next generation who continue the tradition.
From the example set to us by the Japanese, it’s easy to see the long-term benefits of keeping your knives sharp, but even for daily use, a sharp, honed blade has many advantages. By removing and material on the blade's edge, it returns to its original state allowing you to chop smoothly. This is important from a safety perspective too since a dull blade is more likely to slip and cause injuries.
You can sharpen straight-edge knives with manual or electric knife sharpeners or even go old school with a whetstone, the important part is to have an abrasive surface to rub the edge against. For serrated blades like the Kai Bread Knife, you may need a special serrated sharpener or a sharpening rod designed to operate between the serrations.
The legacy and reverence offered to knives in Japan is something worth adopting because the practice of taking care of your knives will not only make them even more effective, it will allow your culinary skills to grow as well.