Kitchen knife and Japanese samurai sword, are they same?

Kitchen knife and Japanese samurai sword has the same roots

Japanese samurai swords are definitely the most famous blades of Japan.

The Japanese samurai sword worn by a samurai is recognized as an artwork in modern times and many sword exhibitions are held every year. On the other hand, the kitchen knife comes to our mind immediately when it is said to be the most famous & familiar knife to us. A kitchen knife is a knife that everyone has grasped at least once, and is a must-have tool for cutting and chopping foods when cooking.

So what is the difference between a Japanese samurai sword and a kitchen knife? What is the relationship? Here, we will dig deep into the relationship between Japanese samurai swords and kitchen knives.


Kitchen knife shaped like a Japanese samurai sword

In general, Japanese samurai swords have a long and slender blade, and kitchen knives have a short blade.

However, there are also kitchen knives that look like Japanese swords, such as the "Yanagi blade knife" which is used when cutting sashimi and the knife used when dismantling large fish.

Many of you may have seen tuna being grated using a kitchen knife which looks like a Japanese samurai sword at sushi restaurants.

With that in mind, it seems that it is difficult to classify a Japanese sword as a long blade and a kitchen knife as a short blade.

Kitchen knives can be roughly divided into three categories: "Japanese knives", "Western knives", and "Chinese knives".

The two types of knives mentioned above are both Japanese knives. Its characteristic is that the blade is thinner than Western knives and Chinese knives.

So how did these features come about? The clue was left in the "Shosoin", the treasure house of "Todaiji".

Kitchen Knife of Shosoin Imperial Treasure
Kitchen Knife of Shosoin Imperial Treasure


These are the two kitchen knives that are said to be the oldest in Japan (from the Nara period).

It is believed that these were used in ceremonies, but both have a blade length of about 40 cm, a long handle, and looks just like a Japanese samurai sword without a brim.

Unlike Japanese samurai swords, which were often offered to the shrine, kitchen knives are practical products and were used while being repeatedly sharpened and polished to maintain sharpness, so there aren't many old ones left.

It is said that kitchen knives with such a shape were used until the early Edo period.


Japanese samurai sword that is called a "Kitchen Knife"

Some Japanese swords have the word "kitchen knife" in their name.

The most famous of these is the national treasure dagger "Masamune Kitchen Knife".

Masamune Kitchen Knife
Masamune Kitchen Knife


This short sword seems to have something related with the kitchen knife.

The author of the Masamune kitchen knife is the most famous swordsmith in Japan, Masamune.

A swordsmith representing "Soshuden"and "Yamashiroden" is Yoshimitsu Awataguchi , one of the "Gokaden". Along with Yoshihiro Gono, Masamune is known as a master craftsman and they are called "Tenga Sansaku".

The origin of the name of this short sword is that the shape resembles a kitchen knife.

Compared to the Shosoin Imperial Treasure kitchen knife mentioned above, this one seems to have a shape closer to the kitchen knife of nowaday.

There are three existing swords with the name of Masamune Kitchen Knife and all of them are designated as national treasures.


Abolition sword order shifted the swordsmith to make a kitchen knife

In 1876, the "Abolished knife order" was issued.

This is an order that forbids the wearing of a Japanese sword besides those wearing a "large court uniform" or when military personnel, police officers, etc. when wearing uniforms.

This eliminated the demand for Japanese samurai swords and made them completely unnecessary in daily life.

This policy by the new Meiji government, symbolized by the abolition sword decree that forcibly took away the Japanese samurai sword that was regarded as the "soul of the samurai". This order is now recognized as the trigger of "samurai rebellions" leading up to the "Satsuma Rebellion" in 1877.

On the other hand, it also had a great impact on the lives of the swordsmiths who has been creating the Japanese samurai swords, which have developed the technology uniquely to Japan.

So from then, swordsmiths begin to seek new ways for living.

One way was to use the technology cultivated in Japanese samurai sword production to produce kitchen knives. In short, they turned into blacksmiths to make kitchen knives, which had daily necessities.

It is not difficult to imagine that the essence of Japanese samurai sword production was brought into the kitchen knife production by many swordsmiths who became a kitchen knife blacksmith.

The symbolic thing is the existence of the so-called "Japanese sword kitchen knife", which is produced in the same way as a Japanese samurai sword. The visual of this is a kitchen knife, but it is made as a Japanese samurai sword.

In this way, the difference between the Japanese samurai sword and the kitchen knife may have become ambiguous.


Difference between Japanese samurai sword and kitchen knife

So where is the boundary between uniquely Japan-made Japanese swords and kitchen knives?

The difference in materials.

Japanese swords are made by forging "Tamahagane" refined by the traditional Japanese iron making method, "Tatara".

Currently, the only "Tatara" that operates to refine Tamahagane is "Nichitobo Tatara". This is operated by the Japan Art Swords Preservation Association in Shimane Prefecture.

Therefore, the production volume is very small, and is rarely used for purposes other than Japanese samurai sword production.

On the other hand, kitchen knives are generally made of a variety of materials such as "steel", "iron", "stainless steel" and "ceramic".

Cross section of Japanese samurai sword and kitchen knife
Cross section of Japanese samurai sword and kitchen knife


In addition, it is said that the difference between Japanese samurai swords and kitchen knives can be seen in their structure. (besides the special cases such as the so-called Japanese sword kitchen knives mentioned above)

In other words, in the production of Japanese samurai swords, the blade is made by wrapping the soft steel part with the hard steel. But in Japanese knives, the method of joining the hard steel blade to the soft iron structure is different.

Regarding this difference, since kitchen knives are practical products and need to be sharpened on a daily basis to maintain sharpness, a soft steel material is used to "cover" the hard steel that will be the blade. It is thought that it also had the purpose of preventing it from being worn down.


Both Japanese swords and kitchen knives are special & unique

So we have been seeing the difference of Japanese samurai swords and kitchen knives.

We can define that they are different because of the differences in material and structure. However, although the structure is different from that of Japanese samurai swords, it is a fact that even Japanese knives are made by combining soft materials and hard steel.

Common part can be said that it's brittleness, the hard steel used in the blade part by joining it with a soft material.

Of course, the strength of Japanese knives is not as strong as that of Japanese samurai swords.However, it is possible to feel the essence of Japanese samurai swords that "does not break, does not bend, and is very sharp".

Now that the Japanese samurai sword has finished its role, a typical practical knife in Japan is a Japanese kitchen knife.

Like the Japanese samurai sword, which is said to be the soul of a samurai, kitchen knives are sometimes referred to as the "soul of a cook."

A kitchen knife is more than just a tool, it is a knife that can be special to the user.In that sense, Japanese knives can be said that they are an extension of the history of Japanese samurai swords, which have become artworks in modern times.

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