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Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Wed Aug 15, 2012 8:58 pm

Seems Canadians aren't as into Japanese kitchen knives as many Americans (e.g. on this forum and other US kitchen knife forums). In general.

It appears buyers (most..excluding chefs/sous) in Toronto are into it on a superficial level. Concerned more about how they look than how they perform. This was admitted to me by one major Toronto knife shop (who happens to be more known as a hi-end organic meat butcher...i guess these might also be the buyers of their knives...yuppies). Concerned about how the knives look when entertaining their friends.

Which isn't to say there aren't fanatics too. There must be. Just that the majority aren't...that frequent this shop.

Also, this shop is actually pulling Masamoto's off the shelf. Not selling in Toronto oddly enough. I would have thought this brand would be a popular brand among home cooks and pros. Priced fairly. Well made...though, there has been some complaints about workmanship of the handle on western knives. Has Masamoto addressed this? I don't know.

Perhaps it's like this in the US too. That the majority of patrons are just as superficial. That knife fanatics (and ex-chefs, chefs) found on forums like this are maybe a tiny percentage that frequent knife shops.

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Fri Aug 17, 2012 3:06 pm

I feel this is true for the most part in America too. Especially with Japanese knives, people are buying them because they look cool. Why else are sword-tipped gyutos so popular if they do nothing special? Why else do so many people buy single bevels and yet so few know how to maintain or even properly use them? Because they are cool!

I can't believe Masamotos aren't selling. Maybe they are losing out in favor of trendier brands. Masamoto was like the Coca-Cola of Japanese knives for decades, but they didn't land any deals with Food Network, SLT, or WS.

Getting people to actually USE them is tough. I hate seeing people who have a quality knife, whether Japanese or American, and use the China factory blade instead because they don't feel it will get damaged. As much as I hate to admit it, the only guys who have done the right thing with this is Cold Steel. I always thought those guys were idiotic with their pig-hacking and lock batoning and bottle slicing. But if you don't, people will think the knife is a glass orchid instead of a slab of tool steel. I'm considering filming destruction tests on the knives I'm going to sell, just so people will actually use the stupid things.

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Fri Aug 17, 2012 4:24 pm

I'm a chef from Canada and I started off with a shun ken onion chef's and a shun classic set. I didn't know anything about steel whatsoever, and was definitely obsessed with the look. Although you can't say shun's perform worse than a henckel/wusthof. As time went on (2 weeks) I started to realize I wanted to buy more knives and what I thought was the best of the best was actually entry level.

Now 3 years later I have a crap load of knives and not one of them is a Shun, Global, or Kasumi etc. After some time I just realized I'm not going to pay extra for a knife that looks great but doesn't perform the way I want it to. The biggest problem I find living in western Canada is that it is a bitch to get the knives found on cktg. I have a local store here that sells Japanese knives called Knifewear but their prices are just way higher to the point where I'd rather buy the knife or whetstone from cktg and pay for shipping and customs and it would still be cheaper than what they are selling it for. (For example a Chosera 10k is $430) There isn't an honest priced knife store in Canada for people to buy and try.

I work in a Catering company and I do a lot of offsite work and just from working with other kitchens and talking with other kitchen staff a lot of cooks/chefs aren't educated about knives whatsoever. They don't know how to maintain the knives whatsoever and are absolutely clueless about the types of knives available out there. I've been doing my best to educate the people around me so far but the only way I could make people understand was by letting them use my knives and they see how amazing the kono's, takeda's, masamoto's, tojiro's, fujiwara's, moritaka's etc etc, really are.

I went to cooking school in Canada and they did teach how to sharpen and use the knife properly but they don't go in-depth like they do in Japan. The first 2 years in a Japanese cooking school is just sharpening your knife and learning how to use it. That's why sushi chefs from Japan have ridiculous knife skills.

I've been trying for a while to make people stop scraping edges on cutting boards, cutting on metal counter-tops, putting knives in dishwashers, putting them in drawers, and opening cans etc. It's impossible to change old habits. As far as I know the people around me just buy a Japanese Kitchen Knife that's made in China in a hardware or grocery store so there is no culture except for sushi this and sushi that.

I'm just happy I can get my knife addiction satisfied with online shopping! Hooray!

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Fri Aug 17, 2012 6:56 pm

As was just mentioned, even by a chef, knife culture doesn't really seem to be there yet. I thought it was just among home cooks but according to Nee it's even as absent in the cooking industry. Again, which isn't to say there aren't many who are knowledgeable about kitchen knives (esp. Japanese). Not like it appears to be in the US.

And, as far as knife shopping goes...pricing is in general quite a bit higher in Canada. From the west-coast to the east. Many knives are priced $50-100 more per. Ridiculous.

The same goes for wines. In which case the same bottle can go for double in Canada.

Having said that...it IS still possible to get good deals on knives. You just need to know exactly which knife you are looking for. Where to buy from. Is is possible to buy a Kono for less than it's sold in the US in Canada.

Also, I think Canadian knife shops know buyers have limited choices. So if we want brand A there's usually only 1 dealer (except for Takeda...Knifeware & Tosho sell them).

And regarding knife knowledge in Japan vs other parts of the world...it's not surprising. Japan, has had several government run organizations in place to ensure swords are kept to a high quality standard. Areas of sword making are even taught in Japanese universities. Sword smiths are only allowed to make 2 blades per month. There's ranking systems. Some smiths are considered "National Treasures". Some swords aren't even allowed to leave Japan.

Sword making in Japan has not changed for the most part in Japan for the past 1000 years. The only exception is that a few smiths "cheat" and use the same "hammer machine" kitchen knife makers use to save time, effort and money.

So it's not surprising that kitchen knife culture would be as strong and as deep as it is in Japan. Swords are very much a part of Japan's culture as a whole. You can see them sometimes in temples. They even have sword museums. They aren't viewed merely as weapons of death. They are now considered also art pieces.

As for people using their "made in China" knives over their "better knives"...I don't think it's because they don't think they won't chip but that they are cheap. If they damage them so be it.

And, regarding Masamoto's not selling in Toronto...it makes no sense to me either. Not being a "knifehead" nor some one that is indifferent/uninformed. They are for the most part well made, offered in quality steels (e.g. VG10 in their VG series), good geometry, will keep an edge, fairly generic looking (maybe that's the problem), and they are priced fairly. Within reach of a wider market.

Heck, I might pick up one or two eventually.

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:55 pm

well, I think modern middle class consumption is quite twisted. everything is now done by a special little machine (like sharpener). people just refuse to learn the skills and knowledge as they use to, myself included. I used a crappy knife for years without sharpening it and my wrist and fingers hurt like hell every time I cut with it.

But since "Made in China" was mentioned, I'd like to provide a Chinese (been in US for a number of years) perspective. I think most people that is not a knife-fanatic CAN be pretty happy with a set of made in China knives. Not the kind you can easily find here. But HIGH END ones, something at this level:

http://www.shibazi.com/cn/product_class ... ClassName=
I have been eying the S208-2 (third one from top). it uses laminated steel with a 8cr13mov core (.8% carbon with Mo and V) hardened to hrc58-60 and is in the pro chef line. It retails for $18.7 in China but I found a few online stores sell it for $12.4. This company has their own steel mill and makes hundreds of models of kitchen knives.

every time I have friends over, I'd show them my artifex and tell them a bit about better kitchen knives. I do occasionally feel silly doing that though.

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Sat Aug 18, 2012 2:15 am

I'm Chinese as well and I really can't find myself appreciating any China made knife except for the cleaver.

If I can remember, I think its something about China not having higher end steel, and they will charge tariffs for importing anything in.

I'm very proud to be Chinese but the material on our knives really really really suck. I'm still waiting for someone to prove me wrong. :/

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:23 am

Nee wrote:I'm Chinese as well and I really can't find myself appreciating any China made knife except for the cleaver.

If I can remember, I think its something about China not having higher end steel, and they will charge tariffs for importing anything in.

I'm very proud to be Chinese but the material on our knives really really really suck. I'm still waiting for someone to prove me wrong. :/

Unfortunately, knives and Chinese culture do not mix. The cleaver will always be looked upon as the one and only kitchen knife required. That's how it's been for decades. Perhaps longer. There has never been any need to develop other styles of kitchen knives.

To produce knives of high quality means money, training and time. Something that goes against typical thinking of most Chinese businessmen/women. The idea is always to produce items as cheaply and as quickly as possible. And then charge more than enough money to make a healthy profit.

Odd exception were companies like the computer graphics card company "ATI". Started by a Chinese man making boards in his garage. Grew to be one of two largest computer graphics card makers in the industry. The quality was there. But only because they had to adapt a western business model and western business culture (that included offering workers in Toronto all the rights, privileges and benefits of a western corporate employee).

There will never be a Chinese made knife (cleaver) built with the same quality of any Japanese knife. What's interesting to note is that Japanese kitchen knife makers have made "Chinese cleavers" (as you all know...as well as western styled chef's knives) with Japanese steel and workmanship. And have done so extremely well. With a high degree of quality. As they do with all their kitchen knives (for the most part...Masamoto has had issues with the quality of their handles...as I've mentioned...i have no idea if they've rectified that yet).

The fact that the Japanese have decided to make Chinese cleavers I find very odd. Makes little sense to me. Since the majority of people buying Chinese cleavers are Chinese home cooks and chefs. And almost none of them will spend $400 on a Japanese cleaver when a $60 CCK will do the job.

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Sat Aug 18, 2012 11:16 am

My point is really about how consumer/business dynamic affects the types of product available on the north American market rather than anything else.

I don’t see any problem with the good/bad knife combo. Many people do have nicer things for special occasions and enjoy using a beater to get things done for the rest. You can use your Porsche for that weekend trip and have something else for your daily commute. But my point of linking that shibazi cleaver is that your “something else” doesn’t have to be a TATA. And yet that’s what people are using when they pick up a cheap made in China knife. The steel 8cr13mov used by higher end shibazi (available in all sorts of profiles, I might add) I suspect is very similar to most of the knives listed as molybdenum-vanadium, which let’s say is like a toyota. Wouldn’t the majority of North Americans be fine to have a toyota (with or without that Porsche for the weekend), especially if it cost about the same as the tata?

What frustrates me is that almost all retailers choose to bring a $5 made in China knife here to sell for $25 or more (shipping and retail costs are a lot more than the knife itself!) rather than bring a $10 knife to sell for $30. Obviously the Chinese factory, the western brand name holder (like henckels, calphalon), the retailer are all happy because they all made good money. Only the ignorant consumer (as I used to be) got screwed.

Last point, I have never thought kitchen knives are anything special (except some knives with a clear focus on artistry) and any industrialized country can very good knives at a reasonable cost. You can have all the sentiment you want towards handmade knives using thousand-year-old technology and be willing to pay a premium for it. But in the end it’s a cultural product, nothing else. Other countries just don’t have the same culture to have enough demand to afford such an industry. Limited supplies and channels for good knives is why they are so expensive. And it’s a downward spiral. It is a sad thing to see everywhere else people have stopped caring about it and the knife industry have deteriorated into such a sorry state (like dishwasher safe?). That’s why I think Mark is doing something special here with the artifex, a good working knife at a price it supposed to be. Next thing Mark should do is to design a new line and make them in China to occupy the top of Amazon’s popularity chart. Wusthof may have to start using real high carbon stainless steel then. ok, maybe they will ditch the non-ergo "ergo handle" too.

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Sat Aug 18, 2012 1:37 pm

Being that Canada's population is 1/10th that of the U.S, it's kinda hard for you to justify your comment on Canadians not being into Japanese knives as much as Americans...
I live in Toronto And I'm lucky to have 2 amazing purveyors of Japanese steel(Knife and Tosho) right here in the city.I like supporting local businesses and being able to walk into a store and talk to the owners,handle the merchandise and haggle with them for a good price(I'm a thrifty S.O.B).
These shops are small and relatively new(Knife 2 yrs old Tosho 1year old).It's hard for them to compete with larger online stores and chains,but I find the service I receive when I visit them makes up for the price difference..They cater to a niche clientele(chefs,collectors,serious home cooks) and I think they're doing quite well

The butcher shop you mentioned definitely caters to a high end/trendy/yuppie clientele that's more concerned with how the knife looks rather than pure performance or what kind of "patina" will develop on the blade.They're all about low maintenance..

The Masamoto's they were selling were overpriced,even at a substantial discount(I tried to order a Masamoto KS gyuto from them,but with duty+tax it would have been $100.00 more thean my Kono HD) I'm not surprised that they're dropping that line.

If I lived in the U.S I would probably order more from C.K.T.G,But the duty + shipping + taxes is a deal breaker for me

Re: Japanese kitchen knife culture in Canada

Sat Aug 18, 2012 2:12 pm

wow, you guys need to pay tax to shop from an online US retailer? maybe next time you visit the Falls you can stay at the US side and have Mark ship stuff to the hotel.

But for knives, I would buy local also if there is a good enough selection. I would love to try the model before I buy it. it would also be nice to pick one from a few to minimize imperfections.
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