History of Japanese Knives
Before the 1980’s, knives in the UK were limited to English and European equivalents. Brands like Richardson were supplemented by German brands; Henckels and Wustof, producing heavy fully forged knives with black plastic handles.
The Japanese knife industry was confined to its own domestic market. Chefs that wanted to buy Japanese knives, would often have to travel to Japan, a very arduous journey where only single bevel blades were available.
The situation changed in the mid 80’s when Japanese table cutlery manufacturers began to be undercut by cheaper rivals in Hong Kong, which forced them to change.
The first to do so, was Yoshikin, pioneer of the ‘all stainless steel knife’, launched in 1985. The design, use of superior Japanese steel (which was harder than anything in Europe at the time) and the convex edge offered a far superior knife than had been available on the market at that time. Global paved the way for other Japanese brands to enter the UK market in the early 1990’s.
Global Knives surge in popularity with all good housewares stores stocking the range, John Lewis begin sales in 1997. The success of Global opens up the market to other Japanese brands and materials. Kasumi launches the first VG-10 Damascus range, ahead of Kai Shun. Mac knives enters the market.
With the rise of internet retail. Consumers are no longer inhibited by the limited choice that can be stocked and displayed in a physical shop. Previously limited to selling the top knives from the top brands, the market was opened to smaller knife manufacturers, brands and more esoteric knives with unusual designs and materials. Brands that previously were not really easily accessible; Tamahagane, Yaxell and Tojiro and now easy to buy.
The advent of social media has allowed brands to market themselves directly to consumers in a cost-effective way without the need to use a distributor or retailer. This has allowed a craft industry to develop in the UK and Japan, with knives from the Takefu knife collective becoming more popular, as well as newer UK manufacturers, such as Blenheim Forge.
The rise of China…With Japanese factory personnel aging and limited stock availability. Chinese quality knives keep getting better and better. Chinese VG-10 also begins to perform as good as Japanese VG-10 leading to the development of brands such as Rockingham Forge Saya.