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Given the reputation of Japanese kitchen knives, it is no wonder that knife enthusiasts are interested in Japanese pocket knives. If these knives are made with the same care and quality as their kitchen cousins, they should be useful, reliable knives to keep in your pocket. What is a Japanese pocket knife, and how does it differ from Western versions?
A Japanese pocket knife is a knife made in the style of Japanese pocket knives such as the Higo-No Kami, Kiridashi, and Kogatana knives. These pocket knives have simple, elegant, straight lines in their design and are made with typical Japanese quality materials and attention to detail.
Japanese pocket knives come in various styles and designs, each with unique characteristics and uses. We will examine Japanese pocket knives’ characteristics and types, construction, and usefulness. We will include a few examples of these knives and where you can source them.
What Are Japanese Pocket Knives?
Japan has a long history of blade-making, dating back to the ancient times when swords were crafted for samurais and other warriors. Japanese knives are known for their attention to detail, use of high-quality materials, and exquisite craftsmanship, passed down from generation to generation.
In the culinary world, Japanese knives are prized for making precise cuts and creating beautiful food presentations. Do these quality and performance characteristics carry over to Japanese pocket knives?
Japanese pocket knives have gained popularity recently due to their unique designs, high-quality construction, and excellent performance. We will examine the main Japanese pocket knife styles and what you can expect from these designs.
Types of Japanese Pocket Knives
In contrast to Japanese kitchen knives, the pocket knives do not have a wide range of designs and blade shapes.
The blades are designed for general utility purposes or craft work rather than single-purpose designs typical of kitchen knives.
Japanese pocket knives come in many different types, each with its unique style, design, and purpose. There are three main Japanese-style pocket knives available.
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Higo-No Kami Japanese Pocket Knives
Higo-No Kami is a traditional Japanese pocket knife that has been around for over 160 years. The knife was designed and created in 1896 in Miki in the Hyogo Prefecture.
True to Japanese culture’s favoring of simple and clean lines, the Higo-No Kami features a simple, elegant design with a single blade and a handle that folds over the blade for safe storage.
The handle is generally straight, with no curvature to accommodate the shape of your hand, making the knife uncomfortable to use for heavy-duty tasks.
The blade is generally straight, with very little curvature, which reminds me of a straight-razor design. The tip of the blade often has a reverse tanto shape.
Higo-No Kami knives are typically made from high-carbon steel, known for their toughness, sharpness, and durability.
Most Higo-No Kami knives are friction folders with no locking mechanism. The blade is opened via a lever called a chikiri, operated by the thumb.
Kiridashi Japanese Knives
Kiridashi is a small, versatile Japanese pocket knife commonly used for woodworking and carving. It has a single bevel, chisel-style blade that is sharpened on one side only, making it ideal for making precise cuts and marks.
Kiridashi-style knives are traditionally used for craftwork and woodworking but are also useful as EDC knives. The kiridashi knives (Amazon link) often have a small bamboo or leather sheath that covers the short blade to prevent cutting the knife’s owner when placed in a pocket.
Kiridashi knives are available in various sizes, ranging from tiny pocket-sized models to larger blades for heavy-duty work.
Kogatana Japanese Knives
Kogatana means “small blade,” which is a good description of these Japanese pocket knives. A kogatana is a utility knife kept in a pocket or traditionally mounted in a specially designed pocket on the scabbard of a sword.
The blade of a kogatana is typically straight, 4 inches or 10cm long, and 0.39 inches or 1cm wide, and is a non-folding or fixed blade. The handle is generally short and cylindrical, and a sheath matching the diameter of the handle fits over the blade.
The blade shape is reminiscent of the katana, making this pocket knife look like a miniature katana. Pop culture and the movie industry have incorrectly portrayed this knife as a throwing knife; its main purpose is the same as a Western pocket knife.
Design And Construction Of Japanese Knives
Japanese pocket knives are known for their excellent design and construction, key factors in their performance and durability.
They are typically made from high-quality high-carbon Aogami steel or Japanese stainless steel, such as VG-10. Here are some of the essential elements of Japanese pocket knife design and construction:
Handle materials on Japanese pocket knives can range from traditional wood, bone, or modern synthetic materials such as micarta or G10.
Japanese folding knives are traditionally friction folders with no locking mechanisms, but some modern variations have included these mechanisms for safety.
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Caring For Japanese Pocket Knives
Caring for a Japanese pocket knife is essential to ensure its longevity and performance. Given that many of the same materials used in Japanese kitchen knives are used in pocket knives, these knives require a little extra maintenance and attention.
Keep Your Japanese Pocket Knife Clean And Dry
After using your Japanese pocket knife, wipe it clean with a soft cloth to remove any dirt or debris. If the blade is dirty, use mild soap and warm water to clean it, but dry it thoroughly afterward to prevent rust or corrosion.
Keep The Blade Sharp
Keeping the blade of your Japanese pocket knife sharp is crucial to maintaining its performance. You can sharpen the blade using sharpening stones, a honing rod, or a sharpening system.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the appropriate sharpening angle for your knife.
Oil The Blade And Pivot
To prevent rust and corrosion, it’s essential to oil the blade and pivot of your Japanese pocket knife regularly.
You can use a lightweight oil, such as mineral oil or WD-40, to lubricate the blade and pivot. Apply a little oil to a soft cloth, rub it onto the blade, pivot, and then wipe away any excess.
Store Your Japanese Pocket Knife Properly
Storing your Japanese pocket knife properly can also help prolong its lifespan. Keep the knife dry, cool, and away from direct sunlight or heat sources. If your knife has a leather sheath, oil it periodically to prevent it from drying out and cracking.
Use The Knife For Its Intended Purpose
Finally, using your Japanese pocket knife for its intended purpose is essential. Using it for tasks that are too heavy or demanding can damage the blade or the folding mechanism. If you need a heavier-duty knife, consider using a fixed-blade knife or a different tool altogether.
Caring for your Japanese pocket knife is essential to ensure its longevity and performance. Keep it clean and dry, sharpen the blade regularly, oil the blade and pivot, store it properly, and use it for its intended purpose. You can enjoy your Japanese pocket knife for years by following these tips.
Shun Higo-No Kami Gentleman’s Knife
Shun is a well-known and respected knife brand in the Japanese kitchen knife sector, but not many people know that they also make pocket knives.
The Shun Higo-No Kami Gentleman’s Knife (Amazon link) is a high-quality Japanese pocket knife perfect for everyday carry.
This slim, elegant knife features a stunning design with a beautiful laminated Pakkawood handle and a razor-sharp blade made of VG-10 steel. The blade is 3.5 inches or 8.9cm long and is slender in design.
The main features of this knife are as follows.
- High-quality construction. The Shun Higo-No Kami Gentleman’s Knife is meticulously crafted with precision and care, ensuring each knife is of the highest quality.
- VG10 steel blade. The blade is made from VG10 steel, a high-quality Japanese steel known for its exceptional sharpness and edge retention.
- Folding design. The knife features a folding design, making it compact and easy to carry in a pocket or bag.
- Locking mechanism. The knife has a reliable locking mechanism, ensuring the blade stays securely in place when opened.
- Compact size. The knife is compact, only 3.5 inches or 8.9cm when folded, making it perfect for carrying in a pocket or bag.
- Traditional Japanese design. The Shun Higo-No Kami Gentleman’s Knife is designed in the traditional Japanese style, reflecting Japan’s rich history and culture.
- Leather sheath included. The knife comes with a leather sheath to store the knife and offer additional protection.
The Higo-No Kami is a classic Japanese pocket knife design with a traditional folding mechanism that allows the blade to be safely stored within the handle.
When opened, the blade locks securely in place, providing a safe and sturdy cutting tool. The knife’s compact size and lightweight design make it easy to carry in your pocket, making it an excellent choice for everyday use.
Its exceptional sharpness sets the Higo-No Kami apart from other pocket knives. The VG-10 steel blade is razor-sharp, making it ideal for precise cutting tasks.
One thing to note about the Higo-No Kami is that it is a delicate knife and may not be suitable for heavy-duty tasks. However, for everyday use and light-cutting tasks, it is an excellent tool that any knife enthusiast would be happy to own.
TIP: Find out my TOP 3 picks of pocket knives if you are interested in buying a pocket knife (Amazon link):
- Victorinox Swiss Army Rangergrip knife: Our favorite feature is the one-hand-opening lock blade, a crucial feature of this tool.
- Opinel No.8 Carbon Pocket Knife: Robust, reliable everyday carry knife, suitable for those who only want a knife blade on their pocket knife.
- Spyderco Para 3 Maxamet Pocket Knife: Lightweight knife featuring a blade made from high-performance Maxamet steel, with a full flat grind for edge durability and easy sharpening.
KATSU Handmade Japanese Pocket Folding Knife
The KATSU Handmade Japanese Pocket Folding Knife is a modern take on the traditional Higo-No Kami style knife. This beautifully crafted knife blends traditional Japanese design with modern technology.
This knife’s functionality and visual appeal make it one of my favorite pocket knives in the Japanese style.
The main features of the KATSU Handmade Japanese Pocket Folding Knife (Amazon link) are as follows.
- Attention to detail. The knife is handmade, which shows the fit and finish of the knife. This is a well-crafted knife anyone would be proud to own.
- D2 tool steel blade. D2 tool steel is a quality high-carbon steel, giving this knife a robust, strong blade.
- Friction folder. The KATSU handmade pocket knife features the traditional friction folding mechanism.
- One-handed opening. The knife has a chikiri lever to facilitate the one-handed opening of the blade.
- Liner lock security. The blade has a liner lock to hold the blade securely in the open position.
- G10 handle. The G10 handle is cleverly crafted to look like bamboo, a traditional material often used on these knife handles. This design adds to the aesthetic appeal of the knife.
- Pocket clip. Japanese knives do not traditionally have a pocket clip, but the addition of this feature adds to the knife’s functionality.
The total length of the knife is 7.5 inches or 19cm when opened and 4.5 inches or 11.4cm when closed. The length of the blade itself is 3 inches or 7.62cm. This makes for a compact but usable EDC pocket knife.
What sets the KATSU knife apart is its exceptional craftsmanship. This knife is handmade by skilled artisans in Japan, ensuring that each knife is unique and of the highest quality.
The attention to detail and superior craftsmanship are evident in every aspect of the knife, from the smooth opening and closing mechanism to the flawless finish on the blade.
The KATSU Handmade Japanese Pocket Folding Knife is an excellent choice for those who appreciate a substantial knife with a sturdy feel.
KATSU CK01 Folding Pocket Japanese Knife With 154CM Steel Blade
Our next Japanese pocket knife is also from the KATSU brand. KATSU is a Japanese brand, but they have deviated from the strictly traditional Japanese pocket knife designs with the creation of this folder.
The KATSU CK01 Folding Pocket Japanese Knife (Amazon link) resembles a Western pocket knife more than the traditional Japanese designs, which may make it more appealing to some people.
The main features of the KATSU CK01 pocket knife are as follows.
- Compact and easy to carry. The knife is 8 inches or 20cm when fully opened and a compact 4.85 inches or 12.3cm when closed. The blade length is 3.5 inches or 8.9cm.
- CPM 154CM steel blade. The stout blade is made from CPM 154CM steel, a form of stainless steel that provides excellent wear and stain resistance.
- Carbon fiber handle. The handle is made from solid carbon fiber, providing a comfortable grip and keeping the knife lightweight but strong.
- Thumb opening lever. The traditional thumb opening leaver or chikiri is included in the knife’s design and allows for easy one-handed opening of the blade.
- Leather sheath included. The knife comes with a leather sheath, allowing the knife to be carried on your belt if you don’t want to carry it in your pocket.
While a Japanese manufacturer makes this knife, not many traditional features are incorporated into the knife’s design. This may detract from the knife’s appeal for those looking for a more culturally representative knife.
Despite this criticism, the knife is well-made and would not be out of place as your go-to everyday carry pocket knife. The knife’s exceptional design, sharp blade, and lightweight feel make it an excellent choice for those in the market for a high-quality pocket knife.
Gerber Gear Ayako Folding Knife
Gerber is an American knife brand, but this knife is created in the Japanese style, which is why I have included it in the list of Japanese pocket knives.
Gerber has a reputation for creating rugged top-quality knives, and this Japanese-style pocket knife is true to form.
Ayako is a Japanese word that means “color or design” and implies a vibrant feel. It is also a popular girl’s name in Japan.
The main features of the Gerber Gear Ayako Folding Knife (Amazon link) are as follows.
- Blade shape. The blade has a distinct tanto design, with the straight non-curving cutting edge leading to the tanto tip.
- Blade steel. The blade is made from 7Cr17MoV stainless steel, which resists wear and corrosion.
- Opening mechanism. The knife is a friction folder, meaning the friction on the pivot holds the knife in the closed position, and the blade is easy to open using the Japanese-style thumb lever.
- Locking mechanism. The knife locks in the open position with a frame lock mechanism to keep the blade from accidentally closing during use.
- Aluminum handle. The handle scales are made from a combination of textured aluminum and stainless steel, adding to the durability and ruggedness of the knife.
The Gerber Gear Ayako Folding Knife is a high-quality knife that offers exceptional value for its price. This knife features a 7Cr17MoV stainless steel blade with a titanium nitride coating for additional protection, giving it a sleek and modern look.
The handle of the Gerber Ayako knife is made from aluminum, providing a comfortable grip and a lightweight feel. The aluminum material is also durable and resistant to wear and tear, making it an excellent choice for those who use their knives frequently.
This is a well-made, compact folder that I highly recommend. It is compact, easy to carry, and made with the quality we have come to expect from all Gerber knives.
Japanese pocket knives are popular for their sharpness, precision, and durability. They come in a variety of types and designs, each with its own unique features and benefits. Whether you need a knife for woodworking, outdoor activities, or everyday use, a Japanese pocket knife can be a versatile and reliable choice.
The quality of materials and simple, practical designs of Japanese pocket knives make them an option you should consider for an EDC knife or as a utility knife.
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