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Hōchō (包丁) - Kitchen knife

Last Update:2008/4/1

  Japan's two oldest "Hōchō"s (Japanese kitchen knife) are housed at the Imperial Household Agency Shosoin in Nara prefecture. During the Nara period, (CE 710 - 704) Japan imported plenty of Chinese civilization techniques, Buddhism, political affairs, and lifestyles and this was a time of change. The Todai-ji (Eastern Great Temple) in Nara was built along with the Shosoin and many imported products from the Silkroad were collected at the time.

  Within this Silkroad collection, two Hōchōs were included. Similar to a Sashimi knife (sushi knife), with an unique design the knife handle was made from a black lacquered zelkova tree, and a metal ring was placed by the butt of the blade which held the blade and the handle together and with word cravings by the butt of the handle.

  Before the use of a hōchō became a commercial product, one had to custom order their edged tools through a blacksmith. Clients had direct contact with the blacksmith and items were made to order.

  During the Sengoku period (CE 1478 - 1605) when Osaka was developing as a mercantile city, along with overseas trading and prosperous busiess within the nation, it is believed that hōchōs were finally being produced as a commercial product. Henceforth, with the commercialism and mass manufacturing of kitchen knives in the cities, market competition, and encouragement of knives made to order by farming blacksmiths in the countryside, created a competitive balance which is even seen to this day.

  Depending on its use, personal tastes, and each blacksmiths ingenuity, all manners of "Hōchō"s have come to life and to support people in their daily lives.

  At the end of the Edo period (CE 1603 - 1867), when Japan's sakoku (national isolationism) ended, Japan once again began to import foreign products and culture more readily. The same ensued with the importation of kitchen knives. Western knives, chinese knives and other knives from various culinary cultures were introduced to Japan, and while maintaining it's traditional skills of Japanese blacksmithing, foreign kitchen knives were quickly adopted and made as part of their own. Now, many western style kitchen knives and chinese knives are produced in Japan and are exported to their original birthplace.

  Following the flow of the world, new blacksmithing technology has been researched, new materials have been used to their full potential, production processes have been improved and the constant move towards higher quality products is constantly sought after. Japanese kitchen knives appeared in Sanjo approximated 350 years ago, steming from the introduction of Japanese nails. From the end of the Edo period, approximately 180 years from today, "Hōchō"s (Japanese kitchen knives) created in Sanjo have begun to appear in markets all over the world.

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