There were three degrees of separation between myself and a master culinary knife maker, from the Japan Sea city of Takefu. Despite that, however, we finally met a few years ago. First, a friend of mine, a Tendai Buddhist priest, introduced me to a German man who had become a master Japanese-style carpenter. The carpenter, then, introduced me to the remarkable Azai-san, master maker of culinary knives of extraordinary quality. Over the years I have been learning about how knives are made. For instance, by sandwiching a hard steel into a softer steel, the hard metal allows for a very sharp cutting edge, whereas the soft metal adds resilience to the blade as a whole. Also, where common wooden handles last only a few years when used constantly in a wet professional kitchen, Azai-san makes his finest handles from extremely hard, red sandalwood (see top knife in photo below), so his knives can last the life of the chef. Azai-san works in his own workshop, as well as in a fascinating place called Knife Bridge, which is operated by the knife makers guild of Takefu. Knife Bridge consists of a large, two story room with about a dozen work stations, each with its own fire furnace for working with steel. High above the working craftsmen is a long runway-like bridge, upon which guests and the general public can walk while looking down, clearly and directly watching the knife making process.
I am not especially skilled with tools, nor do I work with my hands much. However, I must really thank Azai-san for the pleasureful experience of quality and precision when I prepare food with one of his very special knives.
- Saito Hiroshi: A mensch by any other name…
- Update: My Life in Kyoto, Winter 2009