Kikuichi Kasumi Shiroko Yanagi (YK)
Height @ spine: 35mm
Width @ spine: 4mm
Blade material: Kasumi Shiroko white carbon steel
Blade finish: misty
Balance: 2” above heel
Hardness: HRc 63
Handle type: d-shape
Handle material: magnolia
- Performance: 9
- Usability: 8
- Ergonomics: 8
- OOTB Sharpness: 5
- Edge profile: 8
- Blade fit & finish: 8
- Handle fit & finish: 8
- Quality Control: 5
- “Wow” Factor: 7
- Value: 8
One of the things you’ll notice immediately on this very impressive knife is the chrysanthemum stamped into the blade. The right to use the imperial crest was awarded to the family some 700 years ago when an ancestor became a personal swordsmith to the emperor. Their blades have born it ever since as a mark of exceptional quality. I mention this because Kikuichi is not what you’d call a high-profile brand in high-end Japanese knives — at least not here in the US foodie/knife-knut circles. Their competition, from manufacturers like Masamoto, Aritsugu, Shigefusa or Suisin, all have much more mind share in this space. Popularity contests aside, all of these makers craft exceptional knives, and I think Kikuichi deserves to be recognized in this category as well.
The knife I was sent was a traditional sushi knife, a single-beveled 300mm yanagiba from their top of the line white steel kasumi-grade knives. I chose white steel over blue simply for sentimental reasons — it’s the steel that was used in samurai swords, and coming from a manufacturer that stamps their knives with a chrysanthemum, it just seemed appropriate. Of course, that decision also saved me about $200, but at $400, this is still not a cheap blade. It’s worth noting, however, that this price point is still on the low-end for artisan efforts with similar characteristics, which makes the Kikuichi something of a bargain, such things being relative.
The knife I received was from their Kasumi Shiroko line, which means that it uses Hitachi White steel — I should expect the knife to have and keep a great edge, but I should be careful with use to avoid chipping or scratching. Given that this is a slicing knife, designed to cut soft meats like fish, this is pretty much perfect.
Pardon the metallurgical aside, but I need to explain a couple of things before moving on. A ‘kasumi’ knife means that there are two metals being joined together to make this knife: one hard for cutting and the other soft for stability and ease of maintenance and manufacture. For us consumers, we should be aware that the process of bonding two dissimilar metals at very high temperatures will result in two different expansion rates in the metals as they cool, and that this expansion will continue to take place many months or even years after the knife has been completed. Why should you care? Quite simply, a kasumi knife can, may and probably will, warp over time. Luckily, this is very simply corrected by a competent knife sharpener, but it’s something to be aware of.
The alternative, a ‘honyaki’ knife, is generally the top-of-the-line offering from any manufacturer and is composed of a single type of steel. Honyaki are difficult and temperamental to make. While they will not warp over time (it’s all one type of metal, so no differential relaxation to worry about), they are generally much harder than their kasumi cousins — which means that while they hold their edges longer, putting a new one on there may take some significant effort and time. This is not a low maintenance knife! That and the fact that they’re generally two to three times more expensive is also something of a deterrent to the casual buyer — you’ll probably only see honyaki knives in the hands of a collector or accomplished sushi chef. For what it’s worth, Kikuichi does in fact have a honyaki line of knives available in their catalog — one each white and blue — and yes, they’re way over a thousand dollars each.
I say all this because the first knife I received from Kikuichi was, in point of fact, warped. The consensus opinion I was able to get was that the knife was most likely “old stock”, and that the knife had simply relaxed in its box. I had two options at this point — send it back or send it to a sharpener and have him correct the warp prior to putting an edge on it. I opted for the former — it was a new (to me, anyway) knife and I didn’t want to have to deal with anything less than perfect. I guess I’m just fussy that way.
Which brings me to my next topic — sharpening. It seems that there’s a tradition amongst Japanese manufacturers of sushi knives that the knife is shipped to the customer without a finished edge. I think that this is so that the new owner can see that their new knife is new, not used, since sharpening will put tiny scratches along the blade. Regardless, I find it irritating. So, I opted to have Kikuichi put an edge on my replacement knife before shipping it to me.
A week later, my new knife appears. This one is in fact straight. Bladeroad is smooth, even, and has a gorgeous misty look to it with nice even diagonal polish marks. Shinogi (the very top of the major bevel on this single-beveled knife) is clean, precise. Blade tapers cleanly and smoothly from heel to tip, both along the spine and with the bevel, coming to an almost flat point. And the edge is indeed sharpened. But there was a burr along the top third of the knife, and one that was easily visible to the naked eye, which meant that the knife was sloppily sharpened. The first knife was bent; replacement knife had a shoddy edge. Not a good way to impress a new customer.
I decided to not aggravate either the dealer or the manufacturer at this point. The knife was already partially sharpened — it was no longer show-floor perfect. And I liked the knife! Given that it seemed that there had been some efforts already to put an edge on it, and that I happened to have a nice selection of waterstones to sharpen with, I figured, what the hell. Yes, I am new to sharpening on stones. No, I’m not very good, but, no matter! On to the stones it went. Five minutes on an 8000 grit waterstone followed by a leather strop and we were ready to go. Burr gone, and the knife was now shaving-sharp all along the edge, albeit with a some limited amount of scuffing along the bladeroad. Oh well. A 10x loup showed a perfectly smooth bevel the entire length of the blade, so, all in all, not bad for an amateur, if I do say so myself.
The knife cuts fish crazy well. The shinogi line acts like a wedge, cleanly moving the cut fish away from the filet. Did I say this blade was sharp? Eek. Draw-cutting with this length was very simple, with the mere weight of the knife more than enough to slide completely through the fish during the stroke. Slicing was precise and the length was not an issue in controlling the blade. I was able to practically peel a fresh tuna steak, carving off ultra thin layers of fish. That was pretty neat. My wife had to stop me before I took her steak and turned it into a pile of ribbons. Whoops! By the way, wrapping “tuna ribbons” around some julienned spring onions makes a pretty nifty canape. Ask me how I know!
I have to say that I’m partial to this handle style, too. The d-shape fits very neatly into my right hand, and holding the blade in my customary pinch grip gave me plenty of control over the knife. However, the balance is (unsurprising for a knife this big) a bit blade-heavy, which made me pay way more attention than normal to what I was doing with it — a good thing all in all, but long term, might be a bit wearying.
The handle gently tapers in toward the blade and is a plain magnolia, so it’s a light colored wood — keep your beets away from it. Interestingly, the knife also comes with a saya (wooden sheath) and a pin to lock it in place. This is usually an upsell on a sushi knife (and can run up to $75!), so the free inclusion here is quite a bonus. Great for storage or travel. The saya & pin match the handle. Looking the gift-horse directly in the mouth, I have to say that the saya is rather plain, the fit is too snug and wears the edge simply by drawing the knife. I tested this a bit, and after shaving the hole that holds the pin a bit, the draw became much smoother. Your mileage may vary.
The ferrule (the handle element closest to the heel of the knife) is black buffalo horn, and the fit and join are smooth and fine. The handle fits onto the blade snugly, with no machi (the traditional kink in the tang of the blade right before it disappears into the handle) visible, which is unusual, and makes the knife look a bit less elegant than it’s competitors. However, some may find this a benefit as there’s far less opportunities for gunk to collect. Personally, I find this a non-issue due to how I hold the knife.
In general, this is a very, very fine knife. When you take it out of it’s box, are you going to wow your guests? Probably not. The knife is a bit more subtle than that — but your knife-knut friends are going to be all over it. Speaking of flash and bling, I would have liked to see a nicer handle. Even though this was traditional, at this price point, traditional is a bit boring. Primarily, the knife loses points for poor quality control — it should have been straight and it should have been sharp. While I got both in the end, I should have gotten them in the beginning.
About the QC — the reseller I bought this through was nothing less than expert. Mark at Chef’s Knives To Go was friendly, open and fast — and in the end I got what I wanted. Kikuichi on the other hand needs to pay more attention to what gets drop shipped from their warehouse.
To sum up, I like this knife quite a bit. If you’re planning to order one, do yourself a favor and be very proactive with your reseller to ensure that what you get shipped is the high quality product you ordered and that Kikuichi is very able to deliver.
Those reservations aside, it’s very easy to recommend this lineup (and brand) for those looking for traditional Japanese cutlery. At this price point, it’s going to be tough to match, let alone beat.