Where to Buy Real Kyoto Knives: Shigeharu vs Aritsugu Knives

Before you rush to Aritsugu to purchase your prize Japanese knife, you might want to read this article. There are several options for buying authentic, handmade Kyoto knives.

Kyohamono 京刃物: Kyoto Cutlery in Cultural Context
Hamono refers to all kinds of cutting tools such as chef knives, carpenter planes, saws and chisels, sculptor chisels and files, kimono fabric and paper cutting blades, ikebana and gardener clippers and even modern scissors and fingernail clippers. Of course Kyoto was the center of all arts and culture in Japan for centuries. Many, including myself, would say that it still is. I can find no Kyoto traditional arts and crafts that doesn’t require some kind of cutting instrument. The hamono, or Kyohamono (Kyoto knives and sharp edged tools) developed and advanced over the centuries in step with arts and crafts here. Of course other regions also had significant production, but the paramount dynamic at play is that every artisan throughout the country wanted to relocate to Kyoto to serve the Imperial Household. Kyoto produced the creme de la creme for centuries, evolution in action.

The Search for Authentic Handmade Kyoto Cutlery
Today, I spent the day making the rounds of workshops and stores that make and sell traditional Kyoto cutlery, in hopes of finding a great place to buy traditional Japanese culinary knives with the quality and tradition that is Kyoto. Of course, Aritsugu is the first stop on everyone’s shopping list, there are other options.

I tried to find a knife maker that satisfies the following requirements:

  • offers high quality, truly handmade knives
  • makes traditional knives, in Kyoto
  • makes their own knives
  • offers friendly and polite service
  • is a shinise (old and well loved shop)

I need to go back and do some proper interviews, but so far, here are my favorites:

Where to Buy Real Kyoto Knives 重春刃物

Shigeharu Kyoto Knife Store 重春刃物

Shigeharu (重春)
In Kyoto some traditional businesses can said to be senzen (戦前), or ‘before the war’. In most parts of Japan this of course refers to World War II, but in Kyoto it can refer to the Onin War (1467-1477), which set off the Warring States period.

A handful of truly ancient business can claim to be ‘senzen’ (before Onin War) and these are truly shinise. It seems that Shigeharu is the only Kyohamono company, specializing in knives, that can claim this title. Shigeharu’s founding dates back to the Kamakura period (1190-1329). Now that is truly historic. (Aritsugu started in 1560.)

The oldest knife maker in Kyoto, Shigeharu, has no website, they don’t even have the ubiquitous ‘shoppu kard0′ as they are called in Japanese, a shop brochure or card. I chatted with the owner about their knives for 10 minutes or so and asked if many foreigners come to his store and he said a few, but not many. (I knew where it was, but had never actually been inside.) So, I think that Shigeharu is rather undiscovered and not in most of the Western guidebooks. I felt like I had a scoop!

Shigeharu is located on Horikawa Street between Sanjo and Oike Streets, on the east side. It is about a 5 minute walk south from the Nijo Castle gate. (see map below)

Where to Buy Real Kyoto Knives 重春刃物

Shigeharu Kyoto Knife Store 重春刃物

Kikuichimonji (菊一文字)
Kikuichimonji is perhaps Kyoto’s best known alternative to Aritsugu. Their shop is conveniently located but lacks the elegant presentation and interior of Aritsugu. Kikuichimonji is historic, but I cannot yet find any independent and definitive sources that have a firm date. The insinuated date on Kikuichimonji’s website sounds dubious to me.

I spent quite a bit of time at Kikuichimonji talking to one of the staff who was friendly and helpful. The other person working there wasn’t so friendly.

They were vague when I asked if they made their own knives. They said that indeed they did and when I pressed and asked where, they were evasive. I guessed that means that they subcontract out like Aritsugu. Kikuichimonji has some awesome knives and it looks like they are, at the very least, made to the original specifications of Kikuichimonji. Many were far more attractive to my eye than Aritsugu’s knives.

I didn’t take any photos this time but these were stainless steel knives that they said were handmade not machine pressed. (The conventional wisdom is that the vast majority of stainless steel knives that are said to be handmade are in fact not.)

These knives won’t rust, therefore I think that they would actually be better for Westerners than the authentic, traditional Japanese hocho knives. I have seen Aritsugu knives, even in Japanese homes, that have not been cared for properly and are rusted. These Kikuichimonji stainless steel hochu could be a great alternative. They look and feel Japanese, they look handmade, but they are stainless, and will resist corrosion. I liked the originality, the look and feel of these of these a lot.

Kikuichimonji is located in the Sanjo Arcade, just west of the Sanjo and Kawaramachi intersection. (see map below)

Still my favorite is Shigeharu, it has history but no attitude and you can see the smokestack coming out of the roof in the workshop behind the store. These are real Kyohamono.

A Little About Aritsugu
Some visitors have voiced objection to my opinion on Aritsugu. Since writing this article I have had a very good experience at Aritsugu which I detail here.

In Kyoto, Aritsugu is the most popular place for tourists to buy traditional Japanese knives. They are a trusted brand of professionals as well. I think it would be impossible to find a Japanese restaurant in Kyoto without at least one Aritsugu knife. I have seen several kitchens where all the knives were Aritsugu. Aritsugu is far and a way the most popular knife brand and store in Kyoto.

I have some complaints about Aritsugu though. I have found the service to be haughty. Prices are high for what Japanese chefs tell me is average quality traditional Japanese cutlery. And did you know this: Aritsugu doesn’t make their own knives AND their knives are not from Kyoto, they are from Sakai (Osaka). Sakai is one of the three or so most noted centers of traditional Japanese knife production. At Aritsugu they just stamp the Aritsugu name on the knife after it is sold. That makes it an Aritsugu knife. That said, sub-contracting isn’t a mortal sin. The programming and illustrated logo design for this website was sub-contracted.

Today, I did go into Aritsugu and hung around for a bit and the staff was friendly with customers.

Aritsugu is extremely popular with foreign visitors to Kyoto, their prices are quite high yet Aritsugu doesn’t accept credit cards! That is unacceptable I think. Aritsugu ought to be a very profitable business. I would think that they could afford the small commission on credit card purchases so that foreign customers can more conveniently buy a knife that costs from $200 up to $2,000.

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Shop Locations

Shigeharu (重春)

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Kikuichimonji (菊一文字)

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Aritsugu (有次)

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34 Responses to “Where to Buy Real Kyoto Knives: Shigeharu vs Aritsugu Knives”

  1. [...] Japan was a sword culture but Kyoto was the cultural and spiritual capital of Japan, and the military powers were often based in the provinces. Therefore, Kyoto hamono was not restricted to swords. (More about Kyoto hamono here.) [...]

  2. a.h. says:

    Very interesting. Do you have the shigeharu store’s opening hours?

  3. matt says:

    Just got back from Japan. Saw the Kikuichi Monji shop but not the Shigeharu one.

    The place that sticks with me, though, is a humble shop further south. The 72-year-old, Kyoto-born owner seems to mostly sharpen knives, and his inventory is relatively inexpensive. He (and his wife) were extremely hospitable–gave us coffee, asked us to point out on his world map where we were from, etc. (He became especially animated when I inquired about water stones.) I don’t recall the exact location, but his website is http://www.hayakawa.ws/hamonoten/ .

  4. Craig Jenkins says:

    Matt – man you’re my hero. I went to this shop back in 1998 – stumbling around in the rain – and had a similar and wonderful experience. We did exactly the same drill with the world map, he insisted on putting my name on the knife, his wife fed me wonderful sweets and green tea…they even sent me away with an umbrella :)

    They were too kind for words. I am going back to Japan in 3 weeks and will absolutely be going back to see them. I would definitely recommend them to anyone.

    Matt – thanks again man.

  5. [OK] Michael says:

    Hello matt, Thanks for the info on Hayakawa Hamono!

    Hello Craig, Well you certainly sound like a satisfied customer!

  6. Kev says:

    A friend of mine bought an 8″ vegetable knife from Arisugu for about $90. I was pretty impressed with the sharpness and ease it cut through carrots. How much would a similar knife cost at the above mentioned shops? Looking forward to checking them out the next time I’m there.

  7. [OK] Michael says:

    Hello Kev, I am not sure about the exact price difference but it is probably not substantial, if any.

  8. Craig Jenkins says:

    Hayakawa has some knives and prices online
    http://www.hayakawa.ws/hamonoten/21-bunka/index.htm

    Leaving tomorrow :)

  9. Craig says:

    Did stop by Hayakawa yesterday – haven’t been there for 11 years so it look a little looking. It is just north of the Bukko-ji temple, the easternmost north / south street (I’ll look it up and post it later) that runs down to the temple. Look for the scissors sign on either side of the road.

    Even though it was Sunday and they were closed, the proprietor was across the street painting some stands, and came and unlocked for me. I bought a few (a lot) knives and will post more later – when I get home in a week or so, including some pics. Pricing was so much less than Aritsugu, though I did buy a knife there as well. We are going to check out Shigeharu today when we’re up in that area.

  10. mycookinghut says:

    I am glad that i found this website. I am going to Kyoto next year and I am researching where I can buy good Japanese knives!! :) Thanks for the useful info! By the way, is it ok to check-in the knife in baggage?

  11. [OK] Michael says:

    Hello Craig, Looking forward to seeing your photos!

    Hello mycookinghut, I hope that you enjoy your time in Kyoto. About check-in, I think it is fine, but please ask the airline as the policy may change from airline to airline and country to country.

  12. Craig Jenkins says:

    FYI I carried my knives in my checked bag. Because I had a tripod with me, I placed them between the legs of the tripod and wrapped it with clothes, inside a towel. I would have hated for some belligerent baggage handler to bend them (I had a backpack – if you have hardside luggage you should be fine).

    I took the shots Michael but I have so many to process from the trip, I’m behind on getting them up – I won’t forget the advice I got here and I’ll be back to post up the links!

  13. Pounce says:

    Just got back from Kyoto and unfortunately found your wonderfully frank website a little late, so no chance to visit Shigeharu. My experience at Aritsugu was a short one: haughty service and packed with loud tourists (guess it’s in all the guide books). Kikuichimonji, on the other hand, was a terrific experience for us. One of the owners and her mother gave us all the time and attention we needed. I speak Japanese so language the barrier could have been an issue for some (believe there are others who work there that speak English better). In addition to some spectacular honyaki kitchen knives, we found some gorgeous pruning shears for my father’s gardening bug and a variety of superbly crafted scissors, tweezers, etc. They also knocked off about 10% from the total, though we did buy a fair amount.

  14. mycookinghut says:

    Michael,

    Thanks! I will check with my airline.. I would be gutted if I couldn’t! I love Japanese knife. Already have one Santoku but, I think I will not be able to get my eyes off the shops in Kyoto! :)

  15. steak knives says:

    I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  16. dave says:

    haha. yea, well, a little late for me too. I just bought mine today. i didnt really find the service to be haughty at all, i just bought a chef knife lookin one for cutting veggies. but, yea, i wish i coulda thrown some business to the other shops you mentioned.

  17. [OK] Michael says:

    Hello dave,

    I am glad to hear that you found the service acceptable. A chef friend of mine here told me to give Aritsugu another chance and I have been over there a few times in the last month or so and chatted with the manager. He is always very nice and friendly. I noticed the staff were quite friendly with foreign visitors in the store.

    My bad experiences at Aritsugu were some years ago and maybe things have changed there or I just happened to be there (several times over several years) when they were having bad days, or something.

    Still, I do think that the craftsmen that produce their knives in Kyoto are very worthy of your consideration and business as well.

    Not accepting credit cards in this day and age amounts to poor service for foreign customers. It’s not like you can buy a Aritsugu knife with your pocket money! In fairness though, the other Kyoto knife makers surely do not accept credit cards. I doubt they have many, if any, foreign customers.

  18. Philippe says:

    Just back from Japan. My mission was to find some handmade Japanese kitchen knives.

    I visited a Japanese friend of mine. She took me to a store in Nara called, Kikuichi. Apparantly this place is most known under the Japanese. It is pretty big and looked quite commercial. I asked if the Kikuicimonji store in Kyoto was also theirs. The told us that they just stole part of their name because of the succes.
    (www.kikuichi.net)

    Kikuichi also has a store in NY. Prices were pretty good. I bought a Damascus styled knive there for 9800 yen. It had Swedish steel and it was handmade. (they said). They told us they sold the same knive in NY for about 250 $ (+- 23 000 yen). Not a bad deal I would say.

    But my hunger for a truly handmade japanese knive was not over. So in Kyoto we went to the Hayakawa store. In hope of finding a handmade knive of the owner. Sadly the only handmade knive he made was up on the wall behind glass. So yes, he only sharpened knives…
    Because this probably was the closest I would get to my goal, I also bought a knive there of only 4800 Yen. Its made in Osaka, and is probably sold all over Japan. The owner only stamps it with is own logo.

    But I think this knive is even sharper than the more expensive one from Kikuichi. So I have not regret it yet.

    I think it is impossible though to find a place in Japan that still handmakes their knives…

  19. van says:

    just returned from kyoto and sadly, did not do research before the trip. stumbled into aritsugo one day…store was totally packed but they were still pretty nice. returned another day when it was less busy and service was better and more personal. i had questions about the sharpening process over the wetstone and they had me put on an apron, go to the area where they sharpened and gave me a tutorial and watched me do it until they felt that i got the technique right. so, overall i was pretty pleased with the service. i would recommend going in the morning on a weekday when it was less busy. i am disappointed though to hear that they outsource their knives from a generic maker in osaka.

  20. Don says:

    did a bit of research and came across your blog when looking for knives in kyoto. just got back from Shigeharu and i must say that it was an incredible experience. although i don’t speak japanese, we were able to communicate enough to get our points across. at one point, Shigeharu took out a pen and paper and drew fish and vegetables to explain the different knives. he was very gracious and patient with my questions. speaking to the person that actually made the knife i had in my hand was a bit surreal to me. maybe i’m just a dork, but that in itself made the trip. of course i did end up with a couple new knives. a santoku style left handed blade and a smaller pearing knife. santoku style because he referred to it by another name that eludes me at the moment. after i made my decisions he asked me to write my name on a piece of paper. he then hand chiseled it onto the blade along with his name. he did the same for the smaller blade which i bought for my wife.

    i happened to walk into Aritsugu before finding your blog and walked out before making a purchase. something felt strange when i was there so i left. the knives were beautiful without a doubt, but it just didn’t feel right. just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write up your post as it steered me towards a very memorable experience at Shigeharu. when i walked in all i heard was someone hammering in the back for a couple minutes until his (wife?) came out holding a child. he immediately followed with a smile introduced himself and so it began. this time it felt right.

    santoku style left handed blade 18000 yen
    pearing knife 6500 yen
    done deal.

  21. I have been to all of these stores and I am a little disappointed in this article. Yes, Aritsugu doesn’t have their knives made in Kyoto. Why? Kyoto is the Kaiseki culinary capital, but has little industry. 30 mins away, Osaka is the other culinary capital and Sakai region has been recognized as the highest quality knife manufacturing region in the entire world. How does it reflect badly on Aritsugu that they commission hand-made knives to their specifications from some of the best knife smiths on earth? Yes, it is a little more expensive, but you get what you pay for – unlike at Kikuichimonji.

    Kintaka is probably the best bargain in Kyoto. The owner makes his own knives, but because his family has made them for only a few generations(!) he can’t charge as much. Also, if he likes you, he gives big discounts. The finishing work isn’t quite as good, but they are excellent blades. He does forge by hand his stainless knives (don’t get confused, as he sells some other knives as well – check the stamp) and they are about as good as you are gonna get without going carbon. I use one for acid foods all the time.

    For the absolute best selection, go 30 mins away to Ichimonji Mitsuhide in Dogoyasuji in Osaka, they have 5 times the knives of Artisugu, but but the service isn’t quite the same.

    Shigeharu is fine, but has relatively little selection, non of the innovation that Aritsugu has with their carbon/stainless-clad hybrids, doesn’t quite meet the quality of top Sakai work, and is more expensive than Kintaka.

  22. Elliot says:

    Just back from Japan and bought a knife in Aritsugu. I wish I would have seen this website earlier.

    Still I had a great experience in Aritsugu. They were very helpful but no credit card facilities. Had walk 5 mins find an ATM to complete my purchase (did find a great donut shop on the way – Hara Donuts).

  23. Deon says:

    Hi all,
    a very interesting read indeed. There are varied opinions like there are different knives.

    I only went to Aritsugu as my friend grew up in Kyoto and took me there as the best knife shop in Kyoto, he is not a chef though :)
    My experience was fantastic. The shop was fairly busy but only what you would expect from a well know shop. I do hear you about the loud tourists though!! Even through all that they took the time to take out about 10 different knives for me to feel and weigh in my hands and to feel which was most comfortable for me. They answered all my questions and even asked me a few to find the correct blade for me. I ended up with a Deba style knife as I have a good thinner blade chefs knife and paring knife and wanted something thicker and stronger. I also ended up with a few other small items, as you do :)

    I payed cash so did not notice the lack of a CC machine but that is not surprising as my Japanese girlfriend pointed out that that is more traditional.

    I had my name stamped on it and was extremely happy with the knife and the service but I will definitely try the other shops on my next visit.

    Happy cooking.

  24. jim goodwin says:

    I went to Aritsugu a few times, staff were always friendly, bought a 120cm utlity knife and they offered to and did put my name on it. Would have liked to check out some other stores, this would have been handy if I’d known about it earlier, still I plan to return next year. Picked up a natural (fine) whetstone at a flea market for ¥3,300.
    Also went to Yamashita’s store in Namba in Osaka and picked up a(n) Usuba for a reasonable price, came in at round Aust$250 (I think, if only I could find the receipt). A Sakai Takayuki blade, I reckon same thing over here would probably be at least $100 more. Packed all in the bottom of suitcase, had no problems.

  25. will says:

    I went to Shigeharu after a visit to Aritsugu.

    I thought knives at both places were relatively similar. I bought from Shigeharu (stainless steel wrapped carbon) because the knives were about 30% less than at Aritsugu – and we met the person who actually made the knives. The Shigeharu knives felt to me to be more genuine and hand made.

    Shigeharu also sold me a whetstone

  26. Greg says:

    Hi everyone interested in good Kyoto kitchen knives,

    I have just visited the various Kyoto knive manufacturers’ shops and what a difference in quality, price and atmosphere. Sure you can buy your favourite knife in any of the different places. I will only mention two: Aritsugu is fine if you look for a well-illuminated and (over-)stocked shop, perfectly English-spoken service, your name on the knife as a special – but you really pay for it! Personally, I found that it very much looks and feels like a tourist trap (even a nice one with reasonably good tools but sky-high prices).

    In the end I was very satisfied with what I saw and bought at Shigeharu. A far more authetic place, in which the owner speaks no English, but with a smaller but full range of marvellous knives costs approximately 30% of Aritsugu’s price range. My Japanese friends buy from Shigeharu for years and are very happy with the durability and long term sharpness of his knives. I shaved the back of my hand with one stroke in the shop with both his 30cm carbon steel sashimi knife and the 27cm Inox chef’s knife.

    Would buy there any time again. The place is easy to find just diagonally across the street on the southeastern corner of Nijo castle and then one block further down south.

    • Justin says:

      My wife and I found this page the night before we went knife shopping in Kyoto in January this year. We wanted to get some Japanese knives when in Japan but didn’t have the time to shop around so we went straight to Shigeharu. Shigeharu himself was so friendly and very patient as we drooled over his knives. We ended up getting a Nakiri, a Gyuto and 2 petty knives.

      A couple of days later we took a cooking class. When another lady in the class asked our teacher where to get a good knife in Kyoto, the teacher replied Aritsugu. When I mentioned that we had bought knives from Shigeharu, the teacher became very animated and exclaimed “Shigeharu?! He’s very famous!” She was pretty impressed and wanted to know how we’d heard of Shigeharu.

      Not much to go on, and I’m not an expert on knives. Also, this isn’t a comparison to Aritsugu. Have to say though, I was a little chuffed that I’d bought a knife off the bloke who made it.

      I’d buy from there again – in fact we did. We returned to buy a small pair of scissors for my mother.

  27. Roman Urban says:

    Hello Michael.
    Thank you for your review with maps. I have bought today a nice knife at Shigeharu.

  28. james says:

    ive just come back from my 2nd trip to japan in 12mths. I’ve been to Shigeharu both times and cant wait to go back and build on my collection.
    the whole experience of the small ‘homely’ store as opposed to the other bigger commercial ones, adds to the value in my opinion and is part of the character of the knife.
    but it helps to have a guide or other japanese speaker with you to fully understand what you are buying and be able to compare prices with other stores.

    definitely recommend it.

    • chai says:

      James,

      Hi there , ive been trying to get myself a shigeharu knife for ages but ive yet to travel to japan.However my friend is heading back there, and she is willing to get me the knifes from this particular swordsmiths, the only thing now is i cant budget how much i should spend on the knifes. I was hoping you could help since you’ve been there a few times.
      Im thinking of getting myself a deba, shashimi and gyuto.
      your assistance would be greatly appreciated!

      I look forward to your reply.

      chai

  29. Kevin G says:

    I visited Shigeharu in 2010 after reading this article. Left my wife and daughter to see the Castle,while I headed off to the knife shop. Found the owner sharpening knives in the window. Very friendly though neither of us spoke each others language. Bought an Usuba and whetstones. He showed me how he likes to sharpen the knife.
    Aritsugu was a nice shop but full of tourists.
    Would definitely visit the shop again if I get to Kyoto in the future.
    (watanabeblade.com is worth visiting. Make their own knives and is a fun site. Have purchased one of their Santoku knives.)

  30. mo says:

    ha! A 120cm utility knife :-) thanks for the read, it was both wonderful and inspiring.

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