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Appetite for Japanese kitchen knives sharpened by the pandemic

In a small Japanese town once famous for its samurai swords, craftsmen sharpen and polish kitchen knives. However, they are struggling to meet global demand, which has exploded since the pandemic. Exports of these high-end Japanese instruments reached a record high of 12 billion yen (about 90 million euros) in 2021, more than double what they were two decades ago. Japanese customs. And these exports increased by 33% compared to 2020 amid the home cooking boom with the Covid-19 pandemic. Japanese knives are admired by food professionals around the world for their precision, elegant finish and durability. Katsumi Sumikama, owner of Sumikama Cutlery in Seki, near Nagoya, central Japan, attributes this success to the “marriage of technology and traditional craftsmanship.” His company has used exceptional cutting-edge technology to create perfect sushi or cut thin strips of wagyu beef. uses. machines with an accuracy of one micron or one thousandth of a mil. counter, then finishing is done by hand. But even at full capacity, “we can’t keep up with the high demand,” Mr Sumikama admits to AFP. Seki knives date back to the 14th century. The cleanliness of the rivers and the surrounding raw materials made the high-quality iron from iron sand “ideal for making swords,” recalls the business manager. This activity declined with the disappearance of the samurai at the end of the 19th century. But after the Second World War, Seki began to produce pocket knives for export. This trade initially flourished, but the crisis hit again in the 1970s, especially when Chinese competition emerged at incredible prices. final blades. At the time, German brands such as Zwilling dominated this market segment, and luxury Japanese products were rare. In the 1990s, Sumikama began producing knives priced at several hundred euros each. To emphasize its “Made in Japan” style, the company’s knives were adding a wavy visual effect, reminiscent of katana (traditional swords) blades and the Japanese character (kanji) logo. However, the move was met with skepticism at first. “We were of the opinion that ‘Japanese knives’ would not be accepted by consumers unless they were cheaper than German products,” says Sumikama. The strategy paid off: His company now sells in more than 50 countries.- More than an elaborate kitchen tool -French chef Olivier Oddos has been a fan of Japanese kitchen knives for more than two decades. In an interview with AFP at the Chez Olivier restaurant in Tokyo, he said their reputation has “really spread all over the world”. “It cuts perfectly, it cuts straight, it’s regular,” he boasts, and predicts that such precision cuts “change the quality of the kitchen.” The disadvantage of Japanese knives, according to Mr. Oddos, is that they require “very regular maintenance” by sharpening them with a stone. But “they have a pretty exceptional lifespan if you take good care of them.” a foreigner for ten years. He sees a direct connection to the global craze for Japanese cuisine. His century-old store Kama-Asa even opened a branch in Paris in 2018, and Mr. Kumazawa says the success of both stores is obvious. He wants his customers to design Japanese knives as simple kitchen utensils. “We want them to know what they are good for – the soul of the knife, the idea of ​​the craftsman who made it”.nf/etb/jnd/rr/roc

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