I lived in Japan from 1992-1993 while working for the Japanese Exchange Teaching program. Among the many wonderful things that happened that year (making new friends, sharing experiences, traveling, eating and changing my world view) I took a trip to a fellow ex-pat’s city of Seki for some culture and shopping. In the thirteenth century a master swordsmith settled in Seki, and thus began a tradition of fine blade making. These blades are made from steel that is heated, folded and hammered over and over – hundreds of times. Seki knives are recognized as some of the premier blades in the world.
While I was visiting Seki with my friends, we watched one of the craftsmen hammer a blade, sparks flying and the sound of the hammer on steel ringing. The romance of the sword-smith story and the beauty of the blades on display convinced me to splurge on one of the knives. I think I paid about $65 to $85 for my chef’s knife – which at the time was a lot of money for me. Looking back I have to laugh – I didn’t like to cook all that much in those days and I had no idea what I was going to do with that knife.
Because it was steel and would need to be oiled to keep from rusting, I think I was intimidated – the knife lay in its box for at least 10 years. Once I started cooking more I thought I’d give it a try – and I’ve been hooked ever since. I have an entire block of very nice knives, but this one comes into my hand more than any of the others. The handle is smooth and easy to manage, the blade is lethally sharp, and it’s just big enough for most jobs, yet nimble enough for things that require finesse.
I took my Seki knife to the Farmer’s Market last weekend to get it sharpened – there’s a guy with a booth there who sharpens. He instantly recognized that my knife was different – I explained it’s provenance and he marveled at how nicely I’d kept it. We agreed that I’d pick it up in about an hour… and I totally forgot about it. I remembered long after the market had closed for the day, and I agonized: what if he wasn’t there the next week? How could I reach him? What would I do without my knife?
It was a long week. Every time I reached for the knife block my heart twinged a little – would he be at the market? Would he have my knife? I wrote myself at least three notes to remind me to go pick the knife up, and there I was, 15 minutes after the market opened, standing at the booth. I walked up and said “I’m the girl who left her Japanese knife.” His eyes sparkled and he pulled it from the side of his table, wrapped in the cloth I’d used to bring it – the edge finely honed, sleek gray steel. We both enthused over the workmanship, and I paid him extra, joking that I owed him baby-sitting money. I said, “Did you use it?” He shook his head and said “I don’t have anything that sharp at my house – I’d be afraid that I’d cut myself!”
I brought my favorite knife home and put it to work – slicing zucchini for the grill, chopping onions, even dicing tomatoes. The edge is as fine as paper. When I finished using it, I lovingly washed and dried it, oiled it gently, and slid it into my knife block. I’m so glad it’s back home where it belongs.