As soon as Mr C and I heard about Aritsugu, in Nishiki Market, Kyoto, we were hooked. The only thing stopping us going on a retail rampage was that they are cash only. This was more of an issue than I was expecting in Japan – a lot of folks just don’t take cards.
Aritsugu sell knives. Not just any old knives, but very, very sharp and fine knives. They’ve been selling them for nearly 500 years. They’re actually one of two or 3 knife sellers in the area that I spotted, but they sure do look the part. General all purpose knives. Specialist knives. Knives for oysters, knives for eels. Knives to chop through fish bone. Strangely shaped cleavers with purposes so tenuous, we couldn’t even guess at them.
Mr C chose a square tipped number so large it could properly be described as a sword – I suspect that was actually the appeal – only to return it rapidly to it’s stand, upon working out the conversion to AUD. That one was a professional, specialist knife. We only had a certain amount of cash.
I chose a plain, small, Japanese style, bottom-of-the-range knife suited more to my hand size than to a particular kitchen task – it must be my favourite size as it turned out to be the same as the Global I have at home – with a wood and horn handle. It was still equivalent to around AUD$85. And they engrave them for free. (Several places offer this service, we noticed; we had chopsticks engraved at another Nishiki stall.) They translated my name into Japanese and engraved it whilst I waited, bouncing up and down slightly with excitement. Me, not them.
My knife, being engraved
It was taken away to the whetstone and grinding section of the shop to be perfected. There beavered several strong looking chaps, hand sharpening on various grades of the largest whetstones I’ve ever seen, water troughs surrounding them.
The grinding area
My already sharp knife, being made astonishingly sharp
As it’s carbon steel, not stainless, I was sat down at the counter at the back of the shop, by the grinding area, and given a lesson in how to clean and care for my new, now startlingly sharp, implement. Don’t run it over your fingers, brush away from the sharp edge, the usual stuff. And clean it immediately after using. No hanging around the sink for hours, coated with foodie detritus, until we can be arsed to wash up. (I am doing that. So far. Wonder how long I’ll keep that up for. I did accidentally scrub at it with the washing up brush at home. It cut the bristles off.) I got chatting to an Australian chef, while I was sitting there, who’d literally just landed that morning, and made a beeline to Aritsugu, to purchase his weapon of choice. It was a lot more impressive than mine!
Wasabi for sale in the market – wish I could have brought it home!
Before this comes over as sponsored by Aritsugu, we found another knife specialists in Nara, later in the holiday. This place DID take visa. And also sold swords. Mr C had to be physically restrained; especially when he was allowed to hold a sword for a few minutes. As long as he didn’t touch the blade. I haven’t seen him so excited in years. They had a range of Damascus style knives, with a distinctive watermark pattern, where the metal is folded over and over during forging.
I chose one – guess what, pretty much the same size as the other one, as it turns out – and the lovely man also engraved it for me. And gave us tea. Mr C got to chose his big knife, albeit not the whopper he originally had his eye on, so everyone was happy.
We didn’t set out with the intention of filling our kitchen with implements, but they seemed a great souvenir and will see years and years of use. They sure look pretty hanging in my kitchen, too.