Japanese knives designed by a woman mark a first for the industry

Stockist Yuko Nakao delivering a Kasane bread knife to Sydney bakery Iggy's Bread Down Under.
Stockist Yuko Nakao delivering a Kasane bread knife to Sydney bakery Iggy's Bread Down Under. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Japanese knives are prized for their sharp blades and high performance. But as the knife-making industry is steeped in tradition, resulting from its origins in samurai sword-making centuries ago, women have never made the cut.

But the Sumikama company is working to change that. It commissioned graphic designer and gallery owner Misa Kuromoto to design a new range of knives, the first time a woman has done so in the company's 160-year history.

Sumikama selected Kuromoto for her fresh perspective.

The Kasane range is full of design choices that make the knives both beautiful and easy to use.
The Kasane range is full of design choices that make the knives both beautiful and easy to use. Photo: Supplied

"I started without any technical knowledge of the kitchen knife industry or manufacturing. I was able to think more freely about easy-to-use and elegant kitchen knives," she says.

"I feel that the traditional knife designers are so focused on the actual design of knives but what I looked at was how does the knife influence the people that use it? Does it make the users feel good?" she explains.

Her Kasane knives, released in Australia last year, are a far cry from the dark, heavy and sometimes intimidating blades associated with Japanese knife-making. Nearly half the weight of average knives and featuring wild cherrywood handles, the range – which includes a utility, bread and chef's knife – was designed with comfort, ease and natural beauty in mind. 

The knives feature wild cherrywood handles sourced from the same prefecture, Gifu, where the manufacturer Sumikama is ...
The knives feature wild cherrywood handles sourced from the same prefecture, Gifu, where the manufacturer Sumikama is located. Photo: Supplied

Kasane, which means to layer, refers to the layers of colour in Japan's mountainous regions in spring.

Kuromoto drew on her experience working in kitchens and what was lacking in the knives she used at home.

She focused particularly on the handle, asking Sumikama's team to help create a waterproof yet natural-looking timber handle without any visible rivets.

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While aesthetics were key, the knives are still powerful performance tools for any home cook. The design means they require less frequent sharpening, something Sumikama's team knows is essential in domestic kitchens.

"This comes from structure; how the edge is sharpened, its angle and how thin it is," says Taro Sumikama, managing director.

Australian stockist and distributor Yuko Nakao, of Sydney's Shokunin Store, says the bread knife is truly unique for the local market. Not only are Japanese knives far sharper than their competitors, she says the alternating flat and serrated edge makes Kasane's knife effective on both crusty sourdough and soft loaves such as shokupan.

Graphic designer and gallery owner Misa Kuromoto was commissioned for the fresh perspective she would bring to knife-making.
Graphic designer and gallery owner Misa Kuromoto was commissioned for the fresh perspective she would bring to knife-making. Photo: Supplied

Nakao hopes Sumikama commissioning a woman will kickstart change in the industry.  "This traditional company who couldn't do this for 100 years and now they're doing it? I think that's fantastic and we need to support that."

Kasane knives start from $195.80 each or $632.50 for all three. Available from Shokunin Store online or Melbourne stockists Cibi and Falco Bakery and Sydney stockist Iggy's Bread Down Under.