Home > Highlighting JAPAN >Highlighting Japan December 2013>Japan's technological achievements

Highlighting JAPAN

Prevlous Next

Japan's technological achievements

Moritaka Hamono Inc.

700 Years of Precision Steel


Hidden away on a small side-street in the town of Yatsushiro, in Kyushu's Kumamoto Prefecture, three bladesmiths hand-forge what they claim to be the sharpest, most durable knives in all of Japan.

At Moritaka Hamono Inc., the ancient skills of swordsmith Minamoto no Moritaka have been protected and passed down for over 700 years. Founded in the Kamakura Period, the company is currently run by the 27th generation of Moritakas, Tsunehiro and his wife Akiko.

Among Japan's traditional industries, blade-making is considered by many to be the highest form of craft. While knife-makers in other countries often use only a single piece of metal to produce their blades, each Moritaka blade is composed of a layer of solid steel packed between two layers of iron.

Six generations ago, at the end of the Edo Period, Chuzaemon Moritaka made the announcement that katana alone could no longer be forged as a means of making a living, and it was necessary to envision new products. It now takes 10 years just to learn the basic skills required to produce Moritaka's unique knives, which still employ the same beveled-edge, triple-structure technique that the company used to forge katana for 27 generations.

"What people like about our knives is not just the cutting edge but also the tradition and history that come with them," Mrs. Moritaka explains. "They also see value in the fact that they were handmade by Moritaka."

Moritaka Hamono has now exploded on the international knife market. It all goes back to a seemingly insignificant incident that took place eight years ago, soon after Moritaka began doing sales at department stores.

A customer living in Hawaii sent Mr. Moritaka an email commenting on the exceptional quality of his knives, and suggested that he start selling them abroad so that more people could enjoy their premium quality. "This customer was quite adamant about it," Moritaka recalls. "So we ended up making a promise that we would start internet sales within two months."

It began with individual customers, who occasionally ordered and posted positive reviews online. And it was not long before word of mouth landed Moritaka Hamono on the Wall Street Journal's list of Five Best Chef's Knives. Now Moritaka has a long line of customers on its six-month, international waiting list.

It's a big change from the day Tsunehiro took over the business from his father 16 years ago. At the time, the shop was nothing more than a run-down storage space attached to the factory, and even business in the local area was not very good.
During those early days, Mr. Moritaka showcased his knives at local events and festivals (omatsuri), and eventually went on to selling at department stores. But upon seeing the well-established competition already on the shelves, he realized that he had to find a way to distinguish the Moritaka brand.

The result was the birth of a new cooking knife, forged with Aogami Super Steel.

Known for its clean cut and long durability, Moritaka asserts that Aogami Super Steel is the highest-quality steel in existence. The complex forging process prevents most bladesmiths from investing in this level of production; just determining the right temperature is extremely difficult. "You either have the DNA to do it or you don't," Mr. Moritaka declares. "If you do, then you are able to produce the sharpest knives, incomparable to any others."

Regardless of the company's international success, Moritaka specifically reserves 1/3 of its products for the local market.
"We must remember that we were able to continue this business for so long because of support from local residents," Mrs. Moritaka says.

Asked about his aspirations for the future, Mr. Moritaka replies that he only hopes "to continue this business without compromising the quality of our knives." Perhaps we'll see his descendants still at work in another 700 years.

Prevlous Next