Some women fall prey to Manolos, while others lose their heads (and 401K’s) to Chanel or Louis Vuitton. I’m just not that kind of girl. For me, it’s kitchen stuff – wasabi graters made of sharkskin, spoons and ladles, stoneware, katsuobushi shavers. Above all, carbon steel, given a final bump and grind, while you watch, in a smoky baptism of fire and brimstone.
Just one street over from Nakamise-Dori, the pedestrian street leading to Senso-ji, I stumbled across a tiny knife-makers shop I had read about but crossed off my itinerary in some misguided sense of fiduciary responsibility.
The first knife I spotted was a beauty, made for slicing vegetables. Lovely but not exactly Guinevere, if you know what I mean. Still, it was relatively affordable with a magnolia wood handle, bone collar, and a blade of carbon steel. I knew I was taking it home, where a knife of this quality would cost twice as much.
Then, there it was. Excalibur sitting in its stone, waiting to be pulled out and claimed by its rightful heir. A Japanese fish knife.
All I had to do was identify the sword and claim it as my own. I pointed to it and, in my baby Japanese, said, “Mine.”
The nice men, three brothers in a 5th generation of knife-makers at the family-run shop, looked at me a bit nervously and said, “Professional.” I knew they were looking at me and wondering how my scrawny little arms could possibly wield such a mighty blade without severing various body parts.
After being informed of the price, and promising I would not open boxes with it, I was instructed to return in 20 minutes for the final sharpening and polishing, and to choose a handle. I left the shop and wandered aimlessly, looking dutifully at window displays of hairbrushes and straw sandals until a respectable 15 minutes had passed.
I own other beautiful knives but have never had one fired and set in its handle in front of me. It was a truly magical experience. One brother worked on the blade and the other on the handle. When they finished, one of the brothers picked up a piece of paper, tossed it in the air, and sliced it in two with a soundless whoosh. The two halves floated to the earth like feathers. Gasp.
He lingered over the knife with respect and something like love. After oiling the blade and wrapping it in several sheets of newspaper, he handed it to me and bowed. I felt his respect and something like love moving through that blade and slicing right through me.