Akifusa(Ikeda) gyuto was one of the first hi-end Japanese knives I've bought during the summer 2008, while I was upgrading my kitchen knives. Initially I was undecided what knife to go for, so I've asked around on knifeforums.com kitchen knives section. Akifusa(aka Ikeda) was pretty much hands down winners considering the response. So, I went for it. I can say right away, I never regretted this choice :) Knife performs superbly. Price is comparable to higher end western kitchen knives, but outperforms them by very significant margin. Thus, if you know how to take care of your knives and how to sharpen them properly this is one of the best knives for the money at 175$. As for the dual name. Well, Epicurean Edge used to sell it under Ikeda brand, later they switched to Akifusa. Quote verbatim epic edge: Akifusa is the brand name of this knife. We originally developed the knife under Ikeda name, but have since moved to the brand name Akifusa. We have kept the Ikeda name listed on the site so that people who purchased it under this name will continue to be able to find their knives. We do not release the name of the maker for this knife. We work directly with the maker in Japan and have assisted in developing this line. Most of our work together has been in developing the technique for creating this particularly high performance edge. So, that's the whole story with dual names. The word out there is that, Akifusa == Ikeda == Artisan, same SRS-15 powder metallurgy(PM) steel, same maker, just different brands. Although, Artisian knives are tad thicker than Akifusa brand. Blade geometry is essentially the same.
Initial inspection- Akifusa gyuto arrived packed in a nice box. It is a full tang knife, with three rivets holding the handle slabs. No damage to the blade or handle, no scratches. No visible defects or imperfections. Overall fit and finish are very good. NIB edge was sharp enough to shave in both directions effortlessly. However, it was thicker than anticipated. I was expecting 30° included, but it was between 36°-40° included. While this may not sound significant, that's 25% difference and cutting performance would've been affected accordingly. Obviously this is a fairly large knife for any kitchen, thus storage can be an issue, although there's plenty of knife blocks out there accommodating knives of this size, after all pretty much no western knife set goes without same size chef's knife.
Blade- 240mm(9.5") long blade is quite thin for those used to western knives, it's only 3mm thick. To be fair, there's plenty of Japanese gyutos of the same, or slightly greater length sporting 4-4.5mm thick blades. For my taste, thinner is better, since I wasn't planning to use gyuto for heavy duty works such as chopping, boning etc. Geometry-wise to me it looks like gyuto, with more pronounced French style chef's knife. That is vs. German style chef's knife which has much fatter belly. In general gyutos are somewhere in the middle between those two, but like I said this one was modeled after French one.
As mentioned above, initial edge was closer to 40° included. There are different theories as to what is the optimal edge for kitchen knife and gyuto in particular, which is more of a general use knife, designed to do multiple tasks. So, after reading all that I figured it'd be a good idea to start with 30° edge. Generally, many Japanese(and non Japanese too) sources recommend two coins for primary bevel and 3 coins if secondary is desired. Those coins translate into the distance between knife spine and sharpening stone with edge touching the stone. For typical gyuto that is around 45-50mm wide that makes 5°-8° edge per side, which makes 10°-16° included. Really thin. However, those recommendations are more for traditional carbon steels and won't work as well for hi-tech PM steels like SRS-15. Although, the later is not my experience, but whatever I read on the net. For more on SRS-15 - steel go to Kitchen Knive Steel FAQ. Blade is traditional Japanese san-mai.
Handle- Well, handle is nothing special, western style, made of Pakka wood. It's pretty a typical handle for western knives. Ergonomics is good, I've used this knife prolonged time and can't complain. On the other hand I do like Japanese WA type handles a lot better now. I've attempted to rehandle my Akifusa with WA type handle, but it's not that easy, to be precise at this moment it's not possible. Which is rather sad.
Sharpening- Once I got Akifusa, it was clear the edge was thicker than what I wanted, so I've decided to sharpen it and thin down the edge to 30°(included angle) right away. I was expecting the work to be quite hard, considering that it's a high ally PM steel, hardened to 64HRC at that. I already had experience of sharpening CPM-10V knife from Phil Wilson and it wasn't anything but hard. On the other hand with the array of knife sharpeners I had, I felt, I was ready.
In reality things turned out to be much easier than anticipated. Although, that's not to say it was real easy. Sharpening 64HRC steel is hard, especially when the piece of that steel is 240mm long. Overall, it's still time consuming, but since I didn't have to remove a lot of metal things went quite smoothly. Complete resharpening took around 3 hours using edge pro at first 120, 220, 600, 800, 3000 grits, then finishing the whole thing with 12000 grit Japanese waterstone followed up with CrO loaded strop (0.5µm), Al2O3 abrasive film 0.3 micron and finally leather strop. The edge was really sharp. Whittling hair was no problem. Cutting tomatoes with no pressure, using just the weight of the knife, was a breeze. Arguably, or realistically it isn't necessary to sharpen the kitchen knife at that level, but if you can why not. The edge that sharp won't last for months, however it's easy to maintain at slightly less sharpness levels.
For a while, the edge on my Akifusa gyuto was 30° included. May be slightly less, since I've touched it up couple times, although never went to anything higher than 2µm abrasive. Later, as I've planned, I've lowered the edge to 22°-24° included. Although that was rather an experiment, because experienced knife dudes on the net say based on grain size of the PM steels edges less than 15° per side won't hold carbides and cause accelerated dulling. Although the exact edge angle for that threshold varies from 12° to 15° per side. Anyway, it all worked out very well, read about use experience on the following pages.