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Watanabe Kintaro Ame Kensaki Yanagiba 330mm(13")
Japanese Kitchen Knife Review

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Watanabe Kintaro Ame Kensaki Yanagiba 330mm(13")

I never really planned on buying Kensaki Yanagiba, at least not until mid summer 2009. I remember seeing them earlier and Takobikis and not really liken either type of knife. Somehow, sword tipped knives weren't really appealing to me./ Probably because at some point I started disliking Tanto point knives. Something along those lines I guess. Anyway, during the July 2009 I was working on the Japanese Kitchen Knife Types And Styles database project. One of the types to describe and illustrate was the kensaki yanagiba. I went around looking for the photos and finally fellow foodie forumite - Pascal, donated this photo. As soon as I saw that I knew I really needed one like that. Although, the knife depicted on the photo is a custom piece, but it's 60-61HRC, and it's not Aogami steel. That's not to say it isn't an excellent knife, just my criteria were different.

Thus, I went to the maker I know well and trust - Shinichi Watanabe. After all, the good thing about custom knives (aside from the high price) is that they are custom and as you want them. Anyway, I figured that I wanted a) longer than 300mm blade, b) blade of that shape and size would be a good showcase for the damascus pattern. Based on that I've asked Shinichi to make Kintaro Ame kensaki yanagiba, with the 330mm long blade. I already had his Kintaro Ame Sujihiki which is 300mm long blade, so I could say that Sujihiki did influence certain design aspects of the kensaki yanagiba. Well, as far as the design goes, I selected the blade material, kintaro ame pattern, which by the way bumped the cost up by 30% or so, thickness and width of the blade and asked Shinichi to make the blade slightly curved, but with a straight spine. Obviously, I told Mr. Watanabe he was free to make adjustments here and there if he saw it necessary, since he was making knives in Japan, and I was sitting here, in Bay Area. In the end, few weeks later, on August 15, 2009, at exactly 12:05pm the blade was delivered to me, and not just the knife I ordered, but a nice, surprise upgrade from Watanabe, read about that below.

General

- In very generic terms, Watanabe Kintaro Ame Kensaki Yanagiba is one hell of a knife. Very long name matching very long, slender blade :) Anyway, let's cover general details. The knife arrived in a brown box with Watanabe logo. Which is typical for pretty much any good maker in Japan. I didn't order a saya, so there was none. The knife blade was wrapped in a paper and then secured inside the box with a tape. Jokes aside, that part si real important when shipping long and super hard bladed back and forth. If the packaging isn't good to secure the blade in a fixed position, it is very easy for the blade to poke out and/or get broken. As for the knife in general, it is the longest blade in my current collection. Besides being long, or because of it, kensaki yanagiba quite heavy - 306.00g(10.35oz).

In my opinion the blade looks simply stunning. Long, slender, slightly curved, with damascus pattern... It's just gorgeous. I've mentioned the surprise upgrade above. Initially I've ordered this knife with the default, Ho Wood handle. However, after making it Shinichi Watanabe himself decided that this knife was too good for the simple Ho wood handle and upgraded it to Keyaki wood for free! My sincere thanks to mr. Watanabe for that present :) As for the quality, fit and finish, well it is flawless, I think. Forging, sharpening, it's all superb. Patters is very nice and uniform thought the blade. handle is well put together and fits the blade perfectly. Centering is good and there are no gaps anywhere. All nicely filled in and sealed. Blade is perfectly straight, which isn't that easy with very long knives. In short Shinichi did step up on this knife and he's a very good knife maker, and perhaps a little underrated for what he can do and what he does.

Blade

- To be honest, 330mm(13") long blade makes rather a short sword than a knife, but this is a knife. Officially, this is sword tip yanagiba, or as westerners often refer to it, Sushi knife. In short, this is a highly specialized slicer. And as such, it can clearly benefit from a longer blade. That allows for very clean, smooth and even cuts. Being single ground or single beveled it can be sharpened substantially sharper compared to double ground edges. That also aids with cutting and especially with smooth cuts. All that is really important when making sushi, which is a raw fish, sometimes very delicate and soft, other fibrous and more harsh. At any rate, you don't want going back and forth on the same piece few times and that's when the long, super sharp yanagibas are real life savers.

So, this particular yanagiba is made of Aogami I steel, 63-65HRC. It's a kasumi style blade, where the soft layer of steel called jigane covers ultra hard steel core - hagane. As you can guess, the jigane in this knife is made of damascus steel, called Kintaro Ame in Japanese. The blade at the heel is 38mm wide and it's 5mm thick. Like I said above, the blade spine is absolutely straight, but the edge is slightly curved towards the tip. Back side of the blade, or Urasuki is slightly concave as it is traditionally done on Japanese single ground blades. The edge is very sharp and highly polished. Sharpening is done on both sides. Front side is excellent and I have to note the sharpened strip on the back side is very even on the entire blade. That clearly indicated the flatness and evenness of the urasuki. You might think it's that simple, but no, it isn't. I've seen and had more than one high end Japanese knife having quite uneven urasuki sharpening line. Even on some Aritsugu Knives. It can be a botched sharpening job too, but often it is uneven surface of the urasuki. Theoretically, it is easy to sharpen usaruki, just lay it on the stone flat and grind away. Well, for hard knives it's not that easy. Variations in sharpening forces can produce uneven bevel and uneven edges of the urasuki can make matters worse. So, seeing almost perfect, even sharpened bevels on the urasuki from Watanabe knives, I do appreciate again his skill and effort going into his knives.

Handle

- Original order was for the cheapest, ho wood handle, as I planned to ask Stefan Keller to make a new handle for the knife. However, Shinichi did upgrade the handle for free to keyaki wood handle, since as he told me himself, this knife was too good for a simple ho wood handle :) Keyaki wood is quite harder and more dense than ho wood. What does it look like you can see on the photo. Works fine for now, but I'll still have another handle for it, it'll be slightly longer and thicker too. Keyaki handle is WA type, octagon in other words, and since I really like those, especially on Japanese kitchen knives I intend to keep it that way. Well, in a few months, as the new handle comes in and gets installed, I'll update this section.

Usage

- None so far. Will update as I use it.

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Specifications:

  • Blade - 330.00mm(12.99")
  • Thickness - 5.00mm
  • Width - 38.00mm
  • OAL - 485.00mm(19.09")
  • Steel - Aogami I 63-65HRC
  • Handle - Keyaki Wood
  • Weight - 306.00g(10.35oz)
  • Acquired - 07/2009 Price - 1197$

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Last updated - 09/01/11