The Biggest Threat to Japanese and German Knives
Do I think Chinese knives are the biggest threat to Japanese and German knives? Today I want to talk about a topic that kinda has been kind of brewing in the air for quite some time. The reason I wanna make this video here is because I haven’t had time to actually shoot any reviews lately because of all the changes in my home and kids being sick me being sick and so these q and A’s are a lot easier for me to do but it’s kind of a sentiment that’s kind of been going around a knife community for some time and to be transparent I’m not the spokesperson for any manufacturer I don’t represent or work for any manufacturer or any knife brands out there and so I just want to make that very clear and but doing what I do yeah I’ve got a very small but growing YouTube channel I get contacted from brands from around the world brand managers marketing managers large e-commerce sites knife manufacturers what some manufacturers on a daily basis so when that happens they typically will send me a couple email who may do some exchanges and then we’ll eventually hop on a call at some point now keep in mind I’m talking to people in Germany Japan China South America Canada and even Australia and from these conversations.
I’m able to piece together a very broad understanding of the knife market in general but there was one sentiment that is floating around that is kind of somewhat agreed upon from all these different people is that Chinese knives or Chinese cutlery are overtaking the market. So that’s what this video is all about. It’s kind of my take on this topic and whether or not I agree with these people you guys would certainly hear that now it is obvious I’m very biased for Japanese knives and Whetstones.
I reviewed 99% of my Whetstone’s are made in Japan and the knives all on the wall you guys see back there or everything there is Japanese. I think with the exception of no everything there everything behind me is Japanese. So I’ve got everything from your Hameed knives to sushi knives to factory-made knives to artisan-made knives back there and so obviously I love Japanese knives. The very first pro of a Japanese knife is the tradition. When you go to Japan it is all about sharp knives you know they have entire cities dedicated to making knives. Sakai Tosa so all these regions in Japan employ 50 thousand 80,000 I believe. The city of Sucky has if I remember this correctly as many as eighty thousand people in the city of Sucky that actually work for a knife manufacturer.
In Japan cutlery is a very big business and so the tradition of knife making in Japan is unsurpassed. There is no denying that when it comes to tradition. Japanese I’ve got it down the second thing is quality now you know the Japanese are perfectionist everything from their food to their cutlery to their clothes they are perfectionists. I’ve had the great privilege to have been invited to Japan to travel through and meet some of the best knife makers in all of Japan. I am going back to Japan by the way so I’m going to Osaka this time and I’ll be spending time in Kyoto Sakai and KO Bay to meet some knife makers out there. I’ll keep you guys posted when the time comes when I’ve traveled through these factories and these facilities and I’m watching either an artisan make a knife we’re you know one person will make three or four knives in a single day to a factory where they will put out as many as five hundred to a thousand knives in a single day.
When you’re in these factories you can see nothing but pride in what they’re doing and that to me is one of the most amazing things when I was there and these people are just in love with what they do and that to me is something that you cannot buy. You can pay for that yeah passion let’s just use the word passion because I don’t think there’s any other word to describe it or that work ethic you know in Japanese knives I think that is to me that is already putting Japanese knives a much different ear than some of the other knives that we’re talking about. Another thing that really stood out to me is that Japanese knife manufacturers tend to perfect certain steel or a very specific number of steel that they want to make their knives with. You will never see any brand I can almost guarantee you you will never see any Japanese brand that makes our knives in Japan use more than three steals maybe four if they’re really big.
I’m not saying that every single knife that comes out of Japan is the utmost best quality you can buy so please understand that so breaking down a German knife manufacturer is very simple automation one steel and standardized everything. So if you look at a brand like Gustav for example all of their knives I mean every single one of their knives are being sold now on the retail market regardless of where you buy from what retailer or what line of knives you’re buying from is using the same steel. It is a steel that they have perfected its steel that they fully understand it’s a steel that they can get very cheaply and in a very large quantity. German knives to me are again they’re very predictable you know exactly what you’re getting but they tend to be very boring they don’t innovate a whole lot they certainly don’t innovate in terms of the overall shape and they certainly don’t innovate when it comes to steels.
So let’s talk about Chinese knives for a second they are a very interesting bunch so and obviously, this is not to knock on Chinese knives please understand that I have a lot of respect for entrepreneurs out there who are making their own brand of knives. I don’t look at Chinese knives and just as this machine right of just a money-making machine that’s trying to suck up market share from the Japanese and German knives. They’re just people just like you and I and there are people trying to earn a living and they have found a way to make knives very affordable whether or not they pay their employee’s fair wages that’s something I cannot speak about because I’m not there. I don’t know that part of the industry but let’s talk about the things that make Chinese knives very aggressive and very appealing. First off Chinese knife manufacturers are very adaptive they are constantly making adjustments to their tooling to their pricing to their production. They were always changing and they’re always very fluid when it comes to meeting the demands of the market. Now in case you guys are not aware, Chinese made knives have been on the market for decades do not be fooled German manufacturers certainly use Chinese knives a lot of brands like Wusthof is willing and quizzing art and any brand you guys find in the US retailer or in the Western retailer have an entire line of knives made by Chinese manufacturers that are rebranded. In the last five years, you’ve seen a massive influx and proliferation of Chinese-made knives that are not being sold under the new German brands and so what they’ve done is open up their doors to entrepreneurs from Canada U.S. Brazil Australia wherever you name it and so they do what they do best make lots and lots of knives and they let the entrepreneurs from these countries do their own marketing and do their own you know branding efforts and they just simply produce as many knives as possible. Chinese manufacturers are extremely fast and adaptive they just make as many knives as possible and they are simply changing what they need to based on their customer’s needs. This third thing is probably the most I would say the incredible way that Chinese knives are being made they have no limit on production. If you can visit a site like Alibaba you might visit a knife manufacturer site they may say a limit of like thirty thousand knives a month or 50 thousand knives a month or a hundred thousand a month. When a Chinese manufacturer says our capacity is a hundred thousand knives that are just saying right now that’s what we can produce but if you came to us and said we want to order two hundred thousand knives they will find a way to make two hundred thousand knives and sell it to you.
Japanese manufacturer on the other hand may have a capacity of ten thousand knives a month or maybe fifty thousand knives a month but when you go to them and say I want to order a hundred thousand knives they freeze they lock up they say our capacity is fifty thousand knives we can’t go beyond that as a matter of fact if the capacity is fifty thousand knives and you ordered fifty thousand knives you’re probably gonna get thirty thousand knives or maybe forty thousand knives if you’re lucky on time. There are many reasons why Chinese companies are able to expand very quickly labor is cheap Japanese labor is expensive and they want their laborers to be professional and also to be experts in what they do so when a Japanese company wants to hire a craftsman it’s not so much that pay that’s a problem it’s the ability to find the right person for the job. The Chinese manufacturing front basically will just train you on the job and that’s all and because of that one very specific and very crucial you know differences in labor ability you’ll find that Japanese knives for the same price will be much higher quality than your Chinese knives. I’m not saying that that’s true across every single knife but I’m saying if you took ten Japanese knives from ten different manufacturers and ten Chinese knives from ten different Chinese manufacturers I would say that nine out of ten knives on the Japanese side will be better built and better made than the Chinese knives. That’s not a fact it’s just based on what I’ve seen here and what I’ve been doing for the last few years.
This is not publicized anywhere but I’ve spoken to the president and the chairman of the folks over at Takefu and the st2 steel that we have today. So the very famous steel that’s he treat 263 to even a 64 on some cases buy used by Miyabi Asians and yaks all the big three. This version the current version as she – still it’s about 40 years old okay so get that for a second I’m quoting the current president of Takefu steel company right now he says that I hope in my lifetime that I will be able to release my version of my super steel. This is no joke over a sit-down meal the president and I had a chance to sit down and talk and I’m asking him about different steals that he’s making about the current state of each ten su2 and you know so he gave me the information on beach 10s T 2 and V G max, by the way, something you guys Cure’s about me G Max and VG-10 let me know in the comments. I will do a video for that because that’s a very interesting topic he literally said I have steel that I’ve been developing and I hope to release it within my lifetime as being president of the Takefu steel company and he is in his 40s. So he is hoping that by the time he’s 60 or B time or before he retires that his own steel would be released that to me is shocking obviously shocking but like when I heard that it was amazing to hear because here I am thinking that these steel companies can pop out steel you know every couple of years they can kind of just revise a couple of things and add a couple of different compounds and different elements and just make whole new steel but for them, I still have to be perfect. So that’s part of why I find Japanese knife making and Japanese knife making culture so fascinating because they are such professionals that they will not risk their reputation for a quick buck.
I think there are four classes of knife bars out there and here’s what I think they are in my again this is just my personal opinion if you feel differently about it that’s fine. I think you have your low-end knife buyers I’m not saying that they’re poor these people just simply people who can’t afford or don’t want to afford knives are more than let’s say 30 or 40 dollars working chefs that just want to have a knife that works or people who just don’t care to have very expensive knives that’s fine. That’s just the market that they’re in so your low-end knife buyers will almost always buy your Chinese made knives just because of the cost you have your mid to your buyers so you have your knives in the $60 range up to let’s say 150 and these people are always researching knives. These are people who are what I would call knife enthusiasts and people who are willing to spend more money on a knife. Then you have you $150 and above knife buyers, so these are high and knives anything over 150 is very high-end some people consider anything over 70 is high-end I consider anything over 150 and these people know exactly what they want to buy they’ve researched everything there is to research they sharpen their knives. Your high-end knife buyers over 150 I think unless they’ve been fooled too by a Chinese knife I think that they’ll stick with the Germans and the Japanese knives. They’re not going to be the ones who are going to be fooled by fancy marketing they’re not gonna be the ones who are fooled by you know a YouTube celebrity saying that you should buy this Chinese-made knife they know exactly what they want. And then your fourth and final knife buyer are your custom knife buyers these buyers will spend whatever it takes to get the knife they want. So people will pay you to know thirty thousand dollars for Kramer because it’s a collector’s knife or they will pay two thousand dollars for a sushi knife that they may never use to hang on their kitchen wall and that’s fine I mean these people know exactly what they want they will never buy a Chinese made knife at least I don’t think so.
So a combination of different things have allowed Chinese knives to really proliferate and you know marketing strategies aside and pricing strategies aside they’re still making knives they’re making knives to meet the demands of the lower end buyers and that’s where I think they’ve really got their success because when you’ve bought a $30 knife from a brand that you’ve liked it you may buy their $70 knife or even their $80 knife or $100 knife. So back to the original question is do I think Chinese knives are a threat to Japanese knives? I don’t think so. I don’t think people who are willing to spend $200 on a Japanese knife would actually even consider a Chinese knife. There are Chinese knives being made right now claiming that they’re being made with Tamahagane steel or talked about Tamahagane or stuff that the samurai swords are made of and they’re being sold as for as much as $1000 and I don’t really know if they’re selling at all but I hope they have not sold any and I hope that anyone who’s willing to buy $1,000 your Aqaba is smart enough to buy a Japanese made in Aqaba I don’t think Chinese made knives will really have a big chance at you know taking market share away from the higher end. They may take a few buyers here and there but as a percentage, as a market share, I don’t think that’s possible at this point. At the lower end, I think they’ve already won.