When I was given a nakiri in Japan to take home, I was told that others would be offering more expensive versions that would do no better. Even when it became my go to knife for vegetables, I thought it would be easy to replace I began to look—and look.. About two years ago, I noticed this “7 inch Asian Utility knife” member of the new Japanese Shun Kanso line of kitchen knives as a potential upgrade for my 20 year old Seki Magoroko nakiri. No cigar.
My nakiri is rather traditional, with a classic profile and oval wa handle. The only fusion feature is a full tang connection between handle and blade. The Shun Kanso was heftier, thicker, no distal taper, and a price tag about 5X my Seki Magoroko. It wasn’t even considered a nakiri any more, but rather a bunko—but that wasn’t even clear. The Japanese Enso/Yaxell “bunko” profile I found sloped down, whereas the Kanso was straight across. Enso/Yaxell had a different straight across profile a bit wider than my nakiri—like the Kanso—but they called it a Chinese cleaver. The knives were all pricey. I saw no benefit for the home cook: pay more—get less.
That was before I purchased my 8” by 4” Shibazi F208 Chinese vegetable cleaver. Unlike run-of-the-mill Chinese cleavers—and there are many—the Shibazi has an advanced blade design with sandwiched construction, hard central core, a rust free scratch resistant heritage exterior, and even an extra “no stick” exterior coating—offered for less than $40.
Since being made available on the Western Market, it has dwarfed the sales of other cleavers at AliExpress, and been chosen as the best buy (of 100 models) by Amazon.
It’s true that there are Japanese made Chinese cleavers with harder steels and custom features from 5X to 10X higher prices. I’ve been impressed by the VG10 damascus Classic cleaver by Kai Shun, and several models by Sugitomo.
But. . .
At my home, I’ve compared the Shibazi F208 performance favorably to respected knives by Wusthof (Classic Ikon), Shun (Kaji), and Miyabi (birchwood). Like my nakiri, the Shabazi appears to deliver more for much less. It also did one thing in particular that my Seki Magoroku nakiri did with difficulty—and that was to “chop.” I should have known. My Chinese friends had long described cleaver prep work at a Chinese restaurant as “chop, chop.”
At home, my nakiri slices with various push/pull movements extremely well—but the vertical “chop” requires considerable effort. With the Shibazi, the weight of the knife helps a great deal—and the overall weight of that cleaver is still only about 330 gm. I now have two complementary brothers: a little brother for slicing—and a big brother for chopping.
It brought me back to the Kanso. By now, the reports are in, and the Kanso 7” Asian Utility knife has developed a loyal following: almost no unfavorable comments and excellent sales from knife specialty sources, Amazon, and even nontraditional quality kitchen knife suppliers—like Home Depot.
As soon as I received my Kanso, I laid it out between the nakiri and cleaver. For me, it was a perfect fit. The Seki Magoroku is about 170 gm., the Kanso 250 gm., and the Shibazi 330 gm. The nakiri is 6+ in., Kanso, 7 in., and the Shibazi 8 in. All three of the handles support multiple grips, but only the Shabazi feels most comfortable gripped like a tennis racket. All three of the knives have a blade that is flat, but only the Kanso has no curvature at all.
The question of value still remains. The Kanso offers superior steel of practical value: sharper, for slicing, with better edge retention and little if any additional risk for chipping while chopping. On the blade is written: “Solid AUS10A” reminding purchasers of uni-metal materials and the heritage finish. Is it enough?
Kai Shun is giving each of us many opportunities to determine our own value proposition. They’ve already made their nakiri profile at nearly every possible price point from Kamacho (<$10) to Luna ($20) to Wasabi ($40) to Seki Magoroko ($60-$100) to Shun Classic ($120-$140) to Shun Kaji ($200) to Shun Fuji ($400) to Shun Dual Core ($350) to Shun Hikari ($400). For most of those price points, Tojiro is a direct competitor in Japan, and at the price points of $100 and up, there are many worldwide. My Kai Seki Magoroku would probably line up a step above the Kai Wasabi, but is a different blade technology from the current Seki Magoroku models. Kai already has an inexpensive version of the Shun Kanso 7” Asian Utility for an additional value point. I’ve wrestled with my subjective values . . .
And . . .
After almost two years of thinking about it, I purchased the Kanso 7” Asian Utility knife for $110.00—about 3+X. It passes the paper test out of the box—and I’ve already given it a perfunctory green stropping--to give it a slight convex bevel for additional edge retention.
This is a fusion knife that pushes away from “current and updated” to a Japanese era of simpler times that predate Japanese Artisan knives: uni-metal, but not too hard; simple, geometric designs; no tapering; not light—but not heavy, either. They call it “Zen”. The handle is fusion: not a classic wa—but not exactly western either—with real hard unsealed wood that gives it an organic feel—and even serves up a half bolster. It doesn’t slice like my nakiri nor chop like my cleaver: it may be a bit more solid than either. That’s what fusion is all about.
The final ingredient in any value proposition: I like it a great deal!
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