A Brief Guide To Japanese Pocket Knives

A Brief Guide To Japanese Pocket Knives
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    Pocket knives are compact, folding knives, in which two or more blades fold into the handle for easy and safe portability. Japanese people have carried such knives around with them since ancient times, and their use in leisure, general utility, and emergency scenarios, make them a great tool to carry around.

     In this article, we shall look at the history of pocket knives, their general applications, and how to properly maintain pocket knives, as well as compare and contrast some important brands.

    History Of Pocket Knives In Japan

    The history of what we think of as pocket knives today can be traced back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333) with the use of the Kozuka, which was a small utility knife used by samurai for everyday jobs that tended to be tucked into the scabbard of a larger blade, such as a sword. The elaborate designs gave them a prominent role in the samurai culture of the time. 

    They continued to be used during the Edo period, both by samurai and also by commoners, as traditional crafts that made use of knives thrived. Their use declined a little during the Meiji Restoration as the samurai class was disbanded but experienced a revival with the development of Higonokami knives from Higo, in Kumamoto Prefecture on Kyushu Island, which soon became popular with both adults, and children (who used them to sharpen pencils) due to their non-locking, friction-based design.

     This tradition of pocket knife-making has continued to the present age, with knifemakers giving ever new interpretations of the art, with intricate locking mechanisms and ergonomic handle designs, creating tools that are both beautiful and practical.

    What Can I Use A Pocket Knife For?

    What Can I Use A Pocket Knife For?

    The pocket knife can be used in a huge range of scenarios that require cutting things, some more fun than others. In terms of general outdoor leisure activities, it can be used for slicing food and cutting kindling when camping, cutting lines and cleaning fish when fishing, and for making a path through plant-based obstacles when hiking. 

     It is also convenient to have on hand for everyday tasks, such as opening packages or cutting string, or for first aid, when you need to cut bandages. It goes without saying that you would definitely be glad to have a pocket knife around if you ever found yourself in a real emergency situation where you needed to cut clothing or a seat belt.

    Other popular uses of pocket knives include for hobbies, such as whittling or carving wood, or cutting leather or fabric when making crafts, or for pruning plants and cutting twine when gardening.

    How Should I Maintain My Pocket Knife?

    How Should I Maintain My Pocket Knife?

    Maintenance is extremely important for increasing the longevity of your pocket knife. It is said the even the cheapest pocket knife can be passed down from generation to generation, provided you give it the necessary TLC! So what are the actual tasks involved in maintaining your pocket knife?


    For a start, it is very important that you keep the knife clean, as folding knives often accumulate some debris on the blade. In order to make sure you can clean in all the nooks and crannies, then, depending on the type of knife, you will want to carefully disassemble it if you can (remembering the steps so you can put it back together). Most of the dirt should be removable using warm water with a mild soap. For any particular stubborn marks, you can try scrubbing with a toothbrush. Once it is clean, make sure you dry all the parts thoroughly to prevent rust, and then reassemble carefully.


    Another part of maintenance is sharpening the blade to make sure the knife is fit for purpose. There are professional knife sharpening services if you don’t want the hassle of doing it yourself, but if you choose the D.I.Y approach, the two main options are to use either a sharpener or a whetstone.  

    Sharpeners have the advantage over whetstones that they are generally easier and faster to use, and tended to be compact making them easy to carry around. An example of a sharpener is the Hounen Kihan Diamond File, which is a handheld diamond file that can sharpen all types of blades without using water.

     If you are looking for a very sharp edge, however, it may be better to use a whetstone, as they offer more control and better edge quality than most sharpeners. Whetstones normally come with a coarse and a fine side, and the normal practice is to sharpen using the coarse side first, and then finish off with the fine side. For more information on whetstones, see this article.


    You will also need to add knife oil (such as tsubaki oil) as a lubricant from time to time. This is generally applied after cleaning and drying the knife. Use the lube sparingly, applying it to the pivot, and then opening and closing the knife to spread it around. You can also apply this to the blade and wipe it with a microfiber cloth. If you use the knife for cutting food, it is important to make sure that the oil you use is food-safe.


    Inspecting the knife for signs of wear and tear, or other damage, before using it each time is a great habit to get into. You should also check on a regular basis that all of the screws are securely tightened, as they may become loose over time. Ideally, you should make this a part of your routine when cleaning the knife, otherwise it is likely to be forgotten.


    The question of where the knife should be put when not using it is as equally as important as the above when it comes to keeping your knife in tip-top condition. The knife should be kept in a dry, non-humid, environment to prevent corrosion, and where possible should be stored in a sheath or a case.

    Pocket Knife Purchasing Options

    In this section, we shall look at some popular pocket knife brands and contrast their various features.



    As already discussed, the Higonokami (literally, “master” of Higo) is basically where the Japanese pocket knife started, and its functionality and beauty have meant that it has stood the test of the centuries and continues to be loved to this day. Kanekoma is now the only company that makes these authentic knives.

     There is a huge range of Higonokami knives to suit all tastes and budgets, many of which can be found on the Daitool site. Despite being at the lower end of the price range, the functionality and aesthetics of the Aogami Handmade Carbon Steel Pocket Knife are sure to delight. These knives are among Japan's finest, featuring super sharp, hard blue paper steel blades laminated with soft iron for flexibility and corrosion resistance, housed in luxurious brass scabbards, and handcrafted by experienced blacksmiths in Miki City, Hyogo Prefecture.

    If you prefer wooden handles, the Woody, may be the one for you. The Higonokami Woody is a distinctive folding knife featuring a wooden handle in Walnut, Grey, or Red, adding a touch of elegance to the traditional design. It uses VG10 stainless steel for the blade, providing exceptional sharpness, durability, and rust resistance, making it an ideal everyday carry tool, with a comfortable grip and stylish appearance, showcasing Nagao Kanekoma's commitment to quality and innovation.

    If you have a slightly higher budget, however, you should definitely check out this Ironwood Handmade Japanese Folding Knife. The Higonokami Ironwood knife features a distinctive ironwood handle, adding warmth and elegance to the traditional design, with excellent durability and grip comfort. Its VG10 stainless steel blade, in a double-bevel reverse tanto shape, offers exceptional sharpness, durability, and rust resistance, making it a practical and long-lasting tool.


    Doukan White Steel Kiridashi Carving Knive With Wooden Handle

    Doukan, also from Miki City in Hyogo, is another important brand when it comes to pocket knives. Of particular note is the White Steel Kiridashi Carving Knife. This kiridashi carving and grafting knife from Doukan features a classic Japanese design with enhancements like a folding mechanism and wooden handle for safety and convenience. The blade, made from high-quality white steel, offers exceptional sharpness and is easy to sharpen. Handmade by experienced blacksmiths in Miki, Hyogo, each tool reflects Doukan's dedication to outstanding craftsmanship and user-friendly design.

    Maintaining The Pocket Knife Tradition

    As discussed in this article, Japanese people have a long tradition of carrying small utility knives around with them, going back to the 12th century, and these pocket knives still play a major role in everyday convenience, hobbies and leisure, such as crafts, gardening and fishing, and well as in case of emergencies. 

    Pocket knives are extremely durable and as long as you maintain it in the proper way, in terms of cleaning, lubrication, sharpening, inspection, and storage, the pocket knife you use now can be used by future generations.

    Do you use a pocket knife in your everyday life? What things do you use it for most? Let us know in the comments.