Korin: The Art and Culture of Japanese Chef’s Knives

korin shop

Japanese life and culture is unique and fascinating.  Traditional cultural practices, such as cooking, performing arts and architecture, coexist and blend with more modern trends, such as Pop Culture, media and technology.  However, many of the pure historic art forms and handicrafts from the past, and the skilled craftsmanship involved in their creation are in decline mainly due to the onset of modernity.  I unexpectedly came across the revival of one of these traditional Japanese art forms while exploring the Tribeca neighbourhood of New York City.

During my wanderings on Warren Street, I came across a large group of people milling around outside an unassuming store front and decided to investigate what was happening there.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this ordinary looking shop was Korin, a hidden Japanese culinary arts treasure trove in downtown Manhattan.

Korin Japanese Trading Corp. was established in 1982 by Saori Kawano as a purveyor of high quality Japanese tableware, kitchenware and knives.  The thing that excites me most about Korin is their knives.  They stock a wide range of knives that fall into 2 broad categories: Western and traditional Japanese style knives.  Western style knives are Japanese-made knives that are designed for the preparation of non-Japanese cuisine. Conversely, Japanese style knives are handmade knives that are sharpened on only one side to create a sharper cutting edge and to suit the needs of Japanese cuisine.  Here is a selection of Korin’s impressive specialty knives.

korin knives20130801_11483920130801_11454320130801_11461320130801_114637

Aside from the plethora of top quality knives that they sell, what makes Korin really unique is the knife sharpening service that they provide.  Japanese knife sharpening is considered by many people both in Japan and beyond to be dying art form.  However, this highly skilled traditional practice is being kept alive and is thriving thanks to Korin’s resident knife master, Chiharu Sugai, and his apprentice, Vincent Kazuhito Lau.  They provide in-store services and advice to retail customers, and sharpen the knives of chefs from renowned restaurants such as Nobu.  They also share their extensive knowledge by teaching it to restaurants and culinary schools around America.

Here is the master and his apprentice working at their sharpening stones.

Knife Master Chiharu Sugai (right) and Apprentice Vincent Lau (left)

Knife Master Chiharu Sugai (right) and Apprentice Vincent Lau (left)

Knife sharpening close up

Knife sharpening close up

I spoke to Korin’s knife sharpening apprentice, Vincent Lau, about the intricacies and technicalities of Japanese knives, as well as about what led him to his chosen profession.

You can hear my interview with Vincent in full by clicking on the play button below.

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