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Blades have been a part of Japanese culture for ages, most famously in the form of the sword (, katana). The techniques for forging blades have been refined over time, and Japanese blades have been considered among the best in the world for many centuries.

Today, the production, purchase and ownership of swords is strictly regulated, and new swords are hard to come by. With the days of the samurai long gone, the humble kitchen knife (, hōchō) has replaced the sword in recent times, attracting the attention of cooks worldwide.

Where to see knives and swords

Besides a few specialized sword museums, most history museums and castles have one or more swords on display. Below is a short list of spots that may be of interest to tourists interested in knives and swords:

Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum

A 20 minute walk west of Kagato Station on the JR Ako Line, outside Okayama City, the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum showcases a myriad of Japanese swords. Exhibitions show the history of Japanese swords and the various stages involved in making them. The complex also contains several workshops in which visitors can view the process of creating a sword on selected days. On selected Saturdays and Sundays, visitors can also partake in hands-on activities (advance reservations required).

Takefu Knife Village

Located in Echizen City in Fukui Prefecture, the Takefu Knife Village is a large forge where the local blacksmiths produce Takefu-brand blades. The forge is a good place to see the process of knife manufacturing up close, and there is no admission charge. Visitors can also participate in a range of knife activities at the Takefu Knife Village, however, almost all of them require advance reservations.

Where to buy knives

Many former sword makers are now producing knives and scissors. Regions famous for knife production include Seki City in Gifu Prefecture, Sakai City directly south of Osaka and Sanjo City in Niigata Prefecture.

Renowned knife brands can be found at major department stores or at the makers' individual shops across the country. Visiting a knife shop can be quite overwhelming for the average home cook as there is a huge variety of knives for all different purposes. Kappabashi Street and the Tsukiji outer market are a couple of places in Tokyo with a lot of knife shops in a small area.

Knife-related activities

There are a variety of unique experiences for those who want to go a step deeper learning about Japanese knives. A forge tour provides a closer look at the process of knife making, but note that only a few forges offer tours and even fewer do so in English. Alternatively, there are some museums where demonstrations are offered. The Takefu Knife Village near Fukui, Hocho Kobo Tadafusa in Tsubame-Sanjo, Niigata and the Sakai Hamono Museum south of Osaka are some places to consider.

In addition to forge tours, hands-on activities are offered at some forges or in popular blacksmith regions, such as knife sharpening, making a small letter opener or making your own knife, including hammering and sharpening. Simpler workshops take 1-2 hours and are available from 1000 yen, while the making of an entire knife will take 3-5 hours and cost at least 5000 yen. Advance reservations are typically required for these experiences. Online reservation site, such as Voyagin, also list a few knife-related activities.