Japanese food from the perspective of Japanese tableware and cooking tools

こんにちは。THAT IS GOOD編集部池上です。

Hello. I’m Ikegami, a member of THAT IS GOOD editorial department.
I would like to introduce Japanese cooking utensils and cookware used to make Japanese food, along with their history and actual restaurants.

第一回 和包丁

Vol.1 Japanese kitchen knife


A kitchen knife is a common cooking tool that is used for cooking anything in any country.
This time, the origin of Hocho (knife) with a history of Japanese cuisine.


Origin of the name


There are many theories about the origin of the name “Hocho(kitchen knife in English)”, but according to “Shiki Shiyo Zembu Shuge” written by Funaki Yasunobu, who was the head chef of the Kaga domain, people who worked in the kitchen during this period were called “hou” (庖). And the knife that Mr. Cho(丁), a Chinese man who worked there, used to cut cows was very useful. So the kitchen knife for fish, which was made after that, was called “Hocho-katana”, and it was shortened to “Hocho”. In those days, people in Japan did not eat much meat from four-legged animals, but ate a lot of fish, so they made swords for fish.
(In accordance with the reference, the kitchen knife is written “庖丁”.)


The history of kitchen knives and Japanese cuisine


The origin of Japanese kitchen knives is chipped stoneware and polished stoneware made from obsidian and quartz, which were used in the Stone Age. By the spread of iron making technology in Japan, iron tools changed to stone tools. Then, the history of Japanese kitchen knives started in earnest.
The oldest existing kitchen knife in Japan is presumed to have been made in the Nara period (around the year of 760), and now ten of them are kept in Shosoin. This knife is a thin and straight blade with a length of 22~25cm and a width of 1,4~1,7cm.

出典:【刀剣ワールド】包丁の歴史と変化|現代に残る武士の風習 (


With the introduction of “Daikyo cuisine” in the Heian period (794-1185), the variety of seasonings available and cooking methods became more and more ingenious. The word “daikyo” means a large banquet. This form of cooking was different from previous Japanese cooking methods, which changed to cut beautifully and serve beautifully. The cooks at this time were called “Ho-cho Jouzu”. It is also said that the quality of the dish was decided by the cut of the cleaver.


Buddhist vegetarian cuisine called “Shojin ryori”, introduced in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), is based on Buddhist precepts in order to avoid killing and vexation. At that time in Japan, due to the influence of Shintoism and other religions, the custom of “Kessai,” or purification of the body by avoiding meat and fish, was well-established among some classes and was easily accepted. This custom spread throughout the country, and shojin ryori made from vegetables, beans, and grains is characterized by its time-consuming preparation, including boiling and draining. It is said that they use miso, tofu, yuba, fried tofu, etc., processed from soybeans, to satisfy their hunger even without meat. It is also said that in the second year of Ninji (1241), the technology of milling and noodle making, along with stone mortar, was introduced from the country of Song, and soybean and noodle dishes evolved greatly. The monks who were in charge of vegetarian cooking were called “Chosai-nin” , in contrast to the fish and chicken cooks who were called “Hocho-nin” .
By the way, at that time, there were books written about the manners that remain in Japan today, such as “no talking,” “no noise of dishes,” “no noise of eating,” and “don’t leave food behind.


After the Muromachi period (1336-1573), during the period of seclusion from the rest of the world, the act of eating was given a ritualistic meaning in itself as “honzen ryori”.
It is said that from this honzen ryori, the basic form of Japanese cuisine as we know it today was established, consisting of rice, soup, vegetables, and pickles. The custom of having leftover food packed in folds to take home also started around this time.


Kaiseki ryori is a type of cuisine that focuses on the free enjoyment of a delicious meal without formalities. Kaiseki ryori is a type of cuisine that focuses on the free enjoyment of a delicious meal without formalities. Kaiseki ryori is not only about taste, but also about cherishing the encounter of the moment. Kaiseki ryori also emphasizes the taste of the seasons and the spirit of hospitality, and the timing of serving food has been carefully considered so that hot dishes can be eaten while still warm. Cooking techniques also evolved greatly, and specialized chefs called “Hocho-shi” to cut meat and fish and “kizamizakanashi” to cut vegetables appeared. At the same time, efficient kitchen knives were required, and the types of knives increased according to the purpose, such as de-ba, thin-blade, and sashimi. Around this time, cookbooks appeared to teach people how to cook, and a culture in which common people enjoyed cooking had started.


When the long period of national isolation ended, foreign cultures rapidly came into Japan, and the meat-eating habits of the Japanese rapidly spread to the common people, and Western restaurants could be seen in the towns. At the same time, Western kitchen knives were also introduced, and they were called “Gyuto” because they mainly cut beef. (Beef called Gyu in Japanese.) By the way, this is called a chef’s knife or a French knife in Europe and America, and it is regarded as a versatile knife that can be used for anything, not only for meat.
After the high growth period, stainless steel knives became popular among housewives because they have the advantage of not rusting.

参考文献:信田圭造「シリーズ・ニッポン再発見⑦ 庖丁―和食文化をささえる伝統の技と心―」(株式会社ミネルヴァ書房、2017年)
References : Keizo SHINODA “Series NIPPON Re-discovery Kitchen Knife”(Minerva shobo, 2017)


Knives at Japanese Restaurant


We were shown the knives that are currently being used in Japanese restaurants.
We were asked to cooperate by Mr. Goto, the owner of “Neko mo Shakushi mo”, located between Ebisu and Daikanyama, Tokyo.


From left. Names are according to Mr.Goto.
Petit knife
Kiritsuke Hocho(Cutlery knife : all-purpose)
Deba Bocho(De-ba knife : for fish)
Yanagiba Bocho (Yanagiba knife : for sashimi)
Usuba Bocho (Thin-bladed knife : for vegetables, peeling)
Honekiri Bocho (Bone-cutting knife : for hamo/ sea eel)
Yanagiba Bocho (Yanagiba knife : for sashimi, white fish, hard meat, thin slicing)
Kodeba Bocho (Small de-bade knife : for fish)

Q. この包丁の中でも、思い出深いものはありますか?
A. 薄刃ですね〜。淡々とカツラ剥きの練習した思い出があります!

Q. What is the most memorable thing about these knives?
A. It’s a thin blade! I have fond memories of practicing my wig-peeling without a care for it!


Neko mo Shakushi mo


This restaurant is located between Ebisu Station and Daikanyama Station. It is a creative Japanese cuisine restaurant that offers both single dishes and courses, which you can decide according to your stomach. They also have a good selection of alcoholic beverages, and you can ask the owner for recommendations on the day.
The owner, Mr. Goto, is friendly and easy to talk to, even when you meet him for the first time, and he is loved by the regulars.

住所:東京都渋谷区恵比寿西2-14-10 トゥワォン代官山B-02
Address : B-02, 2-14-10 Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, JAPAN
TEL : 03-6427-8308

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著:THAT IS GOOD編集部 池上
Written by THAT IS GOOD editorial department, Ikegami