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Higonokami, The Little Brother of the Katana

November 19, 2014
Written by Huibert Sap

The story of Higonokami starts in 1896 in the Kyushu province of Japan.

A man, who goes by the name of Tasaburo Shigematsu, brought a knife from the Kyushu province and asked a blacksmith, Murakami, to manufacture it in the province of Miki. He added the famous lever and thanks to him the blade has the form it still has today. This caused an immense commercial success. For a period of time, you could find the Higonokami in every pocket of schoolboys and workers all across Japan. To understand these majestic knives we need to go back in time:

The empire of the Rising Sun is forced by the west (USA) to open it’s borders to the rest of the world in the middle of the 19th century. Japan changes drastically: it has to change from a feudal society to a modern industrial one. Ofcourse, the samurais opposed this. Their last act of resistance was in 1877 against the modern forces of the emperor. This battle you can see in the movie The Last Samurai. After this battle, the samurai were stripped of their power, privileges and even their katanas. Because of this, a lot of blacksmiths lost their main customers and had to find other incomes: they focused on making knives. They settled in around the province Miki because of the iron and rivers. “Higo no kami” litterally means “Lord of Higo” and Higo is the old name of the Kyushu province. Higo no Kami was also an old aristocratic title given to powerful samurai. The smiths came together and made an important decision: from 1899 they were united in the guild called Higonokami and since 1907 only members of the corporation were allowed to manufacture the famous knives. 

The last "Higo no Kami"

The formula was a succes. The knife has a simple and basic design, easy to sharpen, carbon blade and inexpensive due to 50 smiths manufacturing the knive. Pencil sharpening contests were even organized because of all the people having a lot of fun with these knives. They were still popular in World War II even during the lack of raw materials in that time. Yet after World War II, the Americans forbid the making of swords and again alot of smiths were out of jobs. The death blow of the Higonokami is in 1961 when a mentally disturbed 17 year old boy killed the leader of the socialist party in public with a sword which was banned in 1876. This assassination was seen on public news. As a result, an intense anti knife campaign rampaged through the country and since then it was restricted to carry knives. Almost all the blacksmiths needed to find another job, because their succes was definietly over. The love for Higonokami was kept alive by people with nostalgic feelings and childhood memories. Today it lost its popularity and the the youth of Japan barely know what a Higonokami is.

Thus, Higonokami is a trademark. There are replicas and smiths who stil make these sort of knives, but not the classic Higonokami. Only one smith remains of the guild who can make the Higonokami: Motosuke Nagao from Miki. He descends from four generations of blacksmiths.

You can recognize the historical, classic blade by a couple of things:

• A handle made out of a folded sheath of brass stamped with kanjis detailing the name of the maker and the steel of the blade: a sanmai with an aogami edge (blue paper steel).
• The presence of a chikiri (the lever) on the blade, to open the knife.
• The lack of a locking system.
The fact that the blade entirely disappears in the handle when the knife is closed.
The gold and blue box.

The traditional Higonokami knife with the gold and blue box.

The story of the Higonokami blade goes far further than one should think and took us back through the start in the era of samurai. The knife should truly be cherished because of its epic culture. We have the knives in various types and sizes. Visit our store to hold the knife and feel the raw energy that the blade carries within and its pleasent grip. You can polish the hilt with sand paper and polishing paste and the hilt will shine like the Sakura flowers on mount Fuji. The Higonokami knife is an amazing gift for anyone who loves history, exotic gadgets or knives. 

“The Japanese believe their soul goes into our knives once we start using them. You wouldn't put your soul in a dishwasher!” – Masaharu Morimoto

Shop our Higonokami collection


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