J6 Higonokami

Code: JP6

This is a new higonokami (肥後守) folding knife from Japan.  It is one of the oldest knife trademarks still in production and the design of the knife is virtually unchanged since its creation in about 1896.  

First, a description of the knife. It was produced by the blacksmith Nagaokanekoma Seisakusho. The length of the blade is 92mm.  The overall folded length is 120mm with a weight of 75g.  The blade is made of a steel called Aogami, or "Blue Steel".  It is made by adding chromium and tungsten to Shirogami steel with the result of greater durability and corrosion resistence.  The blade is extremely sharp.  The folding patterns in the steel are apparent. The cross section of the blade is a three-part compound bevel that is very close to a convex grind, one of the shapes taking the greatest skill to produce and known for producing an extremely sharp and durable edge.  The name "Higonokami" is engraved on the blade.  The case is steel covered with camel-colored Tochigi leather.  The hignokami features a chikiri (lever) on the blade to open the knife.  It has no locking system; it is a friction folder that uses pressure of the user's thumb on the chikiri to secure the blade during use.  The blade disappears entirely into the case when folded.

Matsudaira Katamori

The name of this knife, higonokami, is strongly tied to the events at the end of the 19th century in Japan.  After the 1877 battle in which rebellious samurais were put down by the modern army of the emperor, the samurais were stripped of privileges and forbidden to carry swords in public.  Blacksmiths lost their best customers for their finest swords and so some started to make knives.  Many settled in the area of Miki, a region with iron ore sands and a flowing river that is now known as the birthplace of the higonokami.  "Higo no Kami" has two meanings in Japanese.  It means "Lord of Higo" (see photo, left, of Matsudaira Katamori, the last Lord of Higo) but it is also an aristocratic title once given to powerful samurais.

In 1899, the name "Higonokami" was trademarked and members of the guild of knife makers in Miki were the only ones permitted to make this blade.  It rapidly became the most popular pocket knife in Japan until 1961 when it was used in a tragic assassination of a political figure. Public outcry led to an anti-knife campaign with severe laws restricting the carrying of pocket knives that endure to this day.  Nevertheless, a few families descended from the original guild of higonokami knife makers continued the tradition of making this knife, numbering as many as 40 during the knife's peak popularity in the 1950's. 

Today, only one knife smith making the higonokami remains in Miki city: Nagaokanekoma Seisakusho.  

The higonokami is a valuable, dependable working tool.  Sadly, the higonokami doesn't gain nearly the attention it deserves, especially from modern Japanese, and the price is astonishingly low considering the quality of the workmanship and steel.