Know Your Knives: 肥後守 (Higo No Kami)

Image Courtesy Japan Woodworker

Japanese contributions to the art and science of bladesmithing are almost too numerous to count. Katana and tanto are words and blades that have been enthusiastically incorporated into American usage, but the traditional Higo No Kami is a Japanese knife you’ve probably never heard of.

The aristocratic and warrior castes of traditional Japan were fabulously well-armed, but the other 99% was completely forbidden the use or possession of arms. Tradesmen and the peasantry were only allowed to carry the tools of their trades and tasks: a woodsman’s axe, a farmer’s flail and scythe, a butcher’s cleaver, or a fisherman’s knife.

This is why so many martial-arts weapons closely resemble preindustrial tools and agricultural implements: the nunchuku, tonfa and kama are all directly derived from common farming tools.

Image: Wiki[pedia CommonsBut I digress, because the higo no kami isn’t one of these. It was the peasant’s and tradesman’s pocketknife, far too small to be considered a creditable ‘weapon’ by the sword-wielding Samurai or by Japan’s militaristic leaders until the end of WWII. There’s a fantastic history of the Higo No Kami over at the British Blades Forum; I can’t cut and paste it, but I’m happy to link to it here.

Higo no kami blades are typically less than 4 inches long, made from laminated high-carbon steel. The scales are typically brass or soft metal, with friction lock or long tang to prevent accidental blade closure.

Since the passage of draconian knife laws in 2009, carrying a knife with a blade longer than 6 cm (2.3 inches) is a crime in Japan. Only the tiniest higo no kami, too small to even slice an apple, can be carried in their own country today.

The brass-handled knife shown above has a 3.5″ blade of laminated steel. If you want to add one of these to your collection, they typically run in the $30 to $50 price range including shipping.

Manufacturer’s link here.

This entry was posted in Knife Laws, Obscure Object Of Desire, Pocket Knives and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Know Your Knives: 肥後守 (Higo No Kami)

  1. Diogenes says:

    Love old traditional knives, would love to pick one up if/when I go to Japan. If anyone is interested, here’s a piece about the specific makers of the Higo no Kami:

    http://www.britishblades.com/forums/showthread.php?87498-Higonokami-story

  2. Sam L. says:

    Also
    http://www.japanwoodworker.com/product/156666/334-Pocket-Knife-Higo-no-Kami-Sadakoma.aspx

    I thought Garret Wade would have this, but no. They have a douk-douk which is similar:
    http://www.garrettwade.com/the-french-douk-douk-knife/p/12T01.01/
    and a Japanese hatchet:
    http://www.garrettwade.com/super-sharp-japanese-hand-axe/p/11P23.06/

    Possibly garden supply houses might carry the higo no kami.

  3. Hanover Fist says:

    I love these knives. For utility tasks around the house or garden when you don’t need a locking blade these knives are great. I found mine on Amazon dirt cheap. They are sharp when you get them, but you can get them scary sharp with a waterstone.

    Allegedly the steel that forms the edge on the laminated knives is Aogami steel.

  4. Pingback: Not-so-obscure Object of Desire: Shun Higo No Kami Steak Knife | The Truth About Knives

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