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.
But 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.