What is Dentokougeshi of Japan? (日本の伝統工芸士)
Dentokougeshi, while you may not be familiar with this doesn’t-make-sense term, it literally translates into “Traditional Skilled Craftsman”. It is an awarded given by the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry to a craftsman who engages in the production of traditional crafts. In order for a craftsman to receive such award, he / she has to be considered as “holding the highest technique and skill” in his specific area.
The crafts are typically unique to Japan and involves a lot of manual processing and require a long period of special training. It usually takes years and years of hard work for an apprentice to become a master. Some of the industries include: fabrics, ceramics, urushi, woodworking, bamboo work, steel work (including kitchen knives), Buddhism related crafts, Japanese paper, gardening tools, and a few other areas. Essentially, a craftsman is considered a true master once they receive the Dentokougeshi award.
Even if you are not familiar with the term “Dentokougeshi”, you probably have seen this logo before, as it sometimes appear on knives as well.
(the logo of Dentokougeshi)
(A master Tatsuo Ikeda's knfie, with the Dentokougeshi sticker applied, courtesy of Razorsharp)
How many Dentokougeshi are there in the field of kitchen knives?
According to this page, there are roughly about two dozen makers in Sakai (familiar names like: Itsuo Doi, Kenji Togashi, Hide Nakayama), that has the certification. Echizen has a bit over a dozen including Takeshi Saji, Shiro Kamo, Hiroishi Kato, Yu kurosaki; Sanjo has a dozen people with famous names like Tokifusa Iizuka, Tsukasa Hinoura. The number is consistent over the years as older makers pass away and younger generation is admitted into the club.
Is it really that important for one to buy a knife that is made by a Dentokougeshi?
On the grand scale, I would say the little piece of sticker is not too important to the quality of the knife. While a knife made by the dentokougeshi does give one a bit more confidence to the buyer, it is an essentially a quite recent certification. Knife brands like Masatmo, Takayuki and Sukenari never actively prompted individual makers yet their knives are long considered the best by Japanese chefs. Master Tokifusa Iizuka (Shigefusa) only got the award fairly recently (post 2010) while Master Kenichi Shiraki and Master Genkai Masakuni never got the award. I am sure no one would even dare to say that Shigefusa’s knife was not good prior to the award, likewise to master Shiraki and Masakuni.
More importantly, a knife’s true cutting performance is also closely related to the profile and grind, and us, the vendors, often provide our input to the makers to come up with something that suits our takes. One very good example is the Knives and Stones Tanaka Nashiji Ginsan & Blue 2 line, that we worked closely with Tanaka to come up with the grind that is super thin behind the edge.
Dentokougeshi is the highest certification that a craftsman in Japan can receive. It is a solid recognition to one’s skill, and it is very hard to achieve. However, many craftsmen do not hold such certificate, yet they are producing some of the best knives. As a result, the “Dentokougeshi” logo is something that we can appreciate yet it should not be the deciding factor when comes to choosing a knife.