While aesthetic definitely plays a part, it’s not only what can make Japanese knives so expensive.
The high cost is a result of many factors: the high-end materials cost, extra labour of forge welding together multiple layers, the fact most of the high-priced knives are forged on a small scale and they make them by hand (artisan workshop usually have 2–4 students + blade Master orchestrating them).
Often then, what you are getting is a highly functional, unique art object.
There are knives costing more than 1000 GBP, however, it takes around 2–5 weeks to make one (and many, many labour hours in).
Takeshi Saji Coloured Damascus Gyuto Maki-e Art representing Two Japanese Castles (300mm)
Some Japanese knife makers are true artists and yes, when you buy one of their knives you are buying a piece of art, and something collectible as much as you are buying a tool (We don’t think any of our customers who purchased those 1k+ GBP knives is using them to chop meat!).
Japanese knives are thinner and lighter than German or other Western-type blades – and again, it takes a labour time and true craftsmanship to balance the blade and the handle ().
The best knives are obviously hand-forged (these are the most expensive) and made from extra-hard steel strengthened with metals like molybdenum and nickel (check detailedfor more info) so that they can hold their edge longer. Those edges are often twice or three times as fine as those on European knives. Though you can find very good ones for around 120–160 GBP, Japanese knives can easily cost double that, or far more. The premium price is then result of the following 3 factors:
Traditional craftsmen are much harder to find today, so to get a hand forged knife from an artisan is hard. You will hear chef owners talk about how good the balance is, and how effortlessly it cuts.
The type of steel used is top grade of course, and the material for the handles are special too. It may be some rare wood such as sandalwood, shitan, or deer antlers etc.
Scarcity and Privilege:
If you add up the last two points, you will still be hard pressed to justify the price tag of a custom knife from one of the famous knife makers in Japan. So the last part is really more of a status symbol. It’s like asking why a Birkin cost 10k. Is it really that much better than other handbags, say, a Louis Vuitton? The answer is, probably marginally better but infinitely more desirable.
If you have never used a Japanese knife, try one (did we mentioned we give 30 days money back guarantee? :). You may never cut with a western knife again.