With nearly a millennium of katana-making history, it is no wonder why Japan makes some of the best knives in the world.
Although there are hundreds of Japanese cutlery companies today, there are just a handful of towns that are considered as knife hubs in this country: Sakai, Seki, Tafeku, and Tosa Kurouchi.
For now, let’s zoom in on two brands: Shun from the ‘City of Blades’ that is Seki, and Mac from the ancient sword city of Sakai.
Which of the two is better in terms of appearance and performance?
And more importantly, which deserves to have a place on your kitchen counter?
Shun: A Hundred Years of Excellence
Shun, in Japanese, means the very specific time when food is at its ripest, most perfect taste.
This is exactly what Saijiro Endo, the company’s founder, wants to achieve every time he forges and polishes a blade.
It has been over a century since Endo started his humble Seki business and, with all the accolades they have received, it looks like the brand has attained their very own Shun.
Creating the Knife
Seki has a long history of blade-smithing – the great katanas of brave samurais are from here.
So it isn’t strange to see multi-national and/or world-renowned cutlers still stick to the old way for forging blades.
Shun is one of them.
While they employ state-of-the-art machinery in certain steps of their manufacturing process, a lot is still done by craftsmen manually.
Also, they have their proprietary VG Max, a very special steel blend that yields hard and sharp yet ultra-flexible blades.
There are almost a dozen series under the Shun brand: Fuji, Hikari, and Kanso, just to name a few.
Every series comes with different types of Japanese and a few Western-style knives: Deba, Santoku, Kiritsuke, etc.
Their entry-level series, the Sora, is the most affordable of all.
It looks like it, too, with its thick spine, partial tang, and thermoplastic handle.
The Dual-Core series is Shun’s top variant.
Made from layered VG10 and VG2 steel and a Pakkawood handle, this can last a lifetime.
Shun’s best feature, besides their very generous warranty offers, is their free re-sharpening service for all series.
- Many series to choose from
- Sora, their entry-level variant, is quite affordable
- Free re-sharpening service for all time
- Thicker spine and bolster make it heavier than most Japanese knives
- Some say Shuns are a bit overpriced
Best Selling Variant: Sora 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
The spine is thicker and the belly more curved, reminiscent of a European chef’s knife than a Japanese Deba.
The dark-colored handle, with a decorative badge on the butt, is made of a thermoplastic material.
Of all Shun blades, this is priced most reasonably.
And for under $100, it’s a decent enough knife even for professional chefs.
Mac: A Great New Knife on the Block
Mac’s chairman, T.Kobayashi, experienced firsthand how tough it is to use a traditional German knife in the kitchen.
It is bulky and heavy, the sharp tip breaks off easily, and it’s a pain to maneuver on the chopping board.
When he came home from a restaurant stint abroad in 1958, he began conceptualizing a knife that is lighter, sharper, and easier to use.
Kobayashi started with only two at the time.
Today, Mac offers several series and has sold over 30 million knives all over the world.
Creating the Knife
The whole production process of Mac involves 15 steps, starting from pressing out the basic contour of the knife from a steel plate and ending in a visual inspection before the final product gets packed.
Except for the pressing and baking, the whole process is done by hand by their skilled craftsmen.
The company doesn’t have a specific designation for the steel they use.
But the steel has a high carbon content, fortified with various metal alloys.
For corrosion resistance and flexibility, they added Chrome, Molybdenum, and Vanadium.
For enhanced sharpness and durability, they added Tungsten.
Today, Mac offers seven series including the Professional, Japanese, and Damascus, just to name a few.
The Original, the first Kobayashi design, is made of an extremely thin (less than 2mm) and flexible blade with a curved rather than pointy tip.
It is full tang and triple riveted but doesn’t have a bolster.
Instead, the wooden handle slightly extends to the spine for a better and safer grip.
The hole punched near the tip for hanging is an interesting addition since, at the time, blocks and magnetic strips weren’t invented yet.
The newer variants that followed haven’t changed much in terms of the overall look.
It seems like Mac stuck to T. Kobayashi’s design because it worked.
- Hard but flexible
- Extremely thin and sharp
- Safety features
- Some variants are affordable
- Most handles are made only of wood
- Some variants are in the mid-range, the rest are quite pricey
Best Selling Variant: Chef Series 8-Inch Dimpled Chef’s Knife
This is great for slicing almost any food because the spine is thin at 2mm, the belly is straight, and curves only towards the tip.
The vertical indentations that run before the blade’s edge help to prevent food from sticking.
It has a full tang, no bolster, and the wooden handle is triple-riveted.
You can rely on the fact that any Japanese brand is good and, therefore, a must-have in the kitchen.
Shun, a reliable brand, is easy to like.
They are one of the few that offer free re-sharpening services for life!
But for a Japanese blade, it is quite heavy. And many have lamented that it is a tad overpriced.
Many love Mac because it is surprisingly light and easy to use.
Some may nitpick that these are stamped and, while that’s a fair criticism, it doesn’t matter in this particular case because of the hard work the craftsmen put in sharpening and polishing each piece before it gets delivered.
Last Updated on February 13, 2021 by Andy Wang