I ventured to Kyoto to get a very nice Japanese souvenir for myself: a knife from Aritsuku, a 450-year-old knife shop that once made samurai swords. I had purchased a knife from here last year for my brother and his wife's wedding, and had remembered roughly the selection and prices.
When I arrived, I found a knife that looked like the one I was expecting to buy and roughly the same amount. I thought about it for a bit and then asked the sales clerk for help. I double-checked with her, "For vegetables and just general use?" "Ah no, sashima, for raw fish." Hmmmm. In my life, a knife is a knife is a knife. "Could you use it for vegetables?" "Ehhhh....." The look on her face made me not want to ask that question again. It also indicated that I'd be heathen to go ahead and get that knife now that she knew my intentions.
"What is good for general purpose?" I asked. She pointed to some larger more expensive ones. Hmmm. I deliberated and deliberated. "Are there any that are smaller?" "Sold out," she said. Ah, so that was what I had gotten before, and even then I had had to wait for a special delivery much later. "Do you know when there might be more?" I asked. She turned her head and scrunched her face, "Mmmmm, maybe not for many many months..." OK. "And any other options?" She presented another very small one, and another that could be used for peeling. Peeling? Could you also use for chopping? But it was only a one-sided knife. I was learning and was starting to see differences in all these options. Even though I'm not so savvy in my knife knowledge or practice, I was realizing that my make-shift knife usage was not a part of the ethos of this shop. And I respected that. Still, I wanted something that would work.
I went for the larger knife. I think it will be a nice thing to have in the years to come and something that I will use frequently, a reminder of the time here, the artistry, tradition, and craftsmanship of Japan. I got it engraved, they taught me how to care for it, and I watched them box it and wrap it.
And then I took the train home from Kyoto and watched the familiar rice paddies go by, wondering how it will feel to cut vegetables in America. Time, time, time.