The history of Sugimoto (杉本) – a family-ran group of chef knife shops in Tokyo – is not well documented. While some say they started in the 1930s, there have been claims that Sugimoto was founded in 1908 instead. What we know for sure is that the current company was registered in 1948, by the 2nd generation Sugimoto – Mr Koji Sugimoto. Perhaps the history prior to 1948 was not relevant to today’s Sugimoto, therefore not much was mentioned.
Despite a short history (by Japanese standard) of knife making, Sugimoto did make its name as one of the well-known knife brands in Tokyo, alongside bigger retailers like Masamoto Sohonten and Nihonbashi Kiya. And much like the other Tokyo brands, Sugimoto knives are made in Sakai near Osaka.
Being one of the pioneers of Chuka Bocho (Japanese made Chinese Cleavers), Sugimoto still produces perhaps the most professional Chinese Cleavers in the world. Visit any of the three Sugimoto shops in Tokyo, you’ll find their Chinese Cleavers proudly featured in the cabinet closest to the cashier desk.
While Sugimoto uses a series of high-quality steels (they can be secretive about their carbon steels), and makes all knives by hand, they aren’t exactly ultra-refined in terms of fit and finish, as their customers are mostly hard-working career chefs of Tokyo. When it comes to the quality of the cutting edge, the smoothness of cutting, Sugimoto knows what their customers need.
The location of their main shop – in the bustling street of the Tsukiji outer market – has given their brand an early exposure to western audiences, via increased popularity of Tsukiji market as a tourist destination.
With the relocation of the Tsukiji market to Toyosu, Sugimoto has opened the modern version of its shop – Tokyo Sugimoto Toyosu. However the original shop, with its charming antique wood cabinets and rustic look, still stands in the bustling narrow ally of the Tsukiji outer market today. Time does not seem to change the shop one bit, nor the functional knives they make by hand.