We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Niigata. I don’t know, but at 5800yen (tax inclusive) per room per night is CHEAP by any measure (a similar hotel in Tokyo would probably quadruple the cost). It is funny though a lot of Japanese hotels charge their rate on a “per head” basis, so for the exact same room, dual occupancy would cost twice as much as single occupancy. There are 4 of us and booking 4 rooms with single occupancy cost the same as sharing 2 rooms, so we happily booked 4 rooms for a grand total of US$200 per night, and each of us was assigned a double room.
Crowne Plaza is located very close to the Niigata fish market, and not far from the JR Niigata Station, I always stay at there when I am in Niigata.
( Pro tip: I always stay at the Crowne Plaza since the rooms are big and it is close to the amenities)
The Hinoura family
The next morning, we visited Master Hinoura’s workshop. Tsukasa Hinoura and Mutsumi Hinoura is a father & son operation. I love to hear Master Tsukasa explains his philosophy of knife making. I am always amazed by how hard he constantly tries to push the limit and come up with ways to make knives even better.
I asked about the differences between the Tsukasa-made kurouchi knife and a regular Ajikataya version (apart from the Tsukasa-made is by of course Master Tsukasa himself, and the Ajikataya is by Mutsumi). He explain that, while they are both KU, the Ajikataya version uses a factory cladded billet, while the Tsukasa-made version uses billets he cladded himself.
(Master Tsukasa Hinoura showed me the raw material of how he does the cladding of his knife, which is rarely done these days)
While from a performance point of view, the knives could be very similar, yet it shows how much effort and care that master Tsukasa puts into his work. It is a reflection of him as a craftsman, and I truly appreciate it.
During the visit, we also had a chat about the differences between a forged steel and non-forged steel. A forged steel (Assuming we are talking about a traditional ingot steel like white 2, blue 2) will have a more refined structure, with larger impurities (sulfur and phosphorus compounds) broken into smaller pieces, and basically turning the steel to be more even with smaller grain size.
(Master Tsukasa Hinoura presented us this steel detail under 400x magnification. Top left is the grain structure with a forged steel, and the bottom right is from an unforged steel. It is clearly visible that the unforged steel has a lot more visible impurities, shown as large bright dots, compared to the forged steel)
The new showroom
Oh, I do need to mention that Hinoura recently refurbished the showroom in their house and has a new logo design. Of course, we need a photo!
(Tsukasa-san, me, Mutsumi-san, Tony Zhu)
Shinkansen to Tokyo
We left for Sanjo headed to Tokyo around mid-day onboard the Joetsu Shinkansen. Tokyo is such a vibrant city, and I can never have enough of Tokyo. Akihabara is like Mecca for a guy like me that grow up in the word of Dragonball and Gundam, I’d love to spend a day just browse the endless gadgets at the Yodobashi Camera there. I of course also LOVE to dine out at one of the god-knows-how-many sushi restaurants.
So, what about as a kitchen knife guy? Well there is of course the outer Tsukiji Fish Market (the inner market has moved to Toyosu), with shops like Masamoto Tsukiji, Aritsugu Tsujiki as well as Nenohi and a few others; then there is the Kappabashi Kitchen town, right in the heart of Ueno / Asakusa area; Morihei for stone lovers; and of course there is the one and only Masamoto Sohonten, not far from the Tokyo Skytree in Sumida-ku.
It is been three years since Knives and Stones started carrying Masamoto Sohonten, I still remember the day I first met Hinaro-san, I was trying to just introduce myself to the Masamoto and seriously didn’t expect to be able to achieve anything, yet Master Hirano recognized that Knives and Stones is a business dedicated to high end kitchen knives and I am passionate about everything knives so the agreed to let Knives and Stones carry Masamoto Sohonten knives. I was so happy that I went to Nodaiwa (The famous eel restaurant) to celebrate.
(We celebrated at Nodaiwa, the famous eel restaurant after visiting Masamoto Sohonten for the first time in 2016)
(Masamoto Sohoten's Sumida shop front, with Tokyo Skytree not far away)
We visited the showroom for a bit then headed to the Hirano-san’s local favorite Sushi restaurant: Shishiya-no-Sukeroku (すしやの助六). It is not a super-fancy-fine-dining style like Sukiyabashi Jiro, rather it is one of those places that you will freely go as you wish, and order whatever you like: the go to restaurant that is comfort, causal and tastes great. Of course, it is almost impossible for a foreigner like me to find such a small corner shop in the suburbs of Tokyo, and I always appreciate the chance to visit the local’s choice :) There is a link below showing the restaurant’s address, check it out next time when you are around the area.
(The entrance of Sushiya-no-Sukeroku is well hidden in the neighborhood, I'd have a hard time convince myself to going without someone telling me that it is great)
(The food at Sukeroku taste sooo nice, and their miso soup is the best that I have ever tasted)
(Sushiya-no-sukeroku is about 5 minutes from Kameido Station, quite accessible)
Since Monday was a public holiday in Japan (Marine Day, 海の日, Umi no Hi), essentially day 1 of my trip started on Tuesday and by day 4, it is already Friday, which concludes my short but always exciting trip. My trip to Japan is always quite short, partly because I can’t leave the business for too long and partly because my two boys at home would be out of control. Therefore, each time I only come for about a week and I just have to come often (not a bad thing!). The next trip is in October (no, not Seki though), I can’t wait already!
(View from Moxy Kinshicho Hotel, I have been to Tokyo countless times, never actually visited the SkyTree...hmmm...there is always next time)