As in many countries, folks in Japan have been shaving for a long time. For as long as there has been steel used to make swords, spears and tools, there have been straight razors in some form or another. Over many centuries, the Japanese razor eventually took the form that we have today: the kamisori.
Kamisori - translating literally to 'razor'- is the Japanese equivalent of the folding straight razor that most folks in the west are familiar with. While they are similar in principle, those who have shaved with both know that they are worlds apart. Unlike nearly all western-style razors, kamisori are traditionally forged by a blacksmith. Forging gives the steel certain benefits that are hard to achieve otherwise, giving it phenomenal edge retention and the ability to get sharper than most blades in existence.
Traditional kamisori bear many traits from their roots in traditional Japanese knife making. Most notably, the blades are single-beveled, meaning that one side is sharpened to a typical angle, and the other side is flat, even slightly concave. This means that unlike Western style straight razors, slightly different angles are required when shaving with different sides of the blade. The kamisori design makes them incredibly ergonomic and offers a more natural feel, like working with a kitchen knife or a pen. The Japanese forging gives them superior edge retention to their German counterparts, and the shorter blades make them popular among many folks, especially those who simply wish to trim their beards.
Kamisori from the young but talented Amano-san
Why kamisori? There’s a few reasons why folks, including you, might want a kamisori.
If you sport a beard or moustache, the kamisori is the bees knees. The short blade allows for expert control, and easily fits into small gaps like the edges of a beard. This helps you to avoid unwanted shearing. The point on a kamisori is more prominent than many European counterparts. Points like this are ideal for reaching tricky areas such as the nostril-edge, and picking off individual hairs from the perimeter of your beard.
Speaking of beards, kamisori are excellent at cleaving through thicker hair. The blade tends to be thicker than the super-thin European blades, giving it more power behind each stroke. While kamisori can be rougher on sensitive skin, they’re perfect if you struggle to get a close shave, especially if you have tougher skin.
A kamisori is a minimalist’s dream. You only ever have to buy one. They require less frequent sharpening than most straight razors, saving you time and money. Although made from carbon steel, maintenance is a breeze. There’s no wooden or horn scales to worry about oiling, just a blade you simply wipe down and oil after your shave. Beyond the care, the aesthetic is also perfect for people who prefer simple, stripped-down functional items.
The simplicity of the kamisori’s design also makes it easier to use. The straight tang and lack of folding handle make it easier to work with, allowing it to handle naturally as you would use a chef’s knife. The short, hefty blade clears through hair smoothly, without skipping or jumping. Every aspect of the razor has been perfected over the years, stripping it down to just the necessities. While the biased blade means different angles must be used on either side, this isn’t the trickiest to get the hang of. If this still sounds difficult to you, go for a western-grind kamisori. They combine the balance of a European edge with the design and craftsmanship of a Japanese one.
Blades crafted by Iwasaki-san, a legend in the straight razor world.
This is probably obvious, but kamisori are just plain awesome. When you wield one, you feel like a samurai shaving his face before battle. Ok, maybe you won’t, but I sure do. The precision, the way it feels like an extension of your hand, every single detail is designed to work with you. If you own a kamisori, you’re always excited about your next shave with it.
We carry two main kamisori at Kent of Inglewood: blades forged by Amano-san, and those from the house of Iwasaki. Amano-san is a young, hotshot blacksmith. He is little known because he prefers to focus on forging, rather than fame. Iwasaki-san is an ancient master of the art, approaching 90 years of age. Nowadays his apprentice Mizuochi-san has taken over. He was given the mantle of master in his mid 50s, and continues to carry on the Iwasaki name and tradition.
Amano-san's blades are ground thinner and beveled like a western razor, making them good for someone who has sensitive skin or is worried about the different angles on a traditional kamisori. Some of the best shaves of my life have been with these razors, and I'm proud to say that I got to have a hand in prototyping and designing them.
Iwasaki blades are very traditional, and good for folks who enjoy the rich lore of a traditional craftsman. The edges are much thicker, so they plow through coarse hairs like a zamboni over ice. If you have trouble getting a close shave, an Iwasaki razor will cure your woes.
There you have it. Through centuries of craftsmanship and refining, the blacksmiths of Japan have absolutely nailed it. What the kamisori lacks in classic European flourishes, it more than makes up for in extreme sharpness, badassery, and function. If you’re still reading you should come down and check out our selection, they are even more gorgeous in person.