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Knife Laws in Japan: What to Know When Buying Japanese Kitchen Knives

Japanese knives are some of most well-crafted kitchen implements in the world. They offer strength, beauty, and with proper care will last a lifetime. If you plan to purchase a Japanese-made kitchen knife while visiting Japan, it's important to know some basic information about carrying knives on your person.

Japanese Kitchen Knife Laws for Tourists

There are many important laws in Japan that differ from other countries. Like most first world countries, the laws are clearly written and communicated to citizens from birth. But tourists visiting Tokyo and planning to purchase knives should know there are specific laws governing blades.

Tokyo is an incredibly safe city by any standards. Even more remarkably, the millions of people that call Tokyo home enjoy lives nearly free of the fear of theft, assault, and other crimes many other countries find commonplace. This is in part due to strict controls on weapons or - more appropriately for this blog - knives.

Planning to buy a kitchen knife in Japan? Read up and know before you go.

Japan has some pretty strict laws when it comes to kitchen knives. In fact, if you are not a chef or other tradesperson that requires a knife for daily work activity, you must possess a permit to own any fixed blade over 15cm (5.91 inches) in length.

Because most Japanese chef's knives are at least 15cm along the blade, it is important to understand that you may not own one in Japan without seeking a permit. But what about tourists or visitors to Tokyo's famous Kappabashi kitchen town?

Can tourists in Tokyo buy Japanese kitchen knives?

The short answer is yes, tourists may purchase kitchen knives of any length while visiting Japan. The knife laws, while strict, recognize and have provisions for tourists wishing to take home a piece of legendary culinary art.

Here's how it works: When you purchase a Japanese kitchen knife in Japan, the knife will be carefully wrapped and sealed in a box and then a bag. This is to indicate the knife was purchased by a tourist and not for use inside Japan.

Tourists must resist the temptation to open the package and immediately admire their new kitchen knife. Once the seal is broken, a tourist could be in violation of any number of Japanese laws regarding possession of a weapon. Even without any intent to harm another or erratic behavior, the Japanese government takes these rules very seriously and will enforce them if they become aware of a violation.

What happens if I get in trouble with the Japanese police?

Japan has many strict rules that govern its complex society, but it is generally understood that foreigners are not expected to follow the same rules as Japanese citizens. That may seem like a relief to many tourists. But looking the other way does not extend to weapons, and the Japanese police are vigilant about ensuring the safety of residents.

If you are caught with a knife that has been removed from it's sealed bag and exceeds the fixed blade length of 15cm (5.91 inches), you will likely be detained until it can be determined who you are, where you purchased the knife, and your intentions in possessing said knife. If everything checks out, you may be asked to pay a fine and released - likely without your new purchase.

The severity of the punishments for possession of a knife are not well documented when it comes to tourists, simply because most take a conservative approach to transporting their new purchase. And besides, there's no reason to cook when visiting Japan. There are thousands of amazing restaurants ready to serve tourists delicious Japanese cuisine.

Bringing a Japanese knife through airport security

When it's time to leave, the unbroken seal will also tell airport security that the knife was purchased for use at home. Make sure to keep your original receipt, which will also likely bear an ink stamp from the store that sold it. Typically, the merchant will also affix a seal or sticker to the package identifying the store that sold the item.

Pack knives in your checked baggage only. Never bring a Japanese kitchen knife in a carryon bag.

In conclusion, play it safe and keep Japanese kitchen knives sealed in their original packaging for the duration of your stay. Japanese kitchen knives are crafted with the utmost skill and respect, so please return the favor!