Over the past 30 years, a once obscure Japanese farmers knife, the hori hori, has become immensely popular with American Gardeners. Derived from the Japanese verb horu, which means to dig, the name hori hori is an onomatopoetic term which means dig, dig or diggy, diggy, depending on who is doing the translating.
The hori hori is primarily used for shallow digging and roguing out small and medium sized weeds. Its burgeoning popularity arises from its versatility. Americans love a tool that will do many things. Besides loosening soil, making small holes and pricking or grubbing weeds, the hori hori can be used for dibbling, excavating and sawing roots, harvesting root crops, cutting sod, dividing and transplanting perennials.
Hori horis are made with blades of carbon steel or stainless steel, and with handles of wood or molded plastic. Typically, the blade is about 1/4 inch thick, slightly cupped, serrated along one edge, smoothly sharpened along the other, about 1 inch wide and 6 1/2 inches long. The handle can vary in length between 4 1/2 inches and 8 inches, giving the tool an overall length between 11 and 15 inches. It is essentially something between a stout knife and a hell of a stout narrow trowel.
While its origins are somewhat vague, the hori hori may have arisen as early as the 13th century as a tool for managing the satoyama, the boundary land between farm and mountain forests. There it would have been used to harvest or transplant wild vegetables.
Another theory is that the hori hori arose in the wake of the katana kari or sword hunt ordered in the late 1500's by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the imperial prime minister at the time. Hideyoshi sought to restructure Japanese society by disarming farmers, merchants and artisans, ordaining that only members of the warrior class could carry the katana (long sword) and wakizashi (short sword.) The hori hori is shorter and cruder in form than the wakizashi and, as a weapon, no match for daggers used by warriors.
In 1876, Japanese Meiji government outlawed--with certain exceptions--manufacture of the traditional swords. Bladesmiths shifted to making tools for woodworking, cooking and gardening. It is likely that, at that time, the hori hori began to evolve its current form and ubiquity.
The hori hori that we have sold for many years is of the short wood-handled form of carbon steel. Due to supply chain issues the carbon steel version we like is no longer available, and we have switched to a high quality stainless steel tool. If we get the chance to buy a good quality carbon steel one again, we will make that option available in addition to the new stainless steel version. These tools are tough. The stainless steel version will hold its edge for longer than the carbon steel version, but it is more difficult to sharpen. Use care when prying up heavy objects (not a recommended use of the tool). Stainless steel has less give than carbon steel and instead of bending if pushed too far beyond its normal range of use will more likely snap.