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’s
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.
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” thick,
slightly cupped, serrated along one edge, smoothly sharpened along the other,
about 1 ¾” wide and 6 1/2” long. The
handle can vary in length between 4 1/2” and 8”, 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.
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.
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
In 1876, Japan’s
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
sell is of the short wood-handled form and of carbon steel. It is tough and easy to sharpen. (The serrated edge can be sharpened with a
chain saw file.) I prefer it to the
stainless steel version which, while it holds its edge longer, is more
difficult to sharpen and prone to snapping when used for prying up paving stone or other heavy