Lately, I've heard of a number of shear companies advertising their shears as being made of Japanese steel. Are these shears as good as true Japanese shears? What's the difference?
Let's first take a half-step back and quickly discuss the idea of "necessary but not sufficient". Many of the best hairstylists (and scissor sharpeners, for that matter), have decades of experience. Is safe then to say that what makes a great stylist is decades of experience? Absolutely not! There are many stylists (and, again, shear sharpeners), who have decades of experience, but aren't particularly good at their craft. If, during those years, they haven't actively been trying to improve their skills through constant education, passion, and hard work, they stagnate, and don't progress as a stylist.
Similarly, shear manufacturing is a combination of multiple important inputs. What quality steel did the manufacturer start with? How was the steel milled and treated when the shears were being produced? Did the person making the shear know what they were doing, or were they just pressing a button on a machine? Is the shear hardware (the fastener system, the finger rest, etc.) high quality or junk? Has the manufacturer been hand-crafting their shears for generations? These inputs are all critical in making a shear, but none on its own is able to result in a great shear. That is, all these inputs are necessary to make a great shear, but none on its own is sufficient to result in a great shear.
Back to our original question. Is Japanese steel enough to make a great shear? Absolutely not! The steel used is a critical input, and only with great steel, can a shear be great. But if the manufacturer, for example, runs its quality Japanese steel through a low-quality Chinese manufacturer, the result is going to be a truly average, and likely even bad, shear.
When you shop for your next pair of shears, make sure you demand that your shears are hand-made in Japan. The Japanese craftsmen hand-making shears for the likes of Hikari and Mizutani, have generations of experience doing so. This experience will quickly become evident when you first cut with truly handmade Japanese shears. Demand the best - look for the required "Made in Japan" stamp on your next pair of quality hair shears!