The Definitive Guide to Japanese Kitchen Knives
Japanese kitchen knives have a strong tradition dating back many decades. They differ from Western knives in many ways, such as their emphasis on sharpness, their thinner blade, their use of harder steel, and their single-bevel design. In this article, we’ll get into the ins and outs of Japanese kitchen knives, show you what you should be looking for, and give our suggestions for the best Japanese kitchen knives to buy.
1. History of Japanese Kitchen Knives
As you might probably imagine, Japanese kitchen knives have a long history. They share an origin with what we know as a Japanese sword, first being made in Japan in the early Heian period with swordsmithing techniques brought over from China and the Korean peninsula. If you look up the oldest “knife” preserved at the Shoso-in storehouse, you’ll find that it’s shaped like a tiny Samurai sword.
As time went on, Japanese kitchen knives became widely used and so their variety of styles and uses grew. Several types of knives started popping up during the Edo period, such as the Deba knife, the “Yanagiba” knife, and the “Nakiri” knife. Each one of these is designed for a specific use; the Yanagiba, for instance, specialized in sashimi, while the Nakiri was best suited for vegetables.
And as Japanese kitchen knife culture grew, more and more knives started appearing for specific uses, particularly with the introduction of Western meat-eating culture giving way to the “Gyuto” knife (a sort of equivalent to the Western-style chef’s knife). Nowadays Japanese kitchen knives have worldwide acclaim thanks to their sharpness, strong steel, and flexibility.
2. Japanese Kitchen Knives vs. Western Knives
The main difference between Japanese kitchen knives and Western knives is the material. Japanese kitchen knives are usually made from harder steel than Western knives, allowing the knife edges to hold sharper for longer. Japanese kitchen knives place a great deal of emphasis on sharpness, as the thin blade is designed mostly for slicing.
The softer steel used in Western-style knives usually means that their blade edge dulls considerably faster than that of a Japanese kitchen knife. Their softer steel does mean that they’re easier to sharpen, but they will need to be sharpened much more.
While the blade on a Japanese kitchen knife can withstand wear and tear to a greater degree than a Western knife or German knife, the harder steel can also be brittle. This means that you should be careful which knife you use for which task, so as not to damage the steel.
Western knives are also usually more curbed along the blade, which makes them better suited for a to-and-fro chopping motion. Japanese style knives are long and straight, which makes them perfect for filleting fish, for instance.
Japanese kitchen knives also usually (though not always) have a single bevel – this means that the blade steel is only sharpened on one side, and it gets extremely sharp (sometimes featuring a bevel angle as low as 5 degrees).
3. How To Choose a Japanese Kitchen Knife
Knowing everything about Japanese kitchen knives, their history, and how they differ from Western knives is useless if you can’t use that knowledge to select the best Japanese kitchen knives to buy. So let’s take one step further and learn what you should be looking for so you don’t end up feeling short-changed when you pick out a Japanese kitchen knife for yourself.
So what do you need to look for when shopping for the best Japanese knife?
How should a good Japanese kitchen knife feel?
Generally, when you hold any kind of high-end kitchen knife in your hand, you want it to feel like a natural extension of your arm. It should feel comfortable and easy, providing you with confidence instead of trepidation.
Material is also important when it comes to this type of knife. Stainless steel kitchen knives are great, but there are other options available, like carbon steel knives or a good ceramic knife. However, most Japanese kitchen knives are made of Japanese steel (sometimes with stainless steel cladding), with a high Rockwell hardness score, allowing them to hold an edge for much longer.
Because, when it comes to Japanese knives, the name of the game is sharpness; the steel tends to be harder and able to hold an edge for a longer amount of time. They need to have quite a sharp edge to quickly and easily cut through everything from vegetables to large pieces of fish.
There’s a breadth of sizes when it comes to Japanese knives because you can have various types of knives that qualify as such. For instance, there are Japanese chef’s knives such as Santoku or Yanagiba knives, which are usually around the 7-9” range. Nakiri knives (vegetable knives) are also around that range.
But you can also have Japanese style paring knives that are less than 4” long, you can have cleavers that are 9” long, or a sashimi knife upwards of 10” long. There’s no single size for a Japanese kitchen knife, as it’s a pretty broad descriptor.
If this is your first-ever time buying a Japanese kitchen knife, you might not know what to even look for when it comes to weight. In a general sense, Japanese knives are lighter than Western style knives, but in some cases, they carry a good amount of heft (such as in the case of a Japanese style cleaver).
Because of their construction and materials, Japanese kitchen knives tend to feel more balanced in the hand than Western style knives. This is one of the reasons they’re so popular among professional chefs as well as home cooks; using them feels natural and easy.
Where do you get a good Japanese kitchen knife?
Yes, you could venture out and pick one out in person, but thanks to the Internet it’s easier than ever to find a knife that’s right for you. You can also purchase Japanese kitchen knives as part of a knife set (some of them come with a handy knife block) but it’s sometimes preferable to purchase the knives individually, especially if you’re only looking for a specific knife type.
4. Top Japanese Kitchen Knives To Buy
Now that we know what we should be on the lookout for, let’s take a look at the very best Japanese knives available for purchase. We’re giving you a selection of various types of Japanese knives, from all-purpose style chef’s knives down to knives designed for more specific tasks.
Without further ado, here’s our list of the most acclaimed/best-selling Japanese kitchen knives on the market.
Every kitchen needs a chef’s knife, so we’re starting things off with this top-of-the-line Japanese style chef’s knife. As far as its build, performance, and looks this gorgeous piece from Dalstrong’s Shogun Series ELITE is the Japanese chef knife to beat. Made of an AUS-10V Japanese super steel core, a 67-Layered Damascus knife is sharpened under the ancient 3-step Honbazuke method. It comes in at a Rockwell Hardness Score of 62+, guaranteeing incredible edge retention.
- With a gorgeous hammered finish and the Shogun Series X “Tsunami Rose” blade pattern, this is probably the most beautiful chef’s knife you’ll ever come across.
- Extremely sharp, hand-sharpened to an incredible 8-12 degree angle per side.
- The stainless steel knife blade is extremely durable and holds its edge wonderfully.
- It’s very comfortable to hold thanks to its ergonomic military-grade G10 handle with a unique copper mosaic.
- For a chef’s knife, this is towards the upper end of the price range represented in this list. It’s a premium product, so you very much get what you pay for.
- If you’re more of a fan of simplicity than “busy” knife designs, consider some of the other knives in this list.
This chef’s knife from Dalstrong’s acclaimed Phantom series has a Kiritsuke shape. That means it has a sword-like front end as well as a straighter edge, which makes it fantastic for push cuts. You can use this Kiritsuke chef’s knife for anything from slicing fish to chopping up various greens; a powerful and versatile tool for any home cook’s arsenal.
- Made of top-of-the-line Japanese AUS-8 steel.
- Each blade is hand-sharpened using the traditional Honbazuke method, which brings the edge to a razor-sharp 13-15 degrees, making it perfectly suited for effortless cuts.
- A truly beautiful knife, engraved with the Japanese kanji for “phantom”.
- Features a traditional Japanese knife D-shaped black pakkawood handle for easy and comfortable use.
- At 9.5”, this is a pretty large chef knife, which has its advantages and also its drawbacks. You should ask yourself if you need a knife this long or if you’d benefit from a slightly smaller model.
- If you’re more used to Western style blades, you might be a little thrown by the feel and balance of this Kiritsuke Japanese blade, but you’ll settle into it in no time.
Nakiri knives are awesome for vegetable preparation; you’ll find yourself wondering how you ever went through life without them, especially if you have to prep large amounts of vegetables for dishes like stir-fries or salads.
- Precision-forged from a single piece of ice-tempered Japanese AUS-8 steel with added levels of chromium (which aids in stain resistance).
- Coming in at 58 Rockwell, fantastic hardness and edge retention.
- A low-maintenance vegetable knife that’s extremely easy to clean and look after.
- The edge is hand-finished with a mirror polish.
- Unlike some of the other knives in this list, this handle is made of Spanish pakkawood instead of G10 Garolite; it’s a matter of preference, of course, so your mileage may vary.
- This 6” nakiri, due to its construction, is a little lighter than you might be expecting if you’re used to using an all-purpose chef knife to cut vegetables.
If what you’re looking for is a double-bevel Kiritsuke knife, you found the one. This is a fantastic knife, particularly if you’re all about the push-cut. It fuses the design of traditional Yanagiba (fish slicing knives) with that of Usuba (vegetable knives). With its long straight edge and its sword-shaped tip, you’ll be able to make quick work of any kitchen task.
- Here’s an 8.5” precision forged blade at 62+ Rockwell hardness, for the best performance and edge retention.
- This is an absolute showstopper when it comes to looks, featuring the Shogun Series Tsunami Rose blade pattern as well as the Dalstrong lionhead engraved logo.
- Comes with an ultra-premium, highly durable G10 garolite handle.
- Its tapered blade minimizes surface resistance and makes any kitchen task so much easier.
- This is another absolute top-of-the-line premium product, among the very best Kiritsuke knives money can buy, so it is perhaps a bit more expensive than some home cooks want to spend. Remember: this is an investment. If you’re trying to stay under a certain budget, there are many other great knives available on this list that should suit you.
- At 8.5”, it’s also one of the largest multi-purpose knives on the list. Some home cooks might prefer something smaller.
This 9.5” single bevel Yanagiba slicer is just about all you need to master the art of sashimi slicing. This incredible slicer with its long and narrow blade will make it super easy to cut extremely thin slices of fish as well as just about any other meat, cutting effortlessly through the flesh without completely massacring it and sacrificing the quality of your meal.
- A thicker, heftier blade for extra rigidity, making it easier to slice easily through various meats such as poultry, pork tenderloins, fish, and other tender meats.
- The blade is precision forged with premium Japanese AUS-8 steel at 58 Rockwell hardness.
- Its traditional, single-bevel knife design makes it uniquely suited for all kinds of slicing, though it especially excels when cutting through fish.
- Perfect size for effortlessly slicing into larger cuts of meat.
- The thickness of the blade should throw some people off, especially because it’s a Japanese knife, but it’s perfect for slicing due to the increased rigidity of the blade.
- Its large size might be intimidating for some home cooks, but you’ll get used to it; it makes slicing large cuts of beef way easier.
A Japanese style boning knife from Dalstrong’s Shogun series, bringing the best ideas from Japanese knife construction and applying them to boning knives. This 6” boning knife is excellent for deboning various cuts of beef, pork, and wild game. You’ll be able to filet, skin, trim, and butterfly just about any piece of meat you need with this slick and stylish knife.
- This knife is precision-forged from a single piece of ultra-premium Japanese AUS-10V stainless steel, with 66-alternating layers of Damascus cladding. Looks awesome, and works great.
- Not only that, but the blade itself looks gorgeous thanks to the Dalstrong Tsunami Rose blade pattern.
- Its 66 layers of high-carbon stainless steel cladding make it a strong, powerful, durable piece of kitchenware that can help you sail through all your deboning needs.
- Engineered with a zero-balance feel; perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
- If you’re the kind of person who prefers the feel of wood, there are several knives in this list that feature a Spanish pakkawood handle. This one is made of military-grade G10 garolite, which is highly impervious to heat, cold, and moisture.
- Some boning knives have smaller handles, but this knife’s slightly larger handle contributes to its zero-balance feel.
Ah yes, the good old Santoku knife. A style of knife that works as the Japanese equivalent to the chef knife, though with a few key differences. For one, it incorporates some elements of the cleaver, making it suited for a wide variety of tasks. And the shape and width of the Santoku blade help with push cuts and food transfer. An awesome tool for the discerning home cook.
- Precision forged with premium Japanese AUS-8 steel, with added chromium for stain resistance.
- Like most Santoku blades, it features rock hollow divots to minimize stuck-on food, and allow air pockets to reduce friction in cutting.
- Painstakingly hand-sharpened, using the traditional Honbazuke method, to an impressive 13-15 degrees.
- An incredible value for the price; the perfect gift for the foodie in your family.
- This knife handles great, but it is indeed on the lighter side as far as heft goes, so look elsewhere if you’re looking for a heavy knife.
- If you’re looking for a chef knife, maybe look into the Chefs Knife 8" | Shogun Series ELITE.
Once again here’s an example of a traditional Western knife being improved with the concepts and construction of a Japanese knife. This 3” bird’s beak paring knife is a fantastic peeling knife, great for fluting mushrooms, creating garnishes, or prepping small fruits and vegetables. Not only that, but the materials are just awesome.
- Features incredible sharpness at 8-12 degrees per side, allowing you to make quick work of just about any culinary challenge a bird’s beak paring knife could face.
- The blade itself is made of AUS-10V Japanese super steel core, with 67-layered Damascus steel sharpened under the ancient 3-step Honbazuke method.
- Even at a tiny 3”, this knife looks awesome with the Tsunami Rose blade pattern.
- Triple riveted for even more resilience.
- This little knife packs a wallop; it’s much heavier than you think it is, which might take a moment to get used to at first.
- Your friends will want to steal this nifty little knife from you. I’m serious. I speak from experience.
Cleavers have a lot going for them. Not only are they big, heavy knives designed to very easily chop and portion a wide range of foods (they are most commonly associated with meats but they are extremely useful for chopping vegetables too), but they also are one of the cooler-looking knives you’ll find. This awesome 9” Japanese style cleaver, nicknamed “The Banshee,” is no exception.
- The blade is made of precision forged Japanese AUS-8 metal with added chromium.
- Hand-polished blade to a 13-15 degree angle; extremely sharp.
- It features a mirror polished bolster to aid with balance and comfort.
- Also feels great to hold, thanks to its premium quality laminated pakkawood handles.
- Because it is a cleaver, it does have some heft to it, which you might take a moment to fully get used to.
- This cleaver’s shape and size make it fantastic for all sorts of heavy-duty tasks, but if you’re needing to make smaller, more precise cuts, maybe take a look at one of the other options here.
Whether you’re working with hard crusts, thick crusts, wide loaves, soft loaves of bread, or even thick sausages or juicy produce, a serrated bread knife is a fantastic go-to thanks to its saw-tooth serrations. And this awesome Japanese style bread knife from Dalstrong’s Shogun series has great engineering and materials going for it.
- Have you ever seen a bread knife that looked this good? Its serrated blade features Dalstrong’s Tsunami Rose pattern, making this a gorgeous piece.
- Speaking of those great materials: this 10.25” precision forged blade is made up of an ultra-premium Japanese AUS-10V “super steel”, with 67 layers of high-carbon stainless steel cladding.
- Ultra-premium G10 Garolite handle, with an ergonomic shape for great comfort.
- Features a hand-polished blade spine for better pinch grip comfort.
- It is a bread knife, so its uses are very specific. Though you can apply it to other things, it excels at cutting bread. If you’re looking for more of a multi-purpose knife, there are other great options around.
- Because of its serrations, sharpening can seem like a bit of a challenge, but it can be done: here’s how to sharpen a serrated knife.
We’re back to cleaver country, and this awesome 7” cleaver from the Phantom series is a fantastic option for anyone who wants the benefits of a larger cleaver (heft, balance, chopping power) in a smaller package than the 9” Banshee above. A great Japanese style cleaver knife for home cooks, pitmasters, and any kind of knife enthusiast.
- The blade is carefully tapered to ensure easy cuts.
- Forged from a single piece of high-carbon, ice-tempered Japanese steel. Great edge retention and strength.
- A comfortable, ergonomic black Spanish pakkawood handle makes this feel great as well as look amazing.
- This is a fantastic value; you get a premium kitchen instrument that will last a lifetime for a low, low price, making it a great gift for the home cooking enthusiast in your family or friends group.
- Though you can do quite a bit with this knife, it’s not quite as all-purpose as a chef knife. If you’re needing a knife for more general use, check out the Santoku or Yanagiba knives listed above.
- This 7” Japanese style cleaver does feature some heft to it, which might throw you off at first if you’re not used to operating with this type of knife.
5. Frequently Asked Questions
Why are Japanese kitchen knives so good?
Japanese knives are often preferred because they’re lighter, they have a more balanced feel, and they are made of steel that is harder and more durable than other knife styles.
What is a good Japanese knife for beginners?
If you’re new to the world of Japanese knives, you can’t go wrong with a chef knife like a Gyuto knife or Santoku knife. Even a Deba knife could work. These are knives that are very versatile as well as easy to use, making them the best Japanese chef knife for beginners.
What is a Japanese chef knife called?
Several types of Japanese kitchen knives are comparable to a Western style chef’s knife. These all-purpose knives include Santoku knives or Gyuto knives. Some consider Yanagiba knives part of this, though their purpose is mostly related to slicing boneless fish filets for sashimi and sushi dishes. A Deba knife can also serve several purposes.
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Written by Jorge Farah
Born on the coast of Colombia and based in Buenos Aires, Jorge is a cooking enthusiast and kitchenware obsessive with a tremendous amount of opinions.