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Everything You Need to Know About Choosing the Best Japanese Knives

If you’re looking to buy the best Japanese knives, you’ve come to the right place. Knives made in Japan are among the best globally, thanks to generations of mastery by local artisans. However, what is it about Japanese knives that sets them apart?

To begin with, they have a razor-sharp edge. A wide variety of foods can be sliced delicately and precisely using these tools. Also, Japanese knives are extremely thin and durable, making them easy to hold and use for an extended period.

Are you ready to upgrade your cutlery collection with the best Japanese knives? Numerous options are available, ranging from paring knives to butcher’s knives and from the best Japanese chef’s knives to the best Japanese kitchen knives.

Our guide begins with a brief history of Japanese knives, explains the forging process, and describes the various types of Japanese knives available. The ten best Japanese knives you can buy on Amazon have been included as a bonus in this list!

Please continue reading if you’re looking for a specific Japanese knife or want to learn more about the art of Japanese blade-making!

Why Buying Japanese Knives Is a Smart Move?

If you would like to hone your culinary skills with the proper knives and tools, there’s no doubt you’ve done your research, which means you’ve narrowed your options to two: Is it better to purchase Japanese or German knives? Let’s examine your options.

In their ways, both German and Japanese knives are considered “the best.” Home cooks and professional chefs will pledge loyalty to German brands such as Wusthof, Henckels, Messermeister or Japanese brands such as Yoshihiro Cutlery, Shun, or Kyocera.

Each country’s knives have their own distinct set of characteristics, but let’s focus on a few key features, namely the steel used and the blade curve.

German knives are made of stainless steel, which makes them corrosion and rust-resistant. They are more durable due to the gentle curve of the blade, which enables mice to rock and chop ingredients commonly used in Western cuisine. While stainless steel is a strong material, it will dull more quickly than a Japanese knife made of high-carbon steel.

On the other hand, Japanese knives are capable of making rapid, precise cuts that easily separate bone and cartilage or slice through produce with little resistance. This is all due to the Japanese blade’s harder yet lighter composition, enabling the knife to maintain its sharpness for an extended period. Indeed, traditional Japanese knives are only honed on one side to achieve the sharpest possible edge.

How did Japanese knives become such sought-after precision instruments? The answer can be found on the Japanese battlefields of history.

The Japanese Knife’s History

The origins of Japanese kitchen knives can be traced back to the battlefield. As a result, you’ll discover a level of precision that has developed into an art form unto itself. Samurai, premodern Japan’s ruling military class, frequently wore a pair of blades: a katana (a long, curved, single-edged sword) and a wakizashi, used as a backup weapon or to improve one’s odds in close combat.

Samurai remained Japan’s noble warriors for nearly 700 years under the shogunate military dictatorship. However, they were most active during the Age of Warring States, or Sengoku jidai, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

However, the Meiji Restoration of 1868 brought about a wave of industrialization and modernization that rendered samurai obsolete. As a result, both the manufacture and possession of katana were prohibited.

Swordsmiths who had mastered their trade for generations quickly learned to adapt their abilities. They began forging knives for domestic use, realizing that kitchen knives could be sold at a premium and without restrictions. Japanese knives are still highly prized today due to their impeccable pedigree and skillful creators.

The Japanese Kitchen Knife’s Traditions

Japanese and western knives serve the same purpose: to cut. There has been considerable crossbreeding in recent decades, with manufacturers from both traditions stealing designs from one another. However, there are several important distinctions between the two in their purely traditional forms.

  • Japanese kitchen knives are frequently only slightly beveled on one side.
  • Japanese knives typically have a steeper bevel angle, which results in razor-sharp edges and makes them more fragile.
  • Japanese knives are frequently made of high-carbon steel rather than stainless steel, making them more prone to acid damage and excellent for edge retention.
  • Western knives are typically constructed with a full tang, whereas Japanese knives are built with a partial tang.
  • Japanese knives are typically lighter and thinner than knives from other parts of the world. The cutting edges of the majority of Japanese knives are straighter than those of their western counterparts.
  • Some Japanese knives are pretty plain, while others are crafted from visually arresting metals such as Damascus steel.

In the following paragraphs, we’ll examine some of the more common Japanese knives and the tasks they’re used for.

The Different Types of Japanese Knives

Japanese kitchen knives evolved from simple, heavy blades (similar to Deba), which come in various well-considered forms and are used for precise tasks. Deba, Usuba, and Yanagiba are great classic trios, especially useful for traditional Japanese cuisine.

However, we will begin with the most frequently used knives and progress to more task-specific knives.

1. Gyuto (Chef’s knife)

Gyuto knives

Gyuto knives

Gyuto knives are the closest thing to a traditional western chef’s knife in the world of Japanese knives. With a slightly curved blade that allows it to rock back and forth on the cutting board, this knife is translated as “beef sword.”

Professional Japanese chefs use it to prepare traditional western cuisine, though it is also quite suitable for Japanese cuisine. In many western kitchens, the knife could potentially replace the chef’s knife.

It is suitable for cutting various meats, both rigid and tender, making an excellent vegetable knife. Additionally, the sharper tip than a santoku knife makes this knife ideal for precision work, such as garnishing.

Gyuto knives are available in various sizes, ranging from the standard chef’s knife length (approximately 8 inches) to almost comically long. In general, the longer the knife, the more powerful it is and the more difficult it is to control. Additionally, it can be a problem if the blade does not fit on the countertops found in most kitchens.

Best Gyuto knives you can choose

2. Nakiri & Usuba (Vegetable Knife)

Nakiri & Usuba knife

Nakiri & Usuba knife

  • Nakiri: A thin rectangular blade used primarily for vegetable cutting, similar to Usuba but much thinner and primarily for home use. Nakiri translates as “greens knife.” The handle of the knife may be Japanese or European. The standard length is 165-180mm, and it is almost always double-beveled.
  • Usuba: A rectangular, thin blade intended for vegetable cutting. In comparison to Nakiri, Usuba has a chisel-ground blade and a traditional Japanese handle. Azumagata Usuba or Kakugata Usuba (“Kaku” means “square”) are both longer Japanese terms for a traditional Japanese vegetable knife. Usuba knives are distinguished by their blade tips, which can be rectangular or semicircular. Kamagata Usuba is a blade with a semicircular tip that originated in the Kansai region. To summarize, Usuba knives differ in terms of their advice, which helps cut various vegetables.

Best Nakiri & Usuba knife you can consider to purchase

3. Santoku (Multi-purpose)

Japanese Santoku knife

Japanese Santoku knife

“Knife of three virtues” is the name given to this Japanese knife, which can be used to cut anything from fish and seafood to vegetables and even meat. Santoku is also known as Santuko in some European countries.

Santoku-Bocho, also known as Bukabocho, is the full name of this knife. Japanese or European handles are available for this knife. The most common length is between 165 and 180 mm, and it is almost always double-beveled.

Japanese knives are becoming more popular in Western kitchens, and Santoku knives may be the most popular. However, this type of knife is as versatile as the Gyuto knife and the chef’s knife, but shorter in length and has a straighter edge and a less sharp tip.

Best-rated Santoku knife 

4. Petty (Paring/Utility Knife)

Petty knife

Petty knife

In essence, the Japanese petty knife is a smaller version of the Japanese Gyuto knife, which makes it ideal for performing small tasks such as peeling produce, making decorative cuts, and completing other delicate functions with precision. A Japanese paring knife, but a little larger, is what this knife is.

The knife should be in every household’s kitchen. Its typical length ranges between 120 and 150mm.

Best Petty Knife you can choose

5. Yanagiba

Yanagiba knife

Yanagiba knife

Japanese traditional knife with a long, thin blade initially used to cut thin slices of raw fish, sushi! Due to the long, thin blade can now be used to cut large pieces of meat (particularly steaks).

Yanagiba knives typically measure between 240 and 360mm in length and, according to some chefs, can be used for various kitchen tasks requiring precision.

Yanagiba knives are easily identifiable by their Japanese handle and chisel ground blade with a minimal angle. In Japan, “Yanagida” translates as “a willow,” referring to the knife’s blade’s resemblance to a willow leaf.

Several blades that are similar include the following:

  • Takobiki is a traditional method of preparing sashimi in the areas surrounding Tokyo.
  • Fugubiki is a thinner, flatter version of Yanagiba used to prepare Fugu fish – the lethal blowfish. This Japanese specialty must be prepared in a specific way to be edible.

Best amazing Yanagiba knife 

6. Deba

Deba knife

Deba knife

A substantial, traditional Japanese knife suitable for more demanding tasks. It was initially intended for filleting and cutting fish and chicken. Deba knives typically measure 165-210mm in length and up to 9mm in thickness. They have a chisel-ground blade and are frequently equipped with a Japanese handle.

Although Deba knives appear to be capable of cutting through fish/meat bones, we should avoid doing so due to the blade’s continued susceptibility to chipping. A Cleaver is the best tool for cutting bones.

Deba knives come in a variety of styles:

  • Hon-Deba is authentic Deba; it is the thickest and heaviest form of Deba.
  • Ko-Deba is a smaller Deba that is more suited to small fish.
  • Kanisaki-Deba is a specialized Deba that is used to cut crabs and, more specifically, lobsters.
  • Yo-Deba is a European-style Deba.
  • Miroshi-Deba knives are used to fillet fish (“Miroshi” means “filleting” in Japanese; these types of Deba knives are thinner and longer).

Some suggestions to choose the best Deba knife

7. Kiritsuke (Slicer)

Kiritsuke knife

Kiritsuke knife

Kiritsuke is a traditional Japanese knife with an angled tip that can be used as sashimi or all-purpose knives. This knife is traditionally reserved for the Executive Chef in Japanese restaurant kitchens and cannot be used by other cooks.

Best Kiritsuke Knife for your choice

8. Pankiri (Bread Knife)

Pankiri knife

Pankiri knife

Pankiri were created and are explicitly used for slicing bread and baked goods. The ridged teeth are specifically designed for this purpose and can cut through both hard crusts and delicate items without crushing.

Best Pankiri knife for slicing evenly bread

The Best Japanese Knives – Consider the Following Factors

Price / Steel Type

Japanese knives are available at a wide variety of price points…from around $50 to over $500! You want to spend according to your skill level.

Generally, more expensive knives are super high carbon steel (blue steel or white steel) and may be Honyaki forged. Although high carbon steel knives are more rigid and thus retain their edge longer, they are also more prone to chipping if not used properly or maintained properly.

For higher-end knives, proper maintenance and regular sharpening are required. As a result, these high-carbon steel knives are only recommended for professionals.

The more affordable, entry-level Japanese knives will almost certainly be made of a stainless steel alloy, which is more durable, easier to maintain, and rust-resistant. The disadvantage is that lower-priced knives will lose their sharpness more quickly than higher-priced knives when used at the same frequency. Most home chefs do not need to be concerned about this because they will not be using their knives nearly as frequently as professionals.

If you are beginning to cook, it is unnecessary to purchase an extravagant knife. While you should still have a high-quality knife, there is no reason to go overboard. Consider the purchase of a car. If you are still learning to drive, purchasing a Ferrari is pointless! A reasonable, serviceable, and inexpensive Japanese knife will likely cost around $100.

Blade Style

Japanese knives are available with double bevels (in the Western-style) or single ones (traditional Japanese style). Single bevel knives are typically reserved for professional chefs because they can make exact cuts or have particular applications (e.g., sushi knives / Yanagi).

 The feel of a single-bevel knife is quite different and requires considerable practice to become accustomed to. If you are not a professional, we suggest starting with a Western-style blade due to its ease of use.

Type of Knife

There are numerous knife types for each blade style (i.e., Western or Traditional). While many of these knives have specific applications (vegetable, fish, carving, butchering, etc.), two Japanese knives are designed for general use: the Gyuto (or Japanese chef’s knife) and the Santoku.

Both of these knives have Western-style blades (i.e., double bevel) and are all-purpose knives due to their versatility in cutting vegetables, meat, and fish.

We recommend that beginners begin with a Gyuto or Santoku and progress from there. Gyuto knives typically have much longer blades (8 to 10 inches / 20 to 25cm) than santoku knives (6 to 7 inches / 15 to 18cm), so if you typically work in smaller spaces, a santoku is a better choice.

Type of Handle

Finally, consider the handle type. Japanese knives are available with either a Western-style or a traditional Japanese-style handle. The Western handle is heavier, more ergonomically shaped, and riveted through the blade’s tang.

They have a more robust feel and are better suited to brute force cutting tasks. Japanese handles are traditionally cylindrical, lighter, and always made of wood.

Traditional Japanese style handles may feel awkward to those who have never used them before, but once accustomed to the feel, they can provide a more delicate touch and control.

Finally, the handle type you choose is a matter of personal preference.

FAQs

The primary decision is whether to use a blade made of high-carbon steel or a blade made of low-carbon (stainless) steel. A high-quality stainless-steel blade provides superior corrosion resistance, ease of maintenance, sharpness, and edge retention.

Avoid cutting directly on hard surfaces such as a benchtop, a stainless steel sink, or plate or chopping boards made of glass, ceramic, bamboo, or Corian. The best chopping boards are made of end-grain wood or soft plastic. Bear in mind that your knives are not indestructible and have limitations.

A Japanese knife features thinner, sharper bevels made of harder steel that retains its edge for an extended period. To constantly strive for excellence is a profoundly ingrained Japanese philosophy that permeates Japanese culture. The harder the steel and the higher the quality, the longer the edge will retain its sharpness.

Only three knives are indispensable in a kitchen: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. Any additional knives are a luxury—they may make cooking more accessible and more enjoyable, but they are superfluous.

As mentioned previously, sharpening and honing a blade are two distinct methods of blade care, but both are necessary for maintaining a sharp blade. As a general rule, if your knife is used frequently in your home, you should sharpen it a few times per year.

Conclusion

A superb Japanese knife will make meal preparation more enjoyable and will help you become a better chef. When selecting your first Japanese knife, there are numerous factors to consider, and the options/variations can be extremely overwhelming. It is critical to evaluate the steel type, blade style, handle style, knife type, and price when purchasing.

As an amateur chef, we recommend beginning with an excellent entry-level Gyuto (i.e., chef’s knife) or santoku (all-purpose knife) before branching out into the seemingly endless variety of knife types (Nakiri, Yanagi, Deba, etc.). We hope this guide proved beneficial in assisting you in selecting a Japanese kitchen knife!

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