Japanese kitchen knives are world-renowned for their incredible detail in every aspect. From the alloy of the steel to the shape of the blade. If you are here, you are wanting to find out exactly what the best Japanese kitchen knives are available on the market.
You don’t have to travel to Toyko, Kyoto or Osaka to find a high-quality Japanese kitchen knife. Some of the top Japanese knife brands are available worldwide. Many even ship direct from Japan.
When choosing your Japanese kitchen knife, use our guide to help you determine which style is best suited for your requirements. During my time as a chef, I have met several cooks who swear by Japanese steel. The reason being is the unique design, attention to detail, quality of the blade material, and the specialization. Too many cooks I see use their chef knife for a wide variety of tasks either out of simplicity or laziness.
Mastering each blade is not a requirement, as much of what you learn when using a proper knife is transferrable. Some knives require rethinking how you thought a knife should be used. This is a good thing. We want to be challenged and put out of our confort zone. That is where everything happens.
Traditional European chef knives are famed for their hardiness and incredibly durable material. Japanese knives tend to be lighter and more agile, which requires time to become acquainted with if trained on European style knives.
Japanese knives provide specialization. This means that each oneis made with a specific role and created for a very specific purpose. If you are looking for information on which Japanese knife to buy first, or if you are looking for what the entire knife set consists of, read on.
GYUTO/GYUTOU (CHEF KNIFE)
The Japanese chef knife can be referred to as the workhorse of the Japanese kitchen knives. It varies from the European style in the length of the knife and the shape of the blade. It is like a French Sabatier without the steepness of the blade curve.
Like most chef knives, this is an all-purpose knife. While it can perform many of the more intricate demands on the modern commercial or home kitchen, it is ill-suited for many of the advanced
The blade edge provides much more contact with the cutting board allowing for less motion. This means you get more precision when chopping different types of cuts.Because Japanese blades tend to be thinner, they compensate for this with much better chemistry to improve strength. Typically you will find most Japanese kitchen knives made with a steel that is derived from carbon steel.
With double beveled edge blades found in many European styles, the size range from 8 – 12 inches. Gyuto Japanese kitchen knife has a similar length but can have either the typical European/Western style handle or a traditional “wa” form. This is straight with an octagonal or round shape and usually made from hardwood.
Avoid using the gyuto when cutting through bone or any other hard material as it is not designed for such tasks. It excels at chopping, prepping, and slicing.
THE SANTOKU (PREP KNIFE)
The santoku knife is a popular style that has appeared more often in North America over the past 10 years. It will be identifiable by its iconic blade divots. This makes it an excellent prep knife for slicing and chopping.
While similar to a chef knife, the santoku is thinner, smaller and lighter allowing for greater agility. The blade edge has a very small angle, making it unsuitable for rock chopping. This design is for up-and-down chopping motion. Those well acquainted with the santoku can chop incredible fast. This is one of its biggest draws. It is not suitable for meat or fish slicing.
The size of the santoku measures from 5 – 7 inches. The large width of the blade compared to its length allows scooping of food easily. We recommend keeping a santoku in your knife roll for the purposes of heavy prep work or long chopping sessions. The reason being the lightweight feel gives you a lot of stamina.
When selecting your santoku, be sure to look for ones made from lightweight high carbon stainless steel.
THE SUJIHIKI (SLICING KNIFE)
Many Japanese chefs and cooks will own a sujihiki knife. This long, narrow blade with a slim blade height makes it good for sashimi slicing and filleting/prepping fish and other protein. It measures from 9.5 to 12 inches and is sharp. Many Japanese sujihiki knives are honedincredibly sharp. The material is a high-quality carbon steel made for lightweight construction. They can rust if kept in moist conditions.
The Western styles are very similar and used in slicing meats for presentation. The long blade gives a large cutting surface to allow for flawless slices of the largest roasts. The sujihiki is similar to the traditional sushi or sashimi knife the yanagi.
Suji is a bit lighter and has flexibility in the blade to allow easier filleting of fish and deboning. This is ideal for trimming and slicing.
The sujihiki is double beveled, which is the biggest difference between it and the yanagi which is a single bevel knife. Some knives sell with a divot or hammered style above the cutting edge to help reduce food sticking to this Japanese kitchen knife when slicing. However, this does not indicate quality and is for aesthetics.
THE NAKIRI KNIFE (MULTI-PURPOSE)
This knife is a traditional knife designed for prep work. It is used as a vegetable knife and works well with continual chopping motions.
Style-wise, it is a smaller version of the cleaver and has a thin blade. The profile of the blade, which is straight-edged from tip to tang. This makes it a good overall choice for anyone who works needs a substantial knife with a good blade for food scooping. The length of the blade is between 5 and 7 inches.
This blade features a double beveled edge and as is a common feature of Japanese knives it is incredibly sharp. There is little to no rocking motion and makes for up and down chopping motion. Using the knife to do most of the cutting is an important skill to learn in all kitchen knives. In Japan, home cooks prefer the nakiri.
Another interesting Japanese kitchen knife is the bunka. This Japanese kitchen knife can handle a wide variety of tasks in the home and on the job. Use it for precision chopping of small ingredients such as garlic, shallots, herbs, and more. It can be used to make very fine paysanne vegetable cuts.
The flat cutting edge makes it suited for up and down chopping and cutting but not well suited for rock chopping.
The blade measures from 5 to 8 inches with a height of 2 to 3 inches from heel to spine making it acceptable for food scooping.
The more high-end blades sell with divots. These provide a surface that food will slide off from easier.
While not a popular knife, the bunka can still be found. But, the santoku has all but replaced this in design and efficiency.
The cleaver is used traditional cooks who prefer the weight of the blade to do most of the cutting. It is not a very precise knife, but it does have major advantages over other knives. The surface area of the knife has fantastic food scooping properties, which increase efficiency when production cooking is important. This is true in professional kitchens and made famous by traditional Chinese chefs.
In Japan, it is called the chukabocho and is used by traditionalists. It has a large rectangular blade 5 to 7 inches in length and an incredible height of 4 to 5 inches. The end is blunt, which is used as a fulcrum and can help in butchering and tenderizing meat. While the loss of precision is evident, it is a surprisingly agile and slicing, chopping and rock chopping are well-supported.
The large surface area is also great for crushing for items such as garlic, nuts, and ginger.
This knife is very similar to the Western/European chef knife and the gyuto. It is designed for more precise slicing and is a workhorse in the Japanese professional kitchens.
It has a thin blade designed to be rigid. It is typically made from carbon steel or a high carbon stainless steel alloy. It is 8 to 10 inches and has a height of 2 inches.
They have a rounded edge for rock chopping, slicing, and prep work. There are two types of deba knives. A Western deba knife is double beveled and has a much thicker blade. The traditional deba is a single bevel and has a thinner blade.
Many Japanese knives rely on the straight blade edge for chopping, but the deba is an exception. Because it mimics the Western chef knife, it also has a Western handle.
A versatile knife to have, this Japanese kitchen knife will quickly become the go-to in your knife bag for its ease and all-purpose nature. It is an all-rounder, designed to meet the needs of any tasks.
FUNAYUKI FILET KNIFE
Traditionally, the funayuki knife was used as a lightweight filet knife for cleaning and prepping on fishing boats. It is a small knife with a thin blade. Much care must be used as it is delicate and can chip and dull easily.
The funayuki knife measures 6 to 9 inches and around 2 inches in height. The edge can be found with both a single or double beveled edge. The precision this knife brings makes it a fantastic choice for filet, sushi, and other Japanese cooking techniques.
When using the funayaki, use long slices made with intention. The sharpness will guide the blade over the thin bones of the filet effortlessly. Pressure should not be used. Instead, use a pulling motion from the fishtail to move the blade through.
A utility knife, the hankotsu is used for precision butchery. It is used for boning, meat trimming and breaking down fowl such as game hens, quail, and other poultry.
It has a sharp tip designed for running along the bone to remove connective tissues, cartilage, and fat.
As with most utility knives, the hankotsu does not have a heel like you would find in other knives. The edge close to what would be the heel is unsharpened. This gives it a good edge for scraping and protection from accidents.
The blade sits at 6 inches and is about 1.5 inches in height. It is a double beveled edge however the cut is offset to favor the right side at around 90/10 making it a right-handed knife only. There are options for special left-handed knives, however, it is rare.
Because of the unique bevel, it is difficult to hone correctly and care should be taken to ensure the edge and angle is kept. Sharpening can be simple with a sharpening angle guide or other aids.
The unibody construction means it is a thick blade, not designed for flexing. They are built for maximum control and are specialized utility knives.
HONESUKI (BONING KNIFE)
The Japanese chefs are renowned for constructing specialized tools for efficiency in their tasks. The honesuki is designed for breaking down poultry and smaller primals.
The design has hard triangular edges and runs heel to tip. The blade is thick with very little flex. The cutting edge is straight, meant for up and down chopping and slicing. No rock chopping.
It has a single beveled edge on the right side. More and more are being made with double beveled edges and would be good for left-handed cooks.
A longer cousin to the honsuki, this knife is designed as a rock-chopping vegetable knife and fish slicing knife. It has a length of 10 to 12 inches with a single beveled edge. They have a short height, around 2 inches. This is to support the light weight and efficiency of chopping vegetables. The multipurpose nature of the
Because of its single bevel, it can take some getting used to for those learning the trade. There are options to have this knife with a double beveled edge for easier use but does not allow for precise cuts.
YANAGIBA (SASHIMI KNIFE)
The yanagiba is your traditional sashimi knife. Used by sushi chefs everywhere. The long blade offers great to travel for slicing, allowing for long, slow, precise cuts to be made to avoid splintering or crushing delicate sushi fish.
Most traditional sushi chefs are trained on this single beveled knife. It is thin and has a sharp tip and a hollow grind to help with removing sushi pieces.