Hone Your Knowledge of Japanese Cooking Knives

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Japanese kitchen knives are known for their superb quality and aesthetic appeal around the world. The issue is that they are surrounded by so much legend and romanticism, not to mention a mind-bogglingly vast variety of prices and varieties, that it can be challenging to choose.

These chef’s blades are dependable, accurate and of course sharp enough to make them the tool of choice in many professional kitchens across the world. But what distinguishes a sushi knife from a general-purpose kitchen knife? And why not fillet a fish with a veggie knife? Find out by reading on.

Japanese vs. Western knives

Modern Japanese knives are known for being expertly polished and constructed from durable high-quality steel.

Hagane, a kind of carbon steel with several gradations, is typically used to make Japanese knives. Hagane is a metal that can be used to create cutting tools because it can maintain an incredibly sharp edge. However, since hagane is relatively soft steel, it must be maintained often. While expert chefs consistently sharpen and care for their knives, a hagane blade that is not maintained will become dull, chip and rusty.

As a result, the edges can retain their sharpness longer. Compared to Western knives, the blade can tolerate more wear and tear, although the tougher steel can be brittle. You must be sure to use the appropriate Japanese knife for each operation. The edge of the Japanese chef’s knife may be damaged if you attempt to cut through a chicken bone with it, as opposed to the Western chef’s knife. The blade shape of Japanese-style knives is also distinct in that it is rarely ever curved. Due to their length and straightness, long and straight-edged knives should only be sharpened with special care.

In your quest, you can also come across a lot of ways, or conventional Japanese wooden handles. When selecting a knife, the grip is crucial since it affects the tool’s balance and weight. Additionally, the handle changes how the blade is used by making it lighter and more front-loaded.

Stainless steel or high carbon?

Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, approximately 10-15% chromium, possibly nickel, and molybdenum, with only a small amount of carbon. Kitchen knives with excellent stainless steel blades are rust resistant, simple to maintain, sharp, retain their edges, and simple to resharpen. As a result, they are becoming well-liked by both novice and intermediate users.

High-carbon steel is a higher-grade stainless steel alloy containing a certain quantity of carbon. It is designed to combine the greatest qualities of carbon steel with regular stainless steel. High carbon stainless steel blades keep their edge for a significant amount of time without fading or staining.

General rules for choosing a knife shape

  • A knife made for cutting fresh fish has a very thin blade, but a knife used for cutting vegetables and fruits has a considerably wider blade;
  • The more curved the edge, the better suited it is for chopping, rolling, cutting and slicing. The simpler it is to slice (with a lateral motion, as you would with smoked salmon), dice (as you would do with potatoes or vegetables), and chop (with a straight vertical cut), the smoother the edge will be;
  • For cutting quickly or with a conventional rolling action, narrow blades are not appropriate. Furthermore, they cannot be chopped with them;
  • Since wide blades are typically longer than their smaller siblings, paring, peeling, and general cutting with them in hand is challenging.


Unsurprisingly, the fundamental structure of a knife (a blade with a handle) has essentially not altered much over the past 10,000 years. The materials used to make knives and the forms of their handles, however, have changed and continue to change. Generally speaking, the following factors affect the knife’s cost and quality:

  • the grade of the steel or other material used to make the blade;
  • the knife’s weight and feel;
  • how the blade was shaped;
  • the ability to avoid corrosion, the edge’s durability, and its sharpness;
  • re-sharpening frequency;
  • handle design, forging, and quality.

Types of Japanese cooking knives

For Vegetables

The petinaifu – this agile blade, which is typically used for herbs, tiny vegetables and fruit may be handled with ease in your hand or on a chopping board.

  • Perfect for smaller kitchens
  • Pair it with the gyutou
  • Size: 8 to 18 cm

The nakiri knife is a great tool for those who enjoy vegetables. The broad blade may also be used to move your clippings around the kitchen.

  • Large, clean vegetable cuts
  • Quick and easy to use
  • Size: 12 to 24 cm

The usuba knife resembles the nakiri in many ways, including its flat edge and cleaver-like appearance. To achieve finely shaved fruit and vegetables, the usuba’s single-bevel and razor-sharp features make it appropriate.

  • Primarily for professional chefs
  • Single-bevel
  • Size: 16.5 to 24 cm

For seafood

The deba knife is the ideal knife for skinning and filleting wonderful, fresh fish. Despite its substantial spine, it may be used softly with sufficient experience.

  • Cuts through bone
  • For butchering a whole fish
  • Size: 15 to 33 cm

The yanagiba knife – its exquisite length and single-bevel edge, like a traditional Japanese-style knife, make it the ideal instrument for long, unbroken slices into your fillet.

  • For perfect sashimi cuts
  • Size: 21 cm (8 inches) to 36 cm (14 inches)

For beef and chicken

The sujihiki knife is a slimmed-down variant of the European carving knife and resembles the yanagiba in appearance and cutting style. When applied properly, you will have no visible tears and clean cuts.

  • A slimmed-down carving knife.
  • Get cuts similar to a sashimi knife
  • Size: 21 to 36 cm

The honesuki knife – although it can’t cut through huge bones, its angled point is more than capable of cutting through annoying wishbones and bothersome cartridges.

  • Break down an entire chicken
  • Maneuverable
  • Size: 14.5 to 18 cm

Where to buy

  • Tojiro: Durable knives made in Niigata employing traditional katana swordsmithing techniques.
  • Ryusen: Knives of the highest caliber are produced by a 700-year-old method.
  • Yoshikin: In charge of the prestigious Global brand once supported by Anthony Bourdain.
  • Kai: Manufactures the well-known Shun brand and offers affordable blades in every price range.
  • Masamoto: These artisans continue to focus on producing flawless traditional Japanese-style knives six generations later.


The list might go on forever, with items like the all-purpose kiritsuke bocho (slit-open knife) for true professionals or the hankotsu bocho (“rebellious” knife) for hanging meats among the possibilities. Therefore, it is advisable to conduct more studies to select the ideal Japanese knife for your kitchen.

If this is your first experience using Japanese blades, don’t worry. Additionally, you may get a knife to test thanks to our 45-day money-back guarantee, which is offered without any conditions. Simply return it if you don’t like it, and we’ll refund your money. You will locate your ideal kitchen equipment with ease if you follow our selection recommendations for knives: function and budget should come first, followed by aesthetics.

Just keep in mind to invest in equipment like a hocho togi (knife sharpener) and oil to maintain them sharp and polished once you’ve purchased your favorite item and are proudly wielding it.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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