An Expert Guide to Japanese Knives

Japanese knives are a well-perfected design, having been around for centuries longer than most other styles of knives. Here's a breakdown of some of the main types!

Someone cutting some meat on a cutting board.

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The terms foodie, blogger, food critic, and even Yelp elite have slowly become staples when chatting with friends about their interests. Exposure to more refined cuisine and the boom of classically trained chefs opening more casual restaurants has made everyone wonder, “How do they do it?!”

Without the intense training and, of course, the years of burns, cuts, and some additional emotional scarring, the most easily attainable cooking assets for the wider public are knives. At home, you may be familiar with Western knife designs and brands. In professional kitchens, however, any chef worth their salt will more often than not tell you that their knives are their special companions; and the best companions are Japanese.

Japanese kitchen knives are the culmination of centuries of tradition that date back to feudal Japan. A blacksmith had to go through years of training under a master before making a name for himself. Within the blacksmiths, there was an even smaller niche—the sword-smiths. They held enormous honor and were highly revered as craftsmen. Once the Western powers began expanding their reach and the feudal era started to decline, these genius craftsmen had to pivot in order to make a living. Thus, the rise of fine Japanese knife-making began. Consumers no longer have to settle for a run-of-the-mill stainless steel set of knives. Lucky for us all, Japanese knives are now just a click away.

Below, you will learn more about some of the best choices for Japanese knives and essential knife care to create your own set of professional tools that will perform under any situation.

Gyuto Chef’s Knife

Shun Premier Kiritsuke 8”

The Shun Premier Kiritsuke 8” knife.

A beautiful mirror finish along with the hammered texture and layers of Damascus steel make this knife both a piece of art and a masterful tool. A traditional kiritsuke has a single edge and can be brittle and hard to upkeep, whereas the Shun kiritsuke has none of the drawbacks. The kiritsuke shape gives this knife a more assertive tip, adding the slicing of smaller ingredients such as garlic, shallots, and even berries. The wooden handle provides a bacteria-resistant surface for a comfortable grip. The VG Max super steel core offers a solid cutting edge that lasts day after day regardless of the chore. The finishing touches at the end of the handle add another layer of beauty and pride.

Santoku

Global UKON Santoku Knife Hollow Ground 7"

The Global UKON Santoku Knife Hollow Ground 7" knife.

The Santoku (san-toku: three virtues) is a knife that does exactly what its name says. It is a multiple-purpose knife that can be used on vegetables, proteins, and fruits. The UKON line brings a union of the traditional and new—the knife has the traditional santoku shape and dimensions while having a stainless-steel single body and a signature Global dimpled handle. The hollow grounding on the blade helps ingredients not stick to the knife during the preparation, and the thicker blade gives you more strength with larger and harder vegetables. The CROMOVA 18 stainless steel is easy to clean and sturdy against chipping. As a final detail to why this knife is an excellent choice in its category, the handle design is smoother and slightly rounder than other Global knives, allowing for longer and more comfortable work sessions.

Petty / Utility Knife

Miyabi Kaizen II 4.5” Pakka Wood Utility Knife

The Miyabi Kaizen II 4.5” Pakka Wood Utility Knife.

Chefs own knives of different sizes, and a utility knife (also known as a petty knife) is included in their range. This beautiful 4.5” blade allows for a closer bridge between a petty and a paring knife, creating more precision and flexibility with small ingredients. The FC61 steel core has a balanced amount of carbon for a sharper edge which is then protected by a beautiful 48 layers of damask steel, adding further corrosion resistance. Use this knife to cut a small onion and move right into mincing garlic and shallots with surgical precision and control.

Paring Knife

Misono Handmade Molybdenum 3.1” Paring Knife

The Misono Handmade Molybdenum 3.1” Paring Knife.

The paring knife is the one knife that professional chefs tend to be less particular about. However, they are still not compromising on quality. The Misono Handmade Molybdenum Paring Knife is just as much a workhorse as any larger knife. The High Carbon 13Cr Molybdenum creates a long-lasting edge while the 70/30 knife bevel gives the edge amazing ease of fluidity in every cut. This is a gentler approach to a high-maintenance, single-bevel blade. The handle is made from a composite wood material, allowing for an affordable price with a huge focus on the actual blade. The blade-to-handle finish is nice and smooth, making cleaning effortless.

Sujihiki Slicer

Tojiro DP 10.75” Slicing Knife

The Tojiro DP 10.75” Slicing Knife.

The slicing knife is known as the sujihiki in Japan. This is a knife that rivals the importance of a chef’s knife in many situations in and outside of the professional kitchen. With a 60 Rockwell Hardness (on the scale’s C range from 25 to 65) and a steep double-bevel blade angle on each side, the VG-10 super steel core is a magnificent workhorse. The knife core is also encased by two layers of rust-resistant steel for ease of care. Think of Sunday roasts being sliced with the ease and consistency that can take many a long time to master.

Bread Knife

MAC Professional 10.5” Bread Knife

The MAC Professional 10.5” Bread Knife.

Professional bread knives can sometimes be forgotten or overlooked—unless you are in the pastry line of a restaurant. A high-carbon chrome molybdenum steel with vanadium brings a durable serrated edge to this knife. The light curve of the blade and a sturdy and comfortable handle allow the MAC Professional bread knife to cut through any baguette, milk bread, country loaf, or any other form of bread as easy as sliced bread!

Filet / Boning Knife

Shun Classic Boning & Filet 6”

The Shun Classic Boning & Filet 6” Knife.

In a professional kitchen, you are told a myriad of rules and standards to live by. Among the top standards to perform under is “less is more.” The Shun Classic Boning & Filet knife fits this very concept. It’s flexible to tackle skinning, deboning, and filleting fish, and the curve of the blade along with its thinner tip is perfect to separate poultry and red meat from bone quickly and accurately. The VG-MAX core makes it wear and corrosion resistant which is then further protected by 34 layers of Damascus steel cladding on each side. The edge has a 50/50 double bevel which makes sharpening an easier task.

All of the knives above are designed to produce beautiful knives while delivering incredible performance. All forged, created, and tested in Sakai City, they have quality in common. However, this Expert Guide could not go without mentioning traditional Japanese knives that require a little extra care due to their high-carbon steel content. These special knives hold the sharpest edges and the most beautiful craftsmanship.

Yanagi

Korin Masamoto Sohonten White #2 Hongasumi Quince Wood Handle Yanagi

The Masamoto Sohonten White #2 Hongasumi Quince Wood Handle Yanagi Knife.

The Yanagi style is largely used by sushi chefs for its long and narrow blades and extreme sharpness. The single-bevel knife is a standard in a five-star sushi restaurant. This Masamoto yanagi allows for precise cuts with minimal effort, made from a single high-carbon, Japanese white steel #2 blade. The knife will have a slight heaviness towards the front since the way to cut sushi is by pulling in one stroke. The bolster is made from water buffalo horn as an homage to the traditional customs of blade forging in Japan. The wooden saya cover is also included with your purchase.

Deba

Korin White #2 Hongasumi Deba 7”

The Korin White #2 Hongasumi Deba 7” knife.

The Deba knives are fish butchery tools in Japan. Unlike the yanagi, these are meant to cut through fish bones and cartilage (they are not meant for larger animal bones). A single-bevel blade gives a razor-sharp edge, but the back of the knife is much thicker than other traditional knives, indicating that it is meant to travel with more force. The magnolia handle and saya cover give it a clean and classic traditional look.

Kiritsuke

Korin Itsuo Doi Suisin Hayate Blue #2 Kiritsuke

The Itsuo Doi Suisin Hayate Blue #2 Kiritsuke Knife.

Earlier a Western-style kiritsuke was described, but this knife follows the traditional Japanese style. The Suisin Hayate is a beautiful knife that, at first glance, honors the history of sword and knife making in Japan. The pronounced tip, reminiscent of an actual sword blade, has a striking contrast with the rest of the knife’s detailed design. An ebony wood handle adorns the single-bevel blade. Master blacksmith Itsuo Doi designed this knife using blue Japanese steel and a soft iron body and joined them together at the lowest possible temperature during the forging process—a difficult technique only a master craftsman could practice. Traditionally, only the executive chef of an establishment is known to use this specific style of knife. This is an all-purpose blade that requires a knowledgeable hand to be its user.

In addition to the models above, there are more specific styles of Japanese knives. There are specific tuna knives that are almost as large as a sword. There are noodle knives, blowfish knives, and vegetable knives. Japanese cutlery is based on finding the best tool for the job while also preserving the ingredient as close to its original state. To learn more, reach out to your Cutlery Expert here on Curated.

Knife Care

To care for any knife, a solid set of whetstones is needed. The best duo for any professional or home kitchen is to have one full stone of 1000 grit and a second one of 5000 grit (don’t purchase the double-sided ones). The 1000 stone grinds down the metal, and once a burr or sharp sensation across the blade is achieved, the second stone is used to smooth it out and produce a shiny finish. Soak the 1000-grit stone in plain water for 15 minutes before using it, or at least until the bubbles have subsided. The finer grit stone only needs to have water splashed on it as you sharpen your knife.

For more detailed information on how to sharpen your knives check out “How to Sharpen with a Japanese Master Sharpener” on Youtube with Master Sharpener Vincent Kazuhito Lau from Korin in New York City. If you want to know more about traditional knife sharpening follow the Korin Knives Youtube page for other videos.

There are so many brands of knives out there that it can be difficult to know where to even begin looking. The above suggestions are based on first-hand knowledge of the brands and styles. The prices can be a bit high at times, but this is an investment. Personally, I own knives that are 15 years old that look and perform as well as the day they were gilded. The home kitchen and a restaurant kitchen are not so different—in either place, cooking is a vehicle for sustenance and comfort; it is the labor of creating something special that can then be shared.

Still not sure which knife is the right addition for your kitchen collection? Reach out to a Cutlery Expert here on Curated and we would be happy to help you out and answer any questions!

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Written By
I have worked in restaurants for over 15 years. I have used and purchased all kinds of knives across the years. Knives and food go hand in hand. I love cooking and making people happy with my dishes. I do also enjoy showing others how their own cooking can improve by having the right tools. I have d...

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