Exploring Some of the Best Japanese Knives

Published on 09/15/2023 · 9 min readJapanese 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!
Alex Alcarraz, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Alex Alcarraz

Photo by Brands & People

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 themselves. 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

Forge To Table 8" Gyuto Chef Knife

Forge To Table 8" Gyuto Chef Knife

A hammered patina finish along with the five layers of VG-10 high-carbon steel make this knife both a piece of art and a masterful tool. A traditional Gyuto can be brittle and hard to upkeep, whereas the Forge to Table knife has none of the drawbacks. The traditional shape gives this knife a comfortable edge for rolling chops and slicing smaller ingredients such as garlic, shallots, and even berries. An octagonal wooden handle provides a bacteria-resistant surface with a comfortable grip. And the sustainably-sourced Ox horn ferrule is a finishing touch that adds another layer of beauty and pride.

Santoku

Global G 7" Santoku Knife

Global G 7" Santoku 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 G7 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

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 Damascus 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

Cangshan Yari Series 3.5" Paring Knife

Cangshan Yari Series 3.5" 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 Cangshan Yari Paring Knife is just as much a workhorse as any larger knife. The High Carbon X-7 Damascus Steel has 67 layers which produce incredible strength and edge retention. The handle is made from G-10 which is known for extreme durability that won’t swell or crack with moisture. The blade-to-handle finish is nice and smooth, making cleaning effortless. All this comes with a price tag that is well below the equal competition.

Sujihiki Slicer

Forge To Table 10" Sujihiki Slicing Knife

Forge To Table 10" Sujihiki 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 steep double-bevel blade angle on each side, the 5-layer VG-10 super steel core is a magnificent workhorse. The knife is composed with five 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

Shun Classic Offset 8.25" Bread Knife

Shun Classic Offset 8.25" Bread Knife

Professional bread knives can sometimes be forgotten or overlooked—unless you are in the pastry line of a restaurant. A high-carbon VG-MAX steel with vanadium brings a durable serrated edge to this knife. The light curve of the offset blade and a sturdy and comfortable handle allows the Shun Classic bread knife to slice ingredients while giving your knuckles plenty of room to clear the cutting board. This knife is great for processing large amounts of tomatoes (end-of-summer salsa?!), but first it’s a professional-grade bread knife perfect for cutting through any baguette, milk bread, country loaf or sourdough.

Filet / Boning Knife

Shun Premier Boning & Fillet 6" Knife

Shun Premier Boning & Fillet 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 Premier Boning & Filet knife fits this very concept. It is flexible to tackle skinning, deboning, and filleting fish. Not only that, the curve of the blade along and its thinner tip are perfect for separating poultry and red meat from bone quickly and accurately. The VG-MAX core, which makes it wear and corrosion resistant, is then further protected by 68 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 sets above are designed to provide beautiful knives while delivering incredible performance. However, this Expert Guide could not conclude without mentioning the traditional Japanese knives that require a little extra care due to their high-carbon steel content. These special knives hold the sharpest edges and display the most beautiful craftsmanship.

Yanagi

Global Yanagi 10" Sashimi Knife

Global Yanagi 10" Sashimi Knife

The Yanagi style is largely used by sushi chefs for its long and narrow blades and extreme sharpness. This Global Yanagi 10-inch Sashimi knife allows for precise cuts with minimal effort, made from a single high-carbon, Japanese CROMOVA 18 stainless steel blade. The knife will have a slight heaviness towards the front since the way to cut sushi is by pulling in one stroke. The full-stainless steel design simplifies the sanitation process while holding a modern and durable aesthetic.

Deba

Global 7" Deba Knife

Global 7" Deba Knife

Deba knives are fish butchery tools used in Japan. Unlike the yanagi, these are meant to cut through fish bones and cartilage (they are not meant for larger animal bones). A double-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 full-stainless construction with the dimpled grip keeps this Global Deba knife simple to look at, and there’s never a worry about cracked or swollen handles.

Kiritsuke

Miyabi Artisan 9.5" Kiritsuke Knife

Miyabi Artisan 9.5" Kiritsuke Knife

This Miyabi Artisan knife is a beautiful kiritsuke 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. A Pakka wood handle adorns the double-bevel blade. The MC63 steel is made with 63 layers of Damascus steel and 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 a 1000/3000 grit whetstone, I recommend the options from Forge to Table. 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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Shop Kitchen on Curated

Forge To Table Gyuto Chef's Knife · 8 Inch
$94.95
Global G Santoku Knife · 7 Inch · Silver
$129.95
Miyabi Kaizen II Utility Knife · 4.5 Inch · Black
$129.99

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Cangshan Yari Series Paring Knife · 3.5 Inch · Black
$49.95$75.95
Forge To Table Sujihiki Slicing Knife · 10 Inch
$99.95
Shun Classic Offset Bread · 8.25 Inch · Black
$164.95
Shun Premier Boning & Fillet Knife · 6 Inch
$169.95
Global Classic Yanagi Sashimi Knife · 10 Inch · Silver
$159.95
Global Classic Deba Knife · 7 Inch · Silver
$129.95
Miyabi Artisan Kiritsuke Knife · 9.5 Inch · Brown
$269.99

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