If you’ve ever had to use a blunt knife to chop away at an onion, you’ve probably found yourself frustrated and sweating after what feels like a workout for the hands. Luckily, the best Japanese knives combine centuries of tradition with performance and precision that deliver outstanding results and superb durability. In this article, we share the 5 best Japanese kitchen knives, their history, and where you can find them.
Table of Contents
A Brief History of Japanese Knives
The story of the first Japanese knife actually began more than 1,000 years ago when samurai swords were forged, which are still known to be among the finest weapons created. Even when they were no longer needed by the end of 1853 during the Meiji Restoration, swordsmiths were still dedicated to their craft. During the shift from a feudal society to one that’s more peaceful, they left the art of swordmaking to the creation of high quality knives that can be used every day.
They adapted everything they knew about metallurgy and their creative techniques that resulted in exceptionally durable, sharp, and beautiful blades. Through the years, the creation of a simple stainless steel knife became an art form, producing blades that aren’t just functional, but also show their makers’ craftsmanship. Today, Japanese knives are highly desirable and sought after due to their high performance and quality that you won’t find anywhere else.
What are Traditional Japanese Knives?
With a long history of creating different specialized knives, Japan’s bladesmiths have designed each knife to serve a specific purpose around the kitchen. Here are the most common knives.
- Gyuto Knife: A versatile chef’s knife that’s the equivalent of its Western counterparts, and is perfect for dicing, slicing, and chopping.
- Santoku Knife: Santoku knives are shorter than the Gyuto, making them more popular among home cooks, and are great for dicing, mincing, and slicing.
- Nakiri Knife: This vegetable knife comes with a thin and rectangular blade that can slice and chop vegetables with ease and precision.
- Yanagiba Knife: A long and narrow-bladed knife that’s used mainly for slicing raw fish and is the best knife for making sushi.
- Deba Knife: This durable, single-bevel knife is designed for breaking down poultry and filleting fish, making it an essential part of Japanese knife sets.
- Usuba Knife: Featuring a thin and flat blade, this knife is ideal for slicing, chopping, and peeling vegetables for decorative purposes.
- Sujihiki Knife: This is a long and slender knife that has a double-bevel edge, making it perfect for slicing boneless fish and meats with little resistance.
These are just the most common Japanese knives you may encounter, and as you can see, each serves a particular purpose and features unique designs to help elevate your kitchen experience.
Different Types Of Steel for Japanese Knives
Knives made in Japan are known to be exceptionally sharp and durable, which can be attributed to the many kinds of steel used to construct them. Below, we discuss these kinds of steel and how they help to create beautiful kitchen knives.
- Carbon Steel: This is a common choice for making Japanese knives and is both sharp and easy to sharpen. However, carbon steel knives can be prone to discoloration and rush if not well maintained.
- Damascus Steel: Often displaying wavy and stunning patterns, Damascus steel can be made by forging and layering various kinds of steel. This technique results in a sharp and strong blade that has great edge retention.
- VG10: A high-quality stainless steel that’s popular due to its corrosion resistance, edge retention, and sharpness. This is often used as the core steel when making Damascus knives.
- Molybdenum Steel: This kind of stainless steel contains molybdenum, a trace mineral that increases hardness, strength, and corrosion resistance. Knives with this mineral are often easy to sharpen and are reasonably priced.
- Powder Steel: This powder is made through powder metallurgy, which results in a highly uniform steel composition. This means that your knife will have excellent edge retention, corrosion resistance, and sharpness.
To help determine and measure the hardness or resistance to the indentation of a knife, the Rockwell hardness scale is used. The harder the Rockwell hardness number (HRC) is, the harder the steel will be. In general, steel that’s harder will have sharper edges but will be also more brittle and prone to chips and damage.
Types of Steel Used in Western Knives
In comparison, Western-style knives also use different types of styles but aren’t as varied as their Japanese counterparts. Here are some of the most common options.
- Stainless Steel: Because of its durability and resistance to rust, this is among the most popular types of steel used in knife making. Because it’s more forgiving compared to hard Japanese steel, it’s less prone to chips and easier to maintain.
- High Carbon Stainless Steel: This blend of stainless steel and high carbon steel offers the best of both options. It seamlessly combines the rust resistance of stainless steel and the sharpness of carbon steel.
- Tool Steel: This high-performance steel is often used for creating heavy-duty knives needed for cutting. It has high resistance to daily wear and tear as well as edge retention but can be more prone to rust compared to stainless steel.
- Carbon Steel: Like Japanese knives, Western knives are also made from carbon steel, which provides exceptional sharpness but may need more care to stop it from rusting.
Japanese-Style Knives Vs. Western-Style Knives
When it comes to the best knives, both Japanese and Western knives have their own benefits and characteristics. Below is a table of how they stack up against each other.
|Blade Shape||Japanese knives will often have a more delicate and thin blade, which allows for more precise cuts and intricate work.||Western knives have a more curved and broader blade, making them the better choice for slicing bigger ingredients and rocking motions.|
|Blade Edge||These are sharpened on one side only, resulting in an incredibly sharp blade. This makes it perfect for precise tasks.||These are sharpened on both sides, making them a more versatile choice but not as sharp as their Japanese counterparts.|
|Blade Hardness||These are often made from harder steel which contributes to its sharper edge. However, this makes them prone to chipping.||On the other hand, Western knives are made from softer steel. This results in a more durable blade but their cuts won’t be as precise.|
|Maintenance||Because of their thinner blade and harder steel, they will need to be carefully handled. They will need sharpening more frequently but are more prone to damage.||Thanks to their thicker blades and softer steel, these are generally easier to maintain. As such, they’re the better choice for everyday home use.|
No matter which you might think is the better option, the best choice will come down to your personal preference along with the tasks you’ll be using it for. Some professional chefs prefer using a mix of both to take advantage of their great strengths.
The Best Japanese Kitchen Knives
Japan is known for its many renowned knife smiths, each of which has its own history, style, and techniques. Below is a list of top picks for Japanese knife brands and the best Japanese blades they have to offer.
- Comes with bolstered handles that add weight without the balance point changing
- Made from sub-zero tempered alloy that’s 10% to 15% stronger than molybdenum steel
- Includes great bread and paring knives that are sharp straight out of the box
- Known as their best-selling knife set that contains an 8” chef’s knife with dimples
In 1964, Tadafusa Iida established the Mac company which became popular thanks to their advanced manufacturing techniques and innovative designs. Their Professional Series is their most loved product, which offers their sharpest stainless steel blade that helps the knife drive into harder ingredients such as onions and carrots. They also come with an ergonomic Pakkawood handle that feels like wood and has been reinforced to have the same durability as plastic.
This particular set includes their best-selling MTH-80 Pro series 8″ Chef’s knife which comes with dimples, which allows you to get a better grip and a more comfortable experience. It’s also been designed with all kinds of cooks in mind, offering comfort for both left and right-handed chefs. Because of their ease of use, durability, and sharpness, Mac knives are commonly found in both the commercial and home kitchen.
- A 3-piece set that includes a chef knife, paring knife, and prep knife
- Made from high-tech molybdenum and vanadium Cromova high-carbon steel
- Has a 56 to 58 Rockwell rating for hardness, making it suitable for professional kitchens
- Made in Japan and comes with a lifetime warranty
Global knives were introduced to the market in 1985 by Komin Yamada, a visionary designer who created stainless steel knives with a distinct, yet modern design. The G Series knives are their best-selling products, featuring CROMOVA 18 stainless steel which carries the unique composition of carbon, chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium. As such, each blade has excellent balance and sharpness, while their ease of maintenance and superior performance have helped the brand gain loyal consumers.
This knife set includes a 3.5” paring knife, a 5” prep knife, and a 7” hollow edge chef’s knife. Each knife comes with a stainless steel molded and dimpled handle to provide a safe grip; it also has the right amount of sand for a good balance. Using modern technology in the production of their knives has set the standards so high that the company provides a lifetime warranty for their products.
- Features a VG-MAX cutting core, stainless Damascus blade, and 34 layers on each side
- With a 60 to 61 Rockwell rating that allows it to stay sharp for a long time
- Has a D-shaped Pakkawood handle that’s durable, strong, and resists moisture
- Handcrafted in Seki, Japan
Shun is a subsidiary of the KAI Group, where its knives are handcrafted in Seki City, a small town in Gifu Prefecture, Japan, known for its impressive 700-year history in knife-making. The knives themselves have been around for over 100 years and are known for their gorgeous Damascus steel blades that have a razor-sharp edge and outstanding craftsmanship. These Classic Series pieces feature VG-MAX steel cores and 68 layers of Damascus cladding, which is a popular choice among both chefs and amateur cooks.
These knives feature a Rockwell Harness of 60 to 61, with a hand-sharpened double-bevel blade with the cutting edge on a 16° angle at each side. The D-shaped Pakkawood handle is built for comfort — be sure to hand wash each knife with a gentle dish soap and dry it right after. This set includes a 3.5-inch paring knife, a 7-inch Santoku knife, an 8-inch chef’s knife, a 9-inch combination honing steel, multi-purpose kitchen sheers, and an 8-slot dark wood knife block.
- Each blade consists of 132 layers of steel, delivering a beautiful floral Damascus pattern
- Made from MC66 micro-carbide steel that’s hardened to a 66 rating on the Rockwell scale
- With a D-shaped handle made using stunning black ash
- Sharpened using the traditional Honbazuke method that has 3 steps
Miyabi knives are part of the Zwilling J.A. Henckels group and were first introduced in 2004 which combines German engineering with traditional Japanese craftsmanship. This Miyabi Black 5000MCD series is considered to be a true work of art that’s made from micro-carbide powdered MC66 steel to provide the perfect balance of function and form. It was then ice-hardened to 66 HRC, which resulted in an exceptionally sharp edge, but be sure to clean it after each use to maintain a lasting edge.
With 132 layers of steel, it displays a gorgeous Damascus pattern, while its handle was crafted from a unique black ash wood that contrasts the blade. Handcrafted in Seki, Japan, the handle also has a traditional “D” shape that allows for comfortable and fatigue-free cutting. Included in this set are a 3.5” paring knife, 5.25” prep knife, 5.5” Santoku knife, 8” chef’s knife, 9.5” bread knife, 9” sharpening steel, and kitchen shears, while the knife block comes with magnetic strips that allow for seamless attachment.
- Made with a VG10 super steel core, 3-ply clad construction between two layers of rust-resistant stainless steel
- Features a 60 rating on the Rockwell Scale, which stays sharper for longer
- With a 12-degree double-bevel edge that’s suitable for left and right-handed users
- Has a highly durable black micarta handle with full tang construction for a comfortable grip
If you’re looking for high-quality steel at an affordable price point, the Tojiro DP series has a wide range of knives for you to choose from. First introduced in 1953 in Niigata, Japan, this brand is known for creating sharp, durable, and high-quality knives. With a 3-layer construction and a VG10 stainless steel core, this Japanese kitchen knife set provides outstanding performance at affordable prices.
This set features a 4” paring knife to help you peel fruits and vegetables as well as make intricate cuts, while the 6” utility knife is a great multitasker around the kitchen. The 8.25” Gyuto knife is the perfect replacement for the petty knife you have at home, which can carry out all kinds of tasks, which is why it’s well-known in the world of Japanese knives. Finally, its triple-riveted traditional Micarta handle features a bolster that has balance and heft for comfort as well as complete sharpening of your blade.
What Kind of Knives Did Anthony Bourdain Have?
You’re probably wondering what kind of knives this celebrity chef used to give you an idea of which brand to consider. It doesn’t come as a surprise that he favored using the Global G-2 8-inch Chef’s Knife whenever he cooked in the kitchen. This well-balanced and lightweight knife lives up to its brand’s reputation, which delivers precision and sharpness that’s perfect for making Japanese cuisine.
We hope that this article has helped you find the best Japanese knife that will soon be your best friend in the kitchen. It’s not always easy to make a clean cut when making food in the kitchen, but you can be sure that these Japanese kitchen knives can help you enjoy a better cooking experience. However, before going off to buy your new knife set and other Japanese cutlery, it’s a good idea to read up on reviews left by novice chefs such as yourself to see real feedback on these items to ensure that they will answer your needs.
- Kitchen Accessory Buying Guides
- Kitchen Appliance Buying Guides
- Kitchen Cookbook Buying Guides
- Kitchen Cookware Buying Guides
- Kitchen Pantry Food Buying Guides
- Does Food Go Bad Articles
- Food Comparison Articles
- Foods That Start With Letter Articles
- How Long Can Food Sit Out Articles
- How To Defrost Food Articles
- How To Reheat Food Articles
- How To Soak Food Articles
- Popular Foods Articles
- What Does It Taste Like Articles