Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a cooking enthusiast just starting in the kitchen, when it comes to working with Japanese knives, it can most certainly feel like there’s a never-ending amount of knowledge to wrap your head around.
But don’t feel defeated just yet! We’ve put together an easy-to-follow guide, which will tell you everything you need to know so you can start elevating your cooking skills.
Read on to discover a complete guide to Japanese kitchen knives…
What are Japanese kitchen knives?
Coined as one of the finest kitchen tools a person can work with, Japanese knives are a diverse and extensive collection of kitchen knives used to prepare all kinds of ingredients and cuisines.
The general consensus is no matter what ingredients you’re working with, the right Japanese knife will allow you to chop, slice, and dice your way to preparing any dish you desire. They really are that good!
Originating from the Kamakura period, Japanese kitchen knives are actually crafted using the same traditional blacksmithing techniques associated with the invention of the samurai sword.
Experienced chefs will know that, no matter what they’re planning to whip up in the kitchen, there’s a Japanese kitchen knife out there that’ll help them take their dish to the next level. There are over 200+ varieties, as these tools have been created to deliver specific purposes, which have then been tailored to certain dishes and ingredients.
What makes Japanese kitchen knives superior to other types?
There are many reasons why Japanese kitchen knives are the tools of choice for professional and home chefs alike.
Japanese knives complement your skill and cooking techniques
For unmatched precision, control, and execution of food preparation, Japanese kitchen knives are frequently perceived as the best by professionals and home cooks.
Japanese knives are also seen as the ideal set of tools to complement a broad range of culinary skills and techniques, and there are very few other types that can compare to what these knives offer in terms of quality, sharpness and functionality.
Japanese knife variety
The diverse variety is also a unique aspect of Japanese kitchen knives. Chefs can build a solid collection, with each tool offering the ability to prepare virtually any ingredient for any dish.
The craftsmanship found with these kitchen knives is unparalleled, as they are a product of centuries worth of knowledge.
Plus, no matter which type of Japanese kitchen knife you’re interested in, you’ll be able to distinctly notice the attention to detail regarding the design. These knives are expertly crafted for optimum results in the kitchen, which is most likely why many types and variations have been created for specific purposes.
If you’re using a Japanese kitchen knife for the first time, you’ll likely be impressed by its visually pleasing appearance and surprisingly lightweight and balanced structure.
These tools are specially made with these two considerations in mind, as the authentic design of a Japanese kitchen knife is crafted to deliver both a visually pleasing and highly functional tool.
So, you can expect to feel a much greater sense of control paired with less fatigue when preparing dishes with Japanese knives, even if you’re working with complex ingredients that require a great deal of precision.
Japanese kitchen knives are crafted from superior materials
Authentic Japanese kitchen knives should be made from the finest materials renowned for their strength to ensure longevity and quality. We’ll go into the most sought-after blade materials later in this article, so be sure to stick around to find out what you need to look for.
Depending on the manufacturer, Japanese knife blades are usually crafted from either premium stainless steel, Damascus steel or high-carbon steel.
How much do Japanese kitchen knives cost?
The cost of Japanese knives can vary depending on the manufacturer, type and materials used.
The initial cost of building a Japanese kitchen knife collection is more expensive when compared to other options, such as western kitchen knives. However, they’ll last you a lot longer, which makes them better value for money.
So, as a benchmark, for a premium quality Japanese kitchen knife set that contains knife variations, you can expect a price point ranging from £300-£1,000.
For singular Japanese knives, the price can vary significantly depending on the type. So, as an example, our range of Japanese knives ranges from £70.00 to £699.00, and each piece within our selection is of professional quality, from the best and most trusted Japanese knife brands.
Understanding the importance of the Japanese knife blade types and materials
Generally speaking, Japanese knives are expertly crafted to have a more slender and sharper bevel, made from the most durable materials for assured quality over time, with the proper care and maintenance.
The quality of the steel, along with its grade level, will ultimately determine the overall strength, longevity, and capability of the Japanese knife blade. As a rule of thumb, the higher the steel grade, the more durable, solid and razor-sharp the blade will be.
Depending on the manufacturer and knife type, the materials commonly range from either a combination of Damascus steel, ultra-durable carbon steel (which can be paired with a softer iron steel to form the outer layer), and in more recent times, premium quality stainless steel. We’ll go into more detail on the pros and cons of each type below.
Damascus steel can be used to craft premium quality Japanese kitchen knives. It’s distinguishable through its water-like, almost mottled pattern, which can be seen showcased across the blade. Japanese knives made from Damascus steel are not as commonly used nowadays, but you’ll still most likely find them in professional kitchens.
Damascus steel is most notable for its visual appearance. Many Japanese knife manufacturers incorporate the style found with Damascus steel by combining and layering quality steels, which are then forged together to create this eye-catching pattern.
If you’ve been looking into Japanese kitchen knives made from Damascus steel, you may have come across many that showcase varied layers. What this means is that the knife has layers of steel welded together to create a pattern, along with adding strength and durability. This process will require the steel to be heated, folded, and then hammered down to create a ‘layered’ knife structure.
Generally speaking, depending on the steel, the technique and the knife type, a layer count of 37+ will usually indicate that the knife has been crafted to deliver great quality, but the number of layers available can vary significantly. For example, our selection of Kai Shun Knives offers a superb selection of premium Japanese kitchen knives made from Damascus steel, with some boasting a much higher layer count (67).
We’ve provided an image below for reference.
High-carbon steel is one of the most sought-after materials for crafting premium Japanese kitchen knives.
Both stainless steel and carbon steel Japanese kitchen knives will have carbon present, but the difference is the concentration of carbon. Higher levels of carbon create a sharper, longer-lasting blade with enhanced edge retention.
Generally speaking, Japanese carbon steel knives will have no less than 0.8% carbon, and Japanese kitchen knives made from high-carbon steel will have between 1.25% to 2% carbon present within the steel.
High-carbon steel will require more maintenance than its stainless steel counterparts, as the higher the concentration of carbon, the more prone it’ll be to rust (and chipping) if not treated correctly. However, with proper care and maintenance - this shouldn’t be an issue you come across!
Japanese kitchen knives made from premium stainless steel are desirable for beginners or even those looking for an option that requires the least amount of maintenance.
The properties of stainless steel allow for the creation of a particularly rust-resistant Japanese kitchen knife that’s durable, efficient, and versatile, which means it can be adapted to produce all types of Japanese knives.
The most notable disadvantage of a Japanese kitchen knife made from stainless steel is the more you use it, the less effective it may be at retaining its edge.
So, compared to a high-carbon Japanese knife, it’ll require more sharpening to remain an effective kitchen tool. Plus, depending on the manufacturer, a stainless steel Japanese kitchen knife may not be as sharp as other options, but this isn’t always the case.
The Hardness Rockwell Scale of Japanese kitchen knives
If you’re new to Japanese kitchen knife collecting, look for the abbreviation ‘HRC’ (or sometimes Rc). This is short for the Hardness Rockwell Scale, which dictates the overall strength and quality of the steel used. For Japanese kitchen knives, depending on the type, you can expect a quality knife to rank anywhere from 58 to 68.
So, if you’ve spotted a Japanese kitchen knife with a low HRC score and is priced way below average, chances are it’s neither authentic nor of great quality.
Pro tip - depending on the manufacturer, price, blade material, and knife type, each Japanese knife will likely require specific care and maintenance. We strongly advise ensuring you’re fully aware of what is required to preserve the knife quality to avoid preventable damage to your kitchen tools.
For those of you who don’t know, the bevel refers to the side of the blade that’s been sharpened to a specific angle for added strength and durability. It’s often confused with being the knife edge, and whilst technically correct, the bevel is the term used to describe the angle to form the edge.
Japanese kitchen knives will either feature a single or a double edge blade. Which one will depend on what it's designed to do.
Single-bevel Japanese knives mean that only one side of the blade has been sharpened, making it ideal for preparing dishes that require a better level of control and precision. More Japanese knives feature a single bevel than a double.
A double-bevelled Japanese kitchen knife, on the other hand, is most commonly found on Japanese knives that are made for working with tougher ingredients, and more durability and control are required. For example, all-rounder Japanese knives may feature a double-bevelled blade to allow for that versatility.
You’ll most likely be more familiar with double-bevelled kitchen knives, as we see this commonly in western styles.
Japanese kitchen knife types
As we mentioned earlier, there’s a broad range of Japanese kitchen knives to choose from. This is because, in Japan, it’s common for chefs to have specific knives for certain ingredients and cuisines.
See below for more information on the most commonly used Japanese kitchen knives.
Ideal for preparing vegetables, fish, and meat alike, Santoku knives are one of the most well-known Japanese knives, frequently referred to as the equivalent of the chef’s knife. Although, it’s worth mentioning that there are differences between a Santoku knife and a chef’s knife, the most obvious one being the blade tip.
A chef’s knife (also referred to as a cook’s knife) is made to feature a blade tip, which usually means you’ll have to gently ‘rock’ the knife to achieve a clean cut. A Santoku knife, on the other hand, doesn’t have a blade tip. This means you’ll be able to slice your way through the ingredients with one swift downward motion of the blade.
When comparing a Santoku knife to a typical chef’s knife, which is the better option has a divided opinion. Some chefs prefer the action of the rocking method, whereas others deem the Santoku knife superior due to its efficient cutting and precision.
If you’re looking for an all-rounder, you can’t go wrong with an excellent quality Santoku knife. It’s renowned for its ability to be used in conjunction with a variety of cooking techniques, such as mincing, chopping, slicing - and even dicing.
In terms of Santoku knife characteristics, there are several identifying factors that you’ll want to keep an eye out for. Firstly, a Santoku knife usually ranges from 13cm to 20cm in length, so it’s normal to see these variations.
The blade should be slim and sharp (this will need to then be maintained with proper care), with a flat edge. As a prime example of a premium quality Santoku knife, we’ve provided an image of the Global Knives Sai Series 19cm Santoku Knife SAI-03 below.
Also an excellent choice for multi-purpose use, a Gyuto knife is similar to a Santoku knife and a chef’s knife.
This is because, although it’s typically much sharper than a chef’s knife, a Gyuto Japanese kitchen knife will also require a gentle rocking technique to slice through ingredients with complete precision.
The Gyuto can be used to prepare all various ingredients, which include fruits, meats, fish, and vegetables. So, if you’re a beginner, make sure to add a Gyuto knife to your collection!
Gyuto knife characteristics include a double-bevelled blade edge, with the cutting edge of the blade sharpened to an acute angle.
When shopping for a quality Gyuto knife, it’s common to see blade size variations of approximately 18cm to 27cm, with the latter being more suited to ingredients that require more control and power to slice through.
A Nakiri knife is a specific type of Japanese kitchen knife for chopping vegetables, and it’s easily one of the most well-known of all Japanese knives available. A high-quality Nakiri knife is designed to offer unmatched levels of control, designed to provide the force required to cut through more solid ingredients.
A Nakiri knife will feature a double-bevelled blade (unlike its Usuba counterpart), making it a popular option for chopping, dicing, and slicing techniques. Other key characteristics include a sharp, rectangular blade, sharpened to 15 degrees, allowing for fine, intricate slicing. Sizes range anywhere from 14cm to 32cm.
Japanese Pankiri knives are designed for slicing through bread, but they can also be used for cutting through virtually any type of baked goods. This type of Japanese kitchen knife is essential for all kitchens, so we highly recommend adding this one to your Japanese kitchen knife collection if you haven’t done so already!
Pankiri kitchen knives are very similar to western bread knives, but there are distinct differences. The main ones tend to be the steel used is of higher quality, the toothlike serrations tend to be much sharper, and they also typically offer enhanced edge retention. Pankiri knife blade sizes tend to range from 22cm to 36cm.
Commonly referred to as the smaller version of a chef’s knife, Japanese Petty knives are paring knives, ideal for those looking to collect the basics before venturing into speciality knives.
The purpose of a Petty knife is to provide you with enhanced dexterity, and it’s commonly used for smaller and finer ingredients that require a more intricate level of precision. You’ll see chefs using a Petty knife for detail-oriented cooking tasks, such as slicing through herbs and deboning smaller and more delicate bones from poultry.
Typically, a Japanese Petty knife will feature a double bevel blade that’s incredibly sharp on both edges, making it a versatile tool. The blade will be wider to the heel of the knife, making it a great all-rounder.
A Petty knife is usually smaller (120mm to 180mm) than most other Japanese kitchen knives, as its primary use is for preparing ingredients that require intricate attention. So, it may be small, but it’s mighty!
Honesuki knives belong in the boning knife category, traditionally used for preparing meat and fish dishes. These Japanese knife types typically range anywhere from 11cm to 15cm in size, but it’s also possible to find variations in overall length.
With a Japanese Honesuki kitchen knife, the act of deboning poultry will never have felt easier - but it can do much more than that. For example, chefs have also proven it to be effective in preparing all kinds of red meat and using it for filleting fish.
As a prime example of a high-quality Honesuki knife, we’ve attached an image of the Masahiro Utility Boning Knife below. You’ll notice that the spine of the blade is quite thick, finishing off with a pointed tip that’s incredibly sharp, which are typical characteristics of a Honesuki boning knife.
Lastly, we have the mighty Deba kitchen knife - also commonly referred to as the butcher’s knife.
As you may have guessed by its close association with a butcher’s knife, the Deba kitchen knife is incredibly effective at butchering meat ingredients due to its power. It’s a little heavier than other Japanese kitchen knives, but that’s because it’s designed to provide the force required to cut through even the toughest of textures, such as bone.
Key characteristics of the Deba kitchen knife include a slight curve to the single-sided edge, accompanied by a thick blade spine towards the handle that then slims down to create a sharp and pointed blade edge. The blade is exceptionally durable and designed to cut with unmatched precision. Typical blade sizes range from 15cm to 33cm.
The top Japanese knife brands
When investing in proper Japanese kitchen knives, it’s essential to always go for a trusted brand that specialises in producing high-quality types, or you risk purchasing something that’s either inadequate or unauthentic.
For example, we provide our customers with an extensive range of premium Japanese kitchen knives from Global, Masahiro Knives, I.O. Shen, Kai Shun Knives, and more. Our entire selection is brought to you by the most trusted industry-leading brands in the Japanese kitchen knife industry, so we can ensure exceptional quality and value for money with every purchase.
Click here to check out our entire selection of Japanese kitchen knives today.
Maintaining and sharpening your Japanese knives
Those who have experience working with Japanese kitchen knives will know that they require a higher level of care and attention to keep their sharpness and quality. But it’s worth it!
We believe that all kitchen tools should be maintained to a high standard, so if you’re used to doing that, adding Japanese knives to your kitchen won’t be a problem at all. And you’ll only require one tool to ensure you can effectively sharpen your Japanese knives, which is a whetstone sharpener.
Whetstone sharpening is the most traditional and effective method of sharpening and maintaining Japanese kitchen knives. A whetstone sharpener can be defined as a stone block used to sharpen Japanese knives by gliding the blade across the stone slab to reinstate the sharpness to its former glory after rigorous use.
Whetstone sharpeners can come in various sizes and shapes and can be made from actual stone, ceramic, or synthetic materials designed to mimic the same results.
It’s worth mentioning that no matter which Japanese knife you’re planning to add to your collection, it’s essential that you’re aware of what that specific knife requires to maintain and preserve its overall quality. For example, whilst many chefs will use a whetstone sharpener for various Japanese knife types, different styles will require a different technique for effective sharpening.
How frequently a Japanese knife will need sharpening depends on several factors, such as how much you use it, the steel grade, the knife type, and so on.
For home kitchens, you may expect your Japanese kitchen knife to require sharpening potentially twice to three times a year, with a few maintenance checks and touch-ups every so often. For professional kitchens, sharpening may be required as much as once a month due to the frequency of use.
Japanese kitchen knives do’s and don’ts
Sharpening aside, there are several best practices one should follow, or simply be aware of, before owning Japanese kitchen knives.
- Always hand wash your Japanese kitchen knives!
- Never wash your Japanese kitchen knives in the dishwasher.
- Japanese knives are incredibly sharp! So, even if you’re no beginner in the kitchen, always be alert and focused when cleaning or sharpening your knives.
- We’ll assume you would prefer no damage done in the kitchen, so always use a chopping board, as you may be surprised by the power of a Japanese knife!
- Never chop your ingredients on a marble, granite or stone surface.
- Never throw your knives into a kitchen cupboard - invest in decent knife storage to keep them in top condition.
- Don’t overdo it with sharpening.
- Avoid cutting frozen ingredients.
- Always know what your Japanese kitchen knife is designed for to avoid preventable damage.
- Do your research into how to use the knife to achieve the best results.
Shop the best Japanese kitchen knives at Milly’s Store
We hope you’ve found our guide to Japanese kitchen knives useful. And, if you’re feeling inspired to start adding these incredible tools to your collection, be sure to check out our range today.
We’re proud to offer an unparalleled selection of Japanese kitchen knives from the best brands in the cooking industry. From complete Japanese knife set options to specific speciality types, we’ve made sure to provide the best variety for all our customers and cooking levels. So, if you’re ready to elevate your cooking game, click here to shop for premium Japanese kitchen knives today.
If you have any questions or need advice on Japanese kitchen knives, feel free to contact us directly, and we’ll do our best to help. Click here to contact us.