Japanese knives are the top choice for quality kitchen knives. Be it a multipurpose or a task-specific knife; the Japanese have it. And with such a basket full of options, picking one may not be easy. 

This guide takes you through what you need to look for when shopping for a Japanese knife. We will look at some of the most common Japanese knife types on the market today.

Some essential factors to consider when buying a Japanese knife are the blade’s material, the purpose of the knife, and the handle. 

Material of the Knife Blade

Japanese Knife makers use stainless steel and high carbon steel in making blades, some knife makers still use traditional Tamahagane Steel. You may also get stainless steel clad knives, which have layers of both stainless steel and carbon steel. 

Stainless Steel

As the name suggests, stainless steel knives do not rust even if left in the open for long periods. If you are looking for a knife that does not need a lot of maintenance, stainless steel is the ideal metal for you. Some types of popular stainless steel for making knives are VG-10, VG-1, R2, SG2, and AUS 8.

The downfall of stainless steel knives is that they tend to be more expensive. Also, their edges do not last as long as the ones for carbon steel. Some Stainless steel knives may be hard to sharpen and lack enough toughness to handle tough cutting applications like bones.

High Carbon Steel 

High carbon steel is ideal if you want a razor-sharp knife that retains edges for a long time. High carbon steel has higher tensile strength and is more rigid than stainless steel. High Carbon steel knives’ wear resistance is excellent and thus tends to last more than most stainless steel knives.

The limitations of high carbon steel are that it is prone to rust. The rate of corrosion is high if the knife gets exposed to acidic food content or moisture. But you will find that the rust clears fast with a little oil application if it has not accumulated. You can keep a carbon steel knife from rusting by cleaning and oiling the edges immediately after use. 

Stainless Clad knives

These blades have three layers of steel. The outer layers are stainless steel. In the middle, you will find the high carbon steel layer. The outer layers are thin towards the edges to reveal the carbon layer. Thus, the edges are purely high carbon steel to enable excellent cutting.

In this case, the only part that requires high maintenance is the knife’s edges. A stainless steel clad knife offers you high carbon steel sharpness with less maintenance when exposed to humid or corrosive environments.

Handle style 

You can choose between wa-handles, also called Japanese handles and Western-style handles. Your choice of the handle should provide a firm grip on the knife. Also, the handle should fit well around your fingers.

Wa-handles

A Wa handle is unique to Japanese knives. You can find the handles in Octagonal, D, and oval shapes. Some materials that make Wa handles are rosewood, buffalo horns, titanium, and carbon fiber. 

Wa Handle
Wa Handle (source tokushuknife.com)

The Wa handles are not riveted on the blades like most western handles. Instead, the blade is inserted into the handle, using the epoxy and thus integrating the two. Japanese knives with Wa-handles feature partial tangs. The tangs extend to about three-quarters of the handle. 

Wa handles have high aesthetic value and make the knife more balanced. But you may not want to opt for them if you are looking for a knife that will perform more challenging tasks. 

When subjected to difficult challenges, the un-riveted handle may loosen which affects your grip on the knife. Wa handles are ideal for lightweight knives that handle regular kitchen tasks.

Yo- Handles 

The yo-handles, also known as the western handles, are more robust than the wa-handles. The Yo-handle is more rigid and can take more challenging tasks. 

But you may not be able to use it for a more extended time because it is not as comfortable around the fingers. Most of the knives with yo-handles have a full tang and rivets holding them in place. 

How to choose a handle


While choosing a knife handle, consider the following features.

  1. Shape

As we have seen, most handles come in D, octagonal, and oval shapes. Your choice of the knife shape will determine how comfortable the knife feels in your hand. 

The oval shape gives the knife a vertical grip and is the most comfortable around your hands. If you want the octagonal-shaped handle, ensure the edges are round. Octagonal-shaped handles are ideal if you want a firmer grip on the knife. 

The D-shaped handle provides the comfort that you get in an oval-shaped one. But the edges are more defined and thus offer more grip to the knife. The shield shape is ideal for small hands and provides more grip for the knife. 

  1. Materials 

For materials, you have a choice between natural and synthetic materials. Wooden materials provide you with a firm grip even in wet conditions. They are also comfortable to work with over an extended time. But wooden handles are prone to breaking and chipping with time.

Synthetic materials like Micarta or G10 are easy to clean and long-lasting. But depending on the material, they may not be ideal in wet conditions. 

  1. Aesthetic features

A knife handle can either be ornate or plain. Plain handles are less expensive and hence more common. 

Ornate handles are more luxurious and tend to be more expensive. If you choose a decorated handle, ensure that the decorations on the handle match well with the blade. 

Shape and design of the knife

The shape of the knife determines the tasks that the knife can handle. For instance, a blade with a slight bottom curve is ideal for chopping tasks. The belly bottom rocks on the surface making your hand movements easier. 

A cutter that has a flat profile is suitable for slicing chores. Also, for precision tasks, you may need a knife that has sharp and well-pointed tips. A single bevel knife is more suitable for precision cuts while a double bevel is more versatile.

Let us look at some of the famous Japanese knives and their design in relation to the tasks they handle best. 

Gyuto 

The Gyuto is the Japanese version of the Chef’s knives. Thus, it is one of the most versatile Japanese knives in today’s market. The Gyuto blade is sharper and lighter than the regular western chef knife. But the blade is tensile and performs complex tasks without chipping.

fujimoto nashiji Gyuto Knife
Japanese Gyuto Knife (Source Knifewear.com)

The Gyuto has a broad blade that is ideal for transferring food around. Also, they are flat near the tip to help you slice through food. The slight curve from the midsection of the knife provides the grip you need in your chopping tasks. 

The sharp point of the Gyuto comes in handy in precision cuts and making pockets while cutting meat. Gyuto can replace all the specialty knives in your kitchen with ease. 

The Gyuto knife blade length ranges from 6- 12 inches. The shorter blades are easier to use but less versatile in handling tasks. The longer blade is more versatile but more challenging for less skilled users. So, for the average user, the blade length of around 7 inches is the most ideal.

As we have seen, most Gyutos are made from high carbon steel and thus are easy to sharpen. But remember that this knife requires keen maintenance, especially on the edges. Whereas the blade is strong, hard objects such as bones can crack the delicate edges. 

Kiritsuke knife

The Kiritsuke is another knife you will want to look at if you shop for a multipurpose knife. The Japanese Kiritsuke features the Yanagi (fish cutter) and the Usuba (vegetable knife).

Japanese Kiritsuke Knife
Japanese Kiritsuke Knife (Source Knifewear.com)

Kiritsuke has a sword shape, and the long blade is fit for slicing meat. The straight profile is ideal for pull-and-push cutting. The blade also produces clean cuts and is suitable for salad preparations. 

One of the most notable features of the Kiritsuke is the angled reverse tanto tip. The sharp point is especially suitable for precision works and piercing through ingredients.

Santoku Knife 

Another Japanese multipurpose knife is the Santoku. The name means three virtues that translate to the three tasks that the knife handles best. These tasks are slicing, chopping, and dicing.

Japanese Santoku Kinfe
Japanese FUJIMOTO NASHIJI Santoku knife (Source Knifewear.com)

The Santoku handles the regular preparation of vegetables and meat with ease. But you may need to be extra careful not to use it in cutting hard objects.

The 5-8 inches Santoku has a flatter appearance when compared to the curved shape of the Chef’s knife. The blade is also wider, making it ideal for scooping and transferring ingredients. 

The thin knife produces refined slices. Thus the Santoku is perfect for precision cuts, such as preparing salads. The Santoku has a soft tip, also known as the sheep’s foot. While the knife’s tip helps achieve its essential tasks, it is not ideal for tip work. a

Santoku is faster than the Chef’s knife due to its short and flat profile. Also, Santoku is easier to use. But due to its length, the Chef’s knife is more versatile when handling tasks. 

Nakiri Knife

The Nakiri is a flat profiled double-beveled knife with a thin blade. The knife is a specialty knife famous for preparing vegetable dishes. Thus, if you are looking for a knife that is ideal for your vegetarian kitchen Nakiri is the best choice. 

Japanese Nakiri Knife
Japanese FUJIMOTO NASHIJI Nakiri knife (Source Knifewear.com)

The thin Nakiri blade produces the clean cuts you need in your vegetable preparation. But like we have seen, the Nakiri is a task-specific knife. An attempt to use it on hard ingredients and bones would crack the thin and delicate blade. 

Petty Knife 

Also known as the petite Gyuto, the petty knife is a smaller version of the Gyuto chef knife. It has a blade length of between 3 to 6 inches, thus longer than most paring knives. A petty knife performs well when paired with other blades. 

kokuto Japanese petty knife
Haruyuki Kokuto Petty Knife (Source Knifewear.com)

The petty knife is versatile. Moreover, it is ideal for the quick preparation of small-sized ingredients. You can also use it to slice fruits and chop herbs. Also, petty knives can handle simple butchering tasks such as preparing chicken, and rabbits.

Deba Knife 

The Deba is the ideal choice for you if you are looking for a butcher’s knife. Initially, the Deba was used to prepare fish dishes such as sushi. But you can also use the knife for other soft meat preparations such as chicken.

Japanese Deba knife
Japanese FUJIMOTO NASHIJI Deba knife (Source Knifewear.com)

The Deba is a robust knife with a wide spine, sharp edges, and a pointed tip. Also, the Deba has a significant weight ideal for cutting through meat. The heel of the Deba is sturdy, allowing you to cut through thin bones such as the head of the fish. The sharp tip is ideal for filleting the fish.

Deba knives are single-beveled, meaning you can only have one side of the edges. Using the knife for the first time may be a challenge. But with practice, a Deba helps reduce damage to your fresh meat preparations.

What kind of Japanese knife should I buy?

If you are just getting to owning your first Japanese knife, you will not go wrong with a Gyuto paired with a Petty knife. The Gyuto is versatile, an equivalent to a chef knife, and can handle most kitchen tasks while the petty will come in handy for the preparation of small-sized ingredients.

Are Japanese knives worth it?

Yes, original Japanese knives are worth the price, most Japanese knives are hand forged and the amount of work that goes into producing them is worth it. Japanese knives are known for their precision cuts, balance in the hand, and lasts across generations.

Conclusion

In choosing a Japanese knife, the first thing that should come to mind is the use of the knife. One of the most important factors to consider is the material of the blade. While choosing the blade material, consider the cost, edge retention, and maintenance. 

Another factor to consider is the handle’s material, comfort, and grip. The shape of the blade determines the tasks that the knife can handle. With this in mind, you can now look for a knife that fits your budget.

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