Best Honyaki knives reviewed [The ultimate high-end Japanese knife]

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  June 25, 2022

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The last time you had sushi in a Michelin star Japanese restaurant, I bet it was cut using a premium quality Honyaki knife.

Why am I so sure? Because the term “Honyaki” is considered a status symbol among professional chefs handling high-end kitchens.

The reason is simple; a Honyaki knife is one of its kind.

One could call it the Tom Cruise of Japanese culinary utensils, loved and demanded despite the obvious imperfections ;)

It’s ridiculously expensive and the hardest to work with, but in the end, the effort is worth every penny!

Best Honyaki knives reviewed [The ultimate high-end Japanese knife]

The best Honyaki knife available in the market is the Yoshihiro Honyaki Yanagi knife. It is revered for its stellar finish and immaculate quality, with a functionality unmatched by the price.

Let’s look at some of the best options that are available.

Best Honyaki knivesImages
Best Honyaki Yanagi knife: Yoshihiro Mizu White Steel Mirror-FinishedBest Honyaki Yanagi knife- Yoshihiro Mizu White Steel Mirror-Finished
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Best Honyaki Gyuto knife: Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Honyaki ShirokoBest Honyaki Gyuto knife- Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Honyaki Shiroko
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Best Honyaki Kiritsuke knife: Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Shiroko White SteelBest Honyaki Kiritsuke knife- Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Kiritsuke knife
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But the question is, what is it with a Honyaki knife that makes it a standard in high-end kitchens? Moreover, checking out the options above, why is it so expensive??

After all, it’s not the only sharp Japanese knife on the planet.

There are plenty of decent Japanese kitchen knives that could be as sharp and functional, costing a quarter of what you would pay for a Honyaki knife!

In this article, I will be getting into all this and much more about the legendary Honyaki knives.

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Favorite Asian Recipes

I will also talk you through some of the best options once we have the basics covered.

What is Honyaki Steel?

Honyaki is a traditional Japanese blade construction method that involves making the knife from a single piece of metal known as “Hagane,” which is high-carbon steel.

It is one of the most ancient methods of making knives and finds its origins in the ancient Japanese sword-making technique, known as Nihonto.

The Hagane, or simply steel, can be White steel, a.k.a Shirogami, or blue steel, a.k.a Aogami.

Now, if one would say that the only difference between Shirogami and Aogami steel is the color, they would certainly be wrong.

The fact is that both knives come with their pros and cons. For example, Honyaki knives made of blue steel have better edge retention and corrosion resistance.

But at the same time, they aren’t very sharp, as well as very difficult to sharpen, and often lay at the brittle side on the HRC scale.

Plus, blue steel also has other alloys like chromium and tungsten mixed with it to ease the forging process, which is totally against the traditional Japanese Honyaki or Nihonto forging methods.

This is one of the biggest reasons you will often find blue steel Honyaki knives relatively cheaper than their white steel counterparts.

On the other hand, Honyaki Japanese kitchen knives made of white steel, or Shirogami, stay true to the ancient Japanese traditions.

Each Shirogami Honyaki knife is made from a piece of pure white high carbon steel without any addition of alloys.

Moreover, compared to blue steel Honyaki knives, white steel variants are incredibly sharp.

However, on the downside, white steel will also need to be sharpened more often.

Not to mention the extreme brittleness, with over 65 HRC score, and the extensive care due to more susceptibility to corrosion.

Since white steel Japanese knives are tough to make, the process is handled by very numbered and experienced craftspeople.

Hence, there’s only a limited number of white steel Honyaki knives in the world.

Why are Honyaki knives so expensive?

If you have been familiar with Japanese culinary tools, I suppose you’ll already know that Honyaki is the most expensive Japanese knife available!

But why is it so? Well, several factors are responsible for that. Among them include:

Limited supply

Yes, Honyaki knives are very much limited in supply due to their special method of production that has a more than 50% failure rate.

Shocking! Right? Well, not when we get into the details!

So, the first thing, as I have already mentioned, is the knife is made from a single piece of steel.

Compared to clad blades, forging a single piece of steel into a perfect mono steel knife is much more difficult because of the steel’s immense hardness and brittleness.

Therefore the process requires extreme caution.

Water quenching

What’s more, is that Honyaki or Mizu-Honyaki knives are water quenched. Water quenching is a challenging task compared to standard oil quenching.

The chance of success in water-quenching is subtle due to the dramatic temperature change, which can either distort or simply crack the blade. Consequently, all the effort goes down the drain.

Not to mention that Honyaki Japanese kitchen knives need to be quenched individually, instead of in batches, as is common with clad knives.

This means more turnaround time, which often adds to the scarcity, and hence, a high price!

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention! The brittleness of Honyaki knives also increases the chances of failure during the sharpening process.

But even when a particular knife is a failure, the factories must pay for all the effort and materials that went into it, which adds up to the cost.

Use of exotic materials

Unlike other Japanese knives, Honyaki receives extra care and attention to live up to the users’ expectations and justify its price.

Most Honyaki knives have a mirror polishing, with their handle and Saya sheath made of exotic and rare woods.

This is also one of the contributing factors to the high price, though not as much!

A limited number of masters

To make an authentic Honyaki knife, the maker must be a master first.

Unfortunately, only a few (like ten or so) masters left in Japan can make a full-fledged Honyaki knife – all in their 70s or 80s.

Thus, this is also one of the reasons why Honyaki knives hold a scarce and special status, making the knife a rarity and hence, expensive.

Best Honyaki knives reviewed

Now that you know everything about the Honyaki knife let’s get you through a set of options so that you can pick your perfect kitchen knife.

So let’s get into it without any ado:

Best Honyaki Yanagi knife: Yoshihiro Mizu White Steel Mirror-Finished

Reflecting the pure skill of artisans with more than 50 years of experience, the Yoshihiro Mirror-Finished Honyaki knife is a classic single-edged Yanagi prepared manually.

Best Honyaki Yanagi knife- Yoshihiro Mizu White Steel Mirror-Finished on table

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Although Yanagi knives are already quite famous for their sharp edge and clean cutting, the white steel blade takes its performance to a previously unknown level.

The knife features a flat grind on the front and a concave and a flat grind on the back, almost similar to Kiritsuke Gyuto knives.

This ensures butter-smooth cuts without damaging the actual texture of the food, keeping its natural taste intact.

Moreover, The hexagonal handle is also quite ergonomic and good for both hands. However, the side of the edge or angle will play a massive role in terms of control.

Here, it’s also important to mention that these knives are not mass-produced.

In fact, each piece is forged separately with extreme attention to detail by highly experienced craftsmen and artisans.

The knife comes with a separate cover called Saya to protect it when not in use.

And a word of caution, never sharpen it with anything other than water whetstones.

With great power comes great responsibility. So the better the knife cuts, the more it needs maintenance and the heftier the price.

Also, don’t forget to handwash it immediately after cutting acidic ingredients. Since acidic materials are corrosive, no washing will affect the knife’s sharpness and edge retention.

This Yanagi knife, if taken care of properly, is a fine example of a great Honyaki knife that doesn’t rob you of your money.

My only concern would be that it’s not double-beveled.

So, use it only if you have some serious experience of using a single-beveled Japanese knife.

And know that most single beveled knives are made for those right-handed. If you are a leftie, you might be out of luck.

“Standard” right-handed Honyaki knives are already hard to find, let alone left-handed versions.

  • Single-beveled
  • Ebony octagonal Wa-handle
  • Water-quenched steel
  • HRC 65
  • Mirror finished

Check the latest prices and availability here

Best Honyaki Gyuto knife: Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Honyaki Shiroko

Coming from the same craftsmen who made the previously mentioned model, it’s no surprise for Yoshihiro Honyaki Gyuto to be one of the best Honyaki Gyutos available out there.

Best Honyaki Gyuto knife- Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Honyaki Shiroko on table

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This model, too, is mirror polished, with the same material as the Yoshihiro Yanagi, the same attention to detail, the same HRC score, and the same Wa-style octagonal handle for maximum control.

The only significant difference I would like to point out is its double-beveled edge and the highly sharp tip, which are both the characteristic features of a typical Gyuto knife.

The double edge makes the knife highly suitable for newbies and professionals as it’s pretty easy to use.

Not to mention the unparalleled versatility it brings to the table when we talk about chopping and dicing veggies, slicing meat and fish, or making those precision cuts.

The Yoshihiro Gyuto knife also features a traditional Japanese Wa-handle, which, when combined with the double-beveled edge of the knife, makes it ambidextrous.

Thus, whether you are right-handed or left-handed, you can use the knife without any problem whatsoever.

The steel type used here is also pure white, so this one will need all the extra protection as its previous counterpart.

Precautionary measures like not using anything except a whetstone, keeping it covered, and washing it immediately after cutting acidic foods are some of the essential protective techniques.

All in all, a good knife for what it’s worth, with one of the best after-purchase services in the world.

  • Double-beveled
  • Ebony octagonal Wa-handle
  • Water-quenched steel
  • HRC 65
  • Mirror finished

Check the latest prices and availability here

Best Honyaki Kiritsuke knife: Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Shiroko White Steel

You may know it or not, but a Kiritsuke combines the best qualities of Gyuto, Yanagi, and Usuba, resulting in arguably the best Japanese knife on the market that you can use for just about anything!

Although Kiritsuke knives are available in both single and double-beveled varieties, the one we have here is a double-beveled version that appeals to experienced and inexperienced chefs.

Best Honyaki Kiritsuke knife- Yoshihiro Mizu Yaki Kiritsuke knife on table

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In terms of overall build and production techniques, this one is a fine example of fine Japanese craftsmanship, with a mirror-finished blade, extremely sharp edge, and pure white steel construction.

It also features the same octagonal Ebony Wa-handle with a very ergonomic and ambidextral design complemented by the double bevels.

The knife also has a 9-inch (240mm) total length, which is perfect when it comes to overall handling and control, especially if you have previous experience with Wa-handles.

You can use the knife for dicing, chopping, slicing, precision cutting, and practically anything. Besides, the caring and protection techniques of the kife are the same as any Honyaki knife.

This means immediate washing after cutting acidic foods, no other sharpening tool except whetstones, and keeping it dry and covered in its Saya when not in use.

That being said, it’s a premium version of a knife that is already a status symbol in a chef’s kitchen.

  • Double-beveled
  • Ebony octagonal Wa-handle
  • Water-quenched steel
  • HRC 65
  • Mirror finished

Check the latest prices and availability here

See a Honyaki Yanagiba being sharpened here using a traditional whetstone:

FAQ

What does Honyaki mean?

You might be wondering what the meaning of “Honyaki” is. Well, it simply means “true forged.”

As mentioned earlier, It represents the highest quality construction of blades based on the ancient Japanese technique of Nihonto.

Each Honyaki blade is made from a single piece of carbon steel, and the process is handled by the hands of an extremely skilled Japanese master.

Is Honyaki better?

A Honyaki knife is the closest thing to an ancient Japanese sword you can get in modern times, with the same material, performance, and durability.

Made by the most experienced craftsmen only, Honyaki knives are forged and hammered by hand.

Thus, they have unparalleled hardness and sharpness that cuts through meat and vegetables as smooth as a breeze.

Trust me; better is just a tiny word. Honyaki screams of the skill and craft of Japanese makers!

It’s not only the best Japanese knife but the best knife anywhere in the world.

How do you use a Honyaki knife?

A Honyaki knife comes in various versions, including Honyaki Yanagiba, Honyaki Gyutou, and Honyaki Kiritsuke, and can be used just like standard knives.

For the sake of convention, let me describe the using method of a Honyaki Yanagiba:

So, first of all, position your legs, one at the side and one pushed back a little.

Afterward, hold the holster of your blade with your thumb and index finger, and wrap the remaining fingers around the handle.

Now push the blade downward slowly and gently; don’t overforce the knife. After you make the cut, pull the knife towards yourself, and then push again.

How can you tell if a knife is Honyaki?

Honyaki knives are made from one steel piece, with a hardness that easily surpasses or is equal to 65 HRC.

Moreover, the blade of the knife is almost always mirror finished and crafted with extreme precision.

To make sure you buy an authentic Honyaki, contact a Japanese master directly or purchase from a reputed brand like Sakai or Yoshihiro.

What is Mizu Honyaki?

‘Mizu Honyaki’ refers to knives that are water-quenched.

These knives are made following purely traditional Japanese methods of blade-making and are forged to perfection.

This is why Mizu Honyaki knives are incredibly sharp and hard, making them susceptible to breaking.

On the other hand, oil-quenched blades are called ‘Abura Honyaki.’

They are not as hard as a Mizu Honyaki and are usually prepared from blue steel mixed with chromium or tungsten.

Besides, they aren’t as sharp as Mizu Honyaki knives.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for the best of the best and have got the pockets, then Honyaki knives are what you should be going for.

These knives are made with extreme precision and care and use some of the finest materials in the world.

They offer unparalleled performance and durability and come with a long list of features that make them perfect for any kitchen.

Whether you’re a professional chef or just starting out, these knives will make your cooking experience easier and more enjoyable.

In other words, if you are up for all the extra care that comes with Honyaki knives, then be ready for a cutting experience like never before!

Next, find out why authentic mirin can be so pricey here

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.