Best Japanese knives guide | These are the different must-have knives in Japanese cooking

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 25, 2021

3 easy recipes anyone can make...

All the tips you'll need to get started in Japanese cooking with our first email the FREE Japanese with ease quick-start recipe guide

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

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.

Japanese knives (Hōchō 包丁) are a favorite of passionate chefs around the globe because there’s a specialty knife for every occasion.

You’re likely dreaming about owning one or more of these knives, given their reputation for exceptional craftsmanship and outstanding quality so that you can whip up your favorite Japanese dishes.

You don’t have to be a Japanese chef to appreciate a well-crafted knife. It can make a big difference in how your chops and final dishes turn out.

Best Japanese knives guide | These are the different must-have knives in Japanese cooking

Finding the right knife for you can be difficult with so many brands and price points. But, it’s important to know the most important knives as each one is designed for a specific cutting task.

Every household should have a good gyuto chef’s knife for cutting meat, a Honesuki knife for boning, a Deba fish knife, and a Nakiri vegetable cleaver. Then, there are plenty of other specialty knives to round out your collection which I’m listing below.

In this post, I’m narrowing down the selection to the best knives – one for each category so you can round out your collection.

Here’s a brief overview, and the see the full reviews, scroll down.

Best Japanese knives Images
Best all-purpose or chef’s knife: Tojiro DP Santoku 6.7″ Best all-purpose or chef's knife- Tojiro DP Santoku 6.7

(view more images)

Best Japanese knife for boning: Zelite Honesuki Infinity Chef Knife 8″ Best Japanese knife for boning- Zelite Honesuki Infinity Chef Knife 8

(view more images)

Best Japanese knife for butchering and cutting bones: ZHEN Japanese VG-10 Best Japanese knife for butchering and cutting bones- ZHEN Japanese VG-10

(view more images)

Best Japanese knife for slicing beef: Usuki Gyuto Chef’s Knife Best Japanese knife for slicing beef- Usuki Gyuto Chef’s Knife

(view more images)

Best Japanese knife cleaver: KYOKU Samurai Series 7″ Best Japanese knife cleaver- KYOKU Samurai Series 7

(view more images)

Best Japanese knife for filleting fish & sushi: Kotobuki High-Carbon SK-5 Best Japanese knife for filleting fish & sushi- Kotobuki High-Carbon SK-5

(view more images)

Best Japanese knife for cutting vegetables: Kessaku 7-Inch Nakiri Best Japanese knife for cutting vegetables- Kessaku 7-Inch Nakiri

(view more images)

Best Japanese knife block set for beginners: Ginsu Gourmet 8-Piece Japanese Steel Knife Set  Best Japanese knife block set for beginners- Ginsu Gourmet 8-Piece Japanese Steel Knife Set 

(view more images)

Japanese knife buyer’s guide

Japanese knives are special and unique so there are certain features to look out for before buying them. Here are the important things to keep in mind when browsing through their features.

Steel & price

Prices for Japanese knives vary widely depending on the manufacturer and materials used. You will need to consider your level of skill in the kitchen before you decide how much you’re willing to spend.

If you’re fine with the basic features, cheaper ones may be good enough but chefs must invest in high-quality knives that perform well for years.

Super high carbon steel is used to make more expensive knives. High carbon steel knives are more durable and can keep their sharp edges for longer.

Traditional Japanese products are made of Japanese steel, not German steel. The Asian-style steel is hard but also maintains a level of flexibility.

But, Japanese steel is considered more fragile. If the knives are not used or maintained properly, they can chip. For higher-end knives, regular sharpening is required.

A stainless steel alloy will be cheaper for Japanese knives. It is more durable, easier to maintain, and more resistant to rust and corrosion.

These knives aren’t as sharp as other knives. At-home chefs don’t have to worry as much about their knives as professional chefs.

Blade type

Two blade options are available for Japanese knives. They are available in single or double bevel blades.

Single bevel blades are the traditional Japanese design but they are harder to use. Most professional chefs prefer single bevel blades, as they can make precise cuts and have specific uses.

It takes time though to learn how to cut quickly and efficiently with single bevel blades.

A single-bevel knife feels different, so of course, it takes some practice to get the hang of it. A double bevel Western-style Western-style knife is recommended if you’re not a professional. It’s much easier to use.

Another thing to keep in mind is that double bevel knives can be used by both lefties and righties but single-bevel ones are not ambidextrous.

Type of knife

There are many types of knives for each type of blade. Many knives are used for specific purposes, including carving, fishing, and butchering.

Two knives are intended for general use: The Santoku or the Gyuto. These knives can be used to cut meat, fish, and vegetables. These two Japanese knives are the equivalents of America’s chef’s knife.

These knives are ideal for beginners. You can get larger blades with the Gyuto. A Santoku is the best choice if you’re going to cook in small spaces but it comes down to what type of food you like to cook too.

If you’re vegan, you don’t need meat-cutting knives and are better off with Nakiri or Usuba vegetable knives and cleavers.

Size

An 8-inch knife is the standard size and most used for daily tasks in the kitchen. There are many lengths you can choose from. As you’ll see in this review, knives between 5-7 inches are most popular.

You will get different lengths of knives for different purposes when you buy a knife set.

It is important to choose the size that you love the most. A smaller blade may be better suited for smaller hands or precise cutting and decorative work.

Tang

This indicates how the blade is attached. Full tang is a knife blade that runs the entire length. This can indicate quality.

Most Japanese knives are full tang.

Type of handle

You can choose between a traditional Japanese (Wa) or Western-style handle for your knife.

The Western handle is heavier and the grip form is secure and hasped. It is also more docile and can be used for brute force cutting.

Traditional Japanese handles are more cylindrical or octagonal-shaped and made from wood. They are lighter and easier on the hands.

For those who have never used these Japanese handles before, they can be awkward. Once you become more comfortable with them, they can provide greater control and a more delicate touch.

Your personal preference will determine the handle you choose. I’ll discuss handle types later on and help you decide what’s best for your kitchen.

What are the different knife types in Japanese cooking you need?

Now let’s look at the knives on my top list and let me explain to you what makes them so good and what to use them for.

Best all-purpose or chef’s knife: Tojiro DP Santoku 6.7″

Best all-purpose or chef's knife- Tojiro DP Santoku 6.7

(view more images)

The Santoku is Japan’s answer to the Western chef’s knife.

It is traditionally a single-bevel knife known as the “three virtues” cutter which means it can slice, dice, and chop through meats, fish, fruit, and vegetables.

However, this Tojiro is a double-bevel santoku and it’s a better choice because it’s easier to use.

The knife has a wide blade, but not quite as wide as the cleaver and nakiri. Typically, this is the type of knife that every Japanese household has and people use it for cutting almost anything while meal prepping and cooking.

The blade’s thickness is considered as in the middle between thin and thick and it’s a great thickness because it’s not as prone to its tip breaking as some thinner Japanese knives.

With the Tojiro Santoku, you can expect a scalpel-sharp blade that cuts through boneless meats as well as vegetables in one cut. The knife is stylish and has a beautiful design. It is minimalistic but does a good job cutting and it holds up well in time.

The VG-1o stainless steel is the best blade material because it is rust and corrosion-resistant. Also, it’s easy to sharpen once the blade gets dull, here’s how to approach that:

Price-wise, it’s a mid-priced knife and the perfect all-purpose versatile knife for any Japanese knife collector.

Tojiro is a popular Japanese brand and I recommend choosing this knife over a budget version like the TUO Santoku because that one needs more frequent sharpening.

Check the latest prices here

Best Japanese knife for boning: Zelite Honesuki Infinity Chef Knife 8″

Best Japanese knife for boning- Zelite Honesuki Infinity Chef Knife 8

(view more images)

The boning, or de-boning knife as many people call it is used to remove the meat from the bones. It’s the kind of knife you want to have if you want to butcher your own poultry and fish.

Buying whole fish and chicken is cheaper than buying packaged or pre-cut meat and seafood. In Japan, the Honesuki is used for boning poultry and rabbits.

Honesuki knives are not meant for cutting through the bones, as that’s the job of a cleaver. Instead, this knife has a thick heel that helps you scrape all the meat off the bones.

It’s suitable for cutting through the tendons and cartilage though and you can make small, precise cuts too.

As long as you don’t forcefully cut through bone, this is the ideal sharp boning knife.

Best Japanese knife for boning- Zelite Honesuki Infinity Chef Knife 8 on the cutting board

(view more images)

It’s made of a very durable Damascus 45 layer steel blade and also has a beautiful hammered finish which also prevents the meat and other bits from sticking to the blade.

The 56 mm blade is quite thick but that’s what you need to be able to really get into the harder meaty parts of the animal.

The triangular blade shape ensures that you have lots of knuckle clearance so using the knife is very comfortable for your hands.

You can also use a rocking motion cutting technique because it’s a well-balanced knife with a 60/40 blade-handle balance.

I also want to mention that the handle of this Zelite knife is very unique because instead of a D-shape or octagonal shape, the handle has a humpback form and triple rivet which makes it mold to your hand and offers a better and more secure grip.

Overall, it’s a great knife for fish and poultry boning but just make sure to learn the correct Japanese cutting technique.

This knife has a pretty hammered finish and a great balanced build so I don’t recommend getting a cheaper Honesuki because those just don’t hold their edge and they tend to break faster.

Check the latest prices here

Best Japanese knife for butchering and cutting bones: ZHEN Japanese VG-10

Best Japanese knife for butchering and cutting bones- ZHEN Japanese VG-10 by the box

(view more images)

If you like to enjoy the freshest meat, you’ll want to buy large chunks of meat or whole birds and do the butchering at home. It’s the best way to ensure you get the best cuts and also save money by not paying extra for pre-packed meat.

Unlike the boning knife, a butcher knife is made for cutting through all kinds of poultry bones, especially chicken and turkey.

The Japanese butcher knife is actually a mid-sized cleaver but it has the power to cut through small and mid-sized bones very easily.

Also vegetables are no match for this blade, see it in action here:

This cleaver is made of Japanese corrosion-proof VG 10 steel, which is high-quality blade material.

At first, it may seem that the cleaver is hard to hold but actually, due to its weight and blade size, it is well-balanced so it doesn’t cause wrist pain or tension.

The one slight inconvenience is that there is no flat edge on the blade which reduces the precision a bit.

Zhen is a full-tang knife with unique handle material. Unlike your classic wood handle, this is made with a Thermo rubber coating so that means this cleaver doesn’t slip from your hand, even if you’ve got moist or wet hands.

This feature is important because it makes the cleaver safer to use and minimizes injury risk.

When chopping through bones, you have to use quite a lot of force so you need a handle that molds to your fingers and doesn’t budge like this one.

Compared to a Serbian butcher knife, the Zhen is not as heavy-duty, but it’s better for precise cutting and meat carving whole poultry.

Check the latest prices here

Best Japanese knife for slicing beef: Usuki Gyuto Chef’s Knife

(view more images)

There’s nothing better for slicing beef than a special knife called the gyuto, which translates to “beef/cow sword.”

It is lighter and has a thinner blade than a Western chef’s knife, so it holds the edge better and makes more precise cuts.

The reason why the gyuto is a beloved beef knife is that you use a special thrust cutting technique.

Basically, you push down and then away from yourself with this knife. This minimizes the lateral forces exerted on the edge and reduces chipping and blade damage.

As you know, Japanese knives are more fragile than Western ones.

This knife is forged from 3 layers of clad steel and has a hardness of 60 thus it’s strong and durable, making it ideal for slicing larger cuts of meat like beef which has lots of connective tissue and some fat.

Compared to the Santoku knife which is quite similar but has a softer tip, the gyuto has an extremely sharp tip that allows for precision cutting.

So, you’ll be able to really get in there and break down the meat, especially if you want very thin slices of beef for a dish like Gyudon beef rice bowls.

The handle is crafted in a traditional Japanese octagonal style and made out of wood for a secure and comfortable non-slip grip.

And, if you appreciate a beautiful-looking knife, this one not only looks like a premium product, but it’s high value for the money.

If you’re tempted by the more expensive Yoshihiro Gyuto, that one has a nice hammered finish too but the Shitan handle is a bit more sturdy.

However, the Usuki performs and cuts just like the Yoshihiro and you can carve out a roast chicken in a minute!

Check the latest prices here

Best Japanese knife cleaver: KYOKU Samurai Series 7″

Best Japanese knife cleaver- KYOKU Samurai Series 7 on cutting board

(view more images)

If you feel like your chef’s knife just doesn’t cut as easily as you’d like it to, then you should give the cleaver a try because it’s much more powerful.

The Kyoku samurai cleaver is often referred to as a Chinese cleaver because it’s a type of multi-purpose cleaver.

It’s a great knife because it has a wide, sharp blade, made of high-quality carbon steel. Unlike the Nakiri knife, this one is good for more than just chopping vegetables.

It’s ideal for cutting through boneless chicken, pork, beef, filleting fish, and of course, chopping veggies and leafy greens for salads.

Most people love this knife because it is lightweight (0.4 lbs), and considering it’s quite a hefty cleaver, it doesn’t tire out your wrists when you use it for extended periods.

Also, the handle is made of a hygienic material called pakkawood which is a plastic and laminate hybrid. It is easy to clean and handwash but also comfy to hold.

The price is pretty affordable considering this cleaver is made using the traditional Japanese Honbazuki method.

The blade is sharpened between 13 to 15 degrees so it’s very sharp but the hardness of 56-58 makes the blade flexible yet very durable. So, this cleaver will last you for many years if you care for it and sharpen it regularly.

A reason why people rave about this cleaver is that it’s much sharper compared to a German-style cleaver so it’s more versatile and better for precision chopping.

Check the latest prices here

Best Japanese knife for filleting fish & sushi: Kotobuki High-Carbon SK-5

Best Japanese knife for filleting fish & sushi- Kotobuki High-Carbon SK-5

(view more images)

The Deba is Japan’s traditional fish knife, used for boning, processing, and of course filleting fish, mostly whole fish. The knife has great balance, the perfect weight, and a razor-sharp blade for extreme precision when cutting slippery fish.

This knife can be used to fillet and bone whole fish like mackerel and pollock. It’s also suitable for larger fish like salmon if you want to make fresh sashimi and sushi.

This knife is ideal for small and medium-sized fish but can handle larger ones too because it has a long and thick blade. It is made from high carbon SK-5 stainless steel, which is resistant to corrosion and rust.

This knife is extremely durable and maintains a sharp edge. It is the best choice for filleting fish due to its thick spine and single beveled edge.

Also, the price is pretty good as these kinds of authentic Deba knives usually run you up over $100.

Compared to a budget knife like the Mercer Deba that looks very similar, this Kotobuki one performs better because it’s designed to be more balanced, and holds the edge for longer therefore you don’t need to sharpen it as often.

Kotobuki’s filleting knife is a top-rated choice because it offers great value and keeps its razor-sharp edge despite repeated use. There’s not much to complain about except maybe that it’s only suitable for right-handed users since it’s a single bevel blade.

Check the latest prices here

Best Japanese knife for cutting vegetables: Kessaku 7-Inch Nakiri

Best Japanese knife for cutting vegetables- Kessaku 7-Inch Nakiri cutting carrots

(view more images)

When it comes to cutting, slicing, dicing, and mincing vegetables, the two main knives are the Nakiri and the Usuba. These two knives are fairly similar but the Nakiri has a thicker blade. The Kessaku 7-inch Nakiri is the perfect all-purpose veggie knife.

The knife is made of high carbon stainless steel which is rust and corrosion resistant and also durable. Also, it’s known for good edge retention and is better for veggies than a chef knife.

It looks like a cleaver, and it is one, but it’s not the kind of tough meat cleaver you’d find at a butcher shop. The Nakiri is more delicate and has a scalpel-sharp blade that can slice, dice, and mince through greens and even root vegetables.

It ranks 58 on the Rockwell hardness scale and this makes the knife’s blade have some flexibility, while it keeps the edge really well and makes clean cuts.

Compared to other budget knives, this one is better because when you cut through vegetables like cucumbers or carrots, the cuts are clean and precise so you don’t end up with ragged edges.

Since this is a full tang knife and also has a hygienic pakkawood handle, debris and food scraps never make it into the body of the knife or stay stuck on the handle. It’s one of the cleanest and easiest-to-clean veggie knives you’ll find.

So, if you’re tired of using dull, imprecise chef’s knives but want to make the switch to a specialty Nakiri, I highly recommend Kessaku.

Check the latest prices here

Best Japanese knife block set for beginners: Ginsu Gourmet 8-Piece Japanese Steel Knife Set

Best Japanese knife block set for beginners- Ginsu Gourmet 8-Piece Japanese Steel Knife Set 

(view more images)

Buying each knife separately can be costly and it’s hard to know exactly which ones you actually need in your kitchen. But, a knife block equipped with 8 of the most popular Japanese knives is an excellent money-saving option.

The Ginsu Gourmet 8-Piece set is the best Japanese knife block set for beginners or people looking for a complete set for daily use.

Here’s what you get in the set:

These knives are made of stainless steel and they have a rounded handle. The knives are all lightweight and low maintenance. Although this is a budget-friendly set, the knives are pretty good quality, come very sharp and also maintain that sharpness for a while.

The smaller 5-inch knives are good alternatives for all the separate fish filleting and boning knives you might want to buy. They are sharp, hold their edge well, and feel well-balanced when you use them.

Just like many other traditional Japanese handles like Shun, these knives have a steel tang that extends from the tip to the handle and offers perfect balance and comfort.

This makes it easier to cut anything effortlessly even if you hit thicker or hardier meat, tendons, and cartilage.

I minor criticism I have is that you have to handwash the knives and can’t clean them in the dishwasher. Although this is a minor inconvenience it might be a hassle if you use many of them daily.

Also, the set doesn’t contain a meat or vegetable cleaver so you’ll have to do with the chef’s knife.

Check the latest prices here

Find more good Japanese kitchen scissors and shears here (+how to use them)

What are the advantages of using a Japanese knife?

So, what is the point of investing in Japanese knives? Are they truly better?

If you have a chef’s knife, you might think you can use it to do it all, but it’s not true. Specialty knives can come in very handy, especially for professional chefs or passionate home cooks.

Of course, it’s a matter of personal opinion but Japanese knives come with a set of benefits for the user.

You can elevate your cooking with Japanese knives. There are many benefits. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits.

Benefit 1: Preserve the flavor

To ensure that your meat cooks evenly and properly, it is important to make a straight cut. A durable, sharp edge is the best way to make sure your meat is not ripped apart.

Let’s be honest, poorly cut and unevenly chopped up food is less appetizing.

This is where Japanese knives excel. Clean cuts will expose less surface area and not open up spaces between your ingredients’ fibers.

The clean cuts ensure that the flavor is locked in the food and doesn’t escape so food is tastier.

A smaller surface area means that there is less air exposure and therefore, less opportunity for flavors and juices to escape during cooking.

Benefit 2: Freshness

While this is directly related to the first, freshness is an additional benefit of a clean cut. Uneven cuts may allow moisture to escape, and your oven, grill, or range can heat your food unevenly.

Also, when you butcher meat into smaller pieces, you can keep the food fresher for longer.

When you’re cutting vegetables, you can cut even the root parts which are usually hard to cut and thus you end up wasting less. A knife with good edge retention will allow you to make those difficult cuts without a struggle.

Benefit 3: Versatility

There are many types of Japanese knives for every occasion. So, if you need to slice thin strips of beef, you’ve got the gyuto. But, if suddenly you want to bone and fillet mackerel, the wide blade Deba knife exists.

Then, for smaller cutting tasks you’ve got utility knives of different sizes for all your cutting, chopping, slicing, and dicing needs.

Japanese knives can be used for all kinds of meats, even rabbit, lamb, turkey, etc.

When slicing vegetables, you can use the Japanese knife for decorative cuts. Unlike with a regular kitchen knife, you can even carve out fruit and veggies, or create food displays.

Benefit 4: Aesthetics

Japanese knives are not only functional but also beautiful. Craftsmen have mastered knife- and sword-making for centuries, allowing them to create knives that are beautiful, precise, strong, and sharp.

When you look at some of the premium knives, you’ll be amazed at how beautiful these minimalist knives really are.

Also read my Guide to Sukiyaki steak: recipe, cutting technique and flavors

History of Japanese knives

The history of the Japanese knife began a very long time ago with the Samurai sword.

It’s important to remember that Japanese knives were developed, influenced, and shaped by the technological advancements in Japanese swords.

These swords, Katana (Dao), were only available to the Samurai (Wu Shi).

This was a special military nobility that served a feudal ruler and offered protection. The swords and blades were created in response to the growing demand for blade technology.

Swords became knives

The earliest artifacts of Japanese knives can be traced back to the Nara Era (710-794). The handles and blade were 40cm long, 2cm wide, and had a slight curve which made them much different from any European knives.

Such a knife was believed to have been used for religious ceremonies by the aristocracy. Hocho-shiki was a Chinese knife ceremony and was a name for the knife used to cut down carps or cranes to the beat of traditional music.

In this case, the knife was used for ceremonial purposes but that’s not what knives were made for.

In fact, knives were not family heirlooms that were passed down through generations. They were daily tools that would eventually break down and need replacing.

There are many written records, scroll paintings, drawings, and other evidence of knives that have been lost. Just like today, people needed utilitarian knives and not many were preserved as decorations.

But a real shift occurred sometime during the Edo period (1603-1868) when there were fewer wars. Since there wasn’t as much need for swords, people took on a peaceful lifestyle and turned to cooking and other non-combat activities.

It was during this period that people started making and buying lots of different kitchen knives. As demand increased, more styles came to be.

Different Japanese knife handle shapes

Japanese and Western knives have different types of handles.

There are two types of handles known around the world. The first category is the Japanese or Eastern Wa handle. Then, the European and American handles are called Yo handles in Japanese.

While there are some similarities between the two, the Western handle is heavier and chunkier, while the Japanese ones are more elegant and delicate. Japanese knives are known for their excellent precision, much more so than Western ones.

Chances are, you’re more familiar with the Western full or half tang handle. But, it’s really up to you which knife you prefer and there are differences between the weight, style, ergonomics, and shape.

Wa handle (Japanese)

Unlike heavy Western handles, the Japanese ones are designed for maximum functionality. They have a simple design but it’s sleek, lighter, and more stylish. Unlike German knives, for example, the Japanese ones don’t have a thick riveted tang. Also, this kind of knife has a tang that’s about 3/4 the length of its handle and it is glued there in place.

At first, it seems like this handle may be weaker but that’s a myth as these knives can last for many years. And, since they’re not riveted they can be replaced easily.

The handles are lighter because they contain less prime material (steel). As a result, the knife’s center of balance lies closer toward the blade and not closer to the handle.

So, as you cut, the blade just falls into the food and you don’t have to do that classic driving motion. You have more precision and the knife makes you be more gentle with your cutting motions against the cutting board.

D-handle vs octagonal shape handle

The D-handle is designed in a way that it’s not ambidextrous so if you are a leftie you need a specialty leftie knife.

But, the D-handle is the more basic of the Japanese handles and it has a similar oval shape to some Western handles.

An octagonal handle is considered an upgrade, or premium feature. It is more comfortable to use and it is an ambidextrous handle so both righties and lefties can use it.

Yo handle (Western)

You probably have many Western (Yo) knives. This type of handle has a three-rivet design and is a symbol of quality and craftsmanship.

These handles are heavy, so you’ll always feel the weight in your hands. Many people appreciate this added weight and are so used to it, it’s hard to get used to using a lighter Japanese knife.

The main advantage of a Western handle is how ergonomic is it. Also, it’s very comfortable to hold because it has a contoured handle that fits well in your hand. It feels natural to hold the knife.

Handle material

The most common handle materials are:

Most of the handles are non-slip and offer an easy grip for the user.

Japanese vs Western knives: material & bevel

When we compare Japanese and Western knives, there are two main differences: the material and bevel.

The main difference between Japanese and Western-style knives is that they are sharpened on both sides. This is known as an asymmetrical bevel. There are single bevel (sharpened on one side) and double bevel (sharpened on both sides) blades.

This has an obvious impact on how the Western knife can be sharpened.

You should ensure that your knife sharpener can sharpen the blade on both sides when you are looking for a western-style knife sharpener whereas you can use any type of whetstone for Japanese knives.

When it comes to sharpening, you will also be hearing a lot about the angle of the edge. When sharpening a Western knife, it is important to pay attention not only to the angles of the individual edges but also the total angle.

The factory edges of Western knives are 18-28 degrees. This figure is much higher than the average Japanese knife, which is sharpened at about 12-16 degrees and very sharp.

Japanese knives are less curved

Many Western knives are also curved along their blades, which is different from Japanese-style knives. This design feature is used every time you chopping with your knife. You can adjust the pressure you apply to certain areas of your blade by using the curve.

The curved design of Western-style knives means that you need to make sure that the sharpener can sharpen your knife all along the curved edge. The advantage of the Japanese straight blade is that you can make more precise cuts.

There are also differences in the blade thickness between the two knife styles. Traditional Western knives were made from softer German steel. More material is needed to give the knife the desired density and strength. A Western-style knife will be more durable but it can’t really compare to the Eastern knife’s precision and scalpel-like edge.

Because of the soft steel used in Western knives, the edges will dull quicker than those made from Japanese steel. The blade will develop imperfections if it is used frequently. The material is soft, so most Western-style knives can be sharpened with great results.

On the other hand, the Japanese knife is more fragile and the edge and tip are prone to breaking.

What steel is used in Japanese knives?

As you know by now, most Japanese knives are made of steel. But the authentic traditional ones are not made of German steel like many Western knives.

Instead, the Japanese have their own high-carbon stainless steel.

When choosing your cutlery, you want to go for a high-quality Japanese strong steel blade.

There are 3 main categories of steel used in kitchen knife manufacturing. Every category has its pros and cons, depending on the purpose of the knife.

Basically, there are three main types of steel used for knife manufacturing:

  1. The high carbon steel types like Aogami
  2. VG-10 steel which is corrosion resistant
  3. ZDP-189 or R2 also knows as powder steels

The most common type of Japanese steel is high carbon. There are two types:

Why is a Japanese knife sharper?

Japanese knives have a single bevel angle, which is why they are sharper than western-style knives. Japanese knives can have a low bevel angle of as low as 5°.

When choosing a Japanese-style knife sharpener, the most important thing to remember is that you can control which side of your blade you are sharpening.

You will ruin your knife if the sharpener automatically sharpens the edges of the blade.

Thus, it matters if you sharpen the left or right side because it directly affects who can use it: the rightie or the leftie.

As I just mentioned, Japanese knives are made of harder steel than western knives. This allows the edges to stay sharper longer and means the knife has superior edge retention.

As a result, the blade can withstand daily wear and tear better than western knives. One disadvantage is that the harder steel can become brittle.

That’s why each knife has a special purpose and you should use the right type of Japanese knife to accomplish each task. Don’t just take any random knife from your knife block.

A western chef’s knife might be able to slice through a chicken bone but a Japanese chef’s knife can ruin that edge.

Japanese knives are also different in that the blade shape is rarely curved. Because these knives are long and straight, it is important to ensure that the knife sharpener you purchase can effectively sharpen them.

What do you sharpen Japanese knives with?

In general, you use a whetstone to sharpen Japanese knives.

For double-bevel knives, it’s a bit easier but getting the angle right on a single bevel is tricky. It might be best to take it to the professional and let them sharpen your knife.

For at-home sharpening though, I recommend something like the Mizu 1000 / 6000 Grit Premium Whetstone Knife Sharpening Stone Set from Amazon which is double-sided and features two grits.

Check out this video for some of the basics:

Takeaway

If you feel like your Western chef’s knife has kicked the bucket, you can use this guide to choose a selection of the best Japanese knives.

There are plenty of great knives to replace a chef knife that offer excellent edge retention and keep their sharpness well.

It’s up to you whether you think you’ll be mostly slicing vegetables, cutting beef, or playing sushi chef in your kitchen. So, you should choose the knives that you’ll be using most and build a collection.

I promise once you get the hang of using Japanese blades, you won’t be going back to cheap supermarket cutlery anytime soon.

Next, check out my guide on the Most Used Hibachi Chef Tools

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.