Bunka vs santoku knives | How they compare [& which to buy]

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  November 2, 2022

17 easy recipes anyone can make...

All the tips you'll need to get started in Japanese cooking with, FOR A LIMITED TIME, FREE as our first email: the complete Japanese with ease cookbook.

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

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

Read for free

Confused about getting a Bunka or Santoku knife because they both seem too similar?

Even though both knives share a bunch of similar features, there are a lot of differences you want to know before you consider your options.

Bunka vs santoku knives | How they compare [& which to buy]

Generally, bunka and santoku are distinguished by their overall shape. A bunka knife has a slightly curved blade with a pointed tanto tip, while a santoku knife has a straighter blade with a less refined tip. That’s why a santoku is used for chopping, mincing, and dicing, and a bunka for high precision work.

Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

In this article, I am going to compare both knives from every angle, from the shape of their bodies to their particular uses and anything in between.

This will help you make an informed decision on which knife to use and when.

What is a bunka knife?

Bunka is a Japanese-style knife that is also known as the Bunka Bocho. ‘Bunka,’ in Japanese, means ‘culture,’ while ‘Bocho’ means kitchen knife. Thus, we get a literal translation as “cultural kitchen knife.”

The knife is also called Banno Bunka Bocho, in which the word “Banno” stands for convenience and versatility.

Bunka knife features a symmetrical and predominantly straight cutting edge that ends at the signature reverse tanto tip and is exceptionally sharp for a double bevel knife.

As the Bunka knife inherits its design from hardcore Japanese culture, you will often see exciting designs and patterns carved on its blade.

This increases their overall aesthetic while giving you an authentic Japanese knife vibe as you use it.

Moreover, it is relatively bigger (5-7 inches maximum) than its Santoku counterpart; however, somewhat smaller than a traditional western chef knife.

Thus, it has the perfect weight and size to make your cutting sessions effortless.

It is also often used in combination with a gyuto chef knife for extra convenience, where the gyuto knife handles the small tasks, and the bunka knife takes the heavy-duty work.

Apart from that, the bunka knife is highly versatile and can be used for just about anything, whether rock chopping your favorite vegetables or cutting through your favorite cuts of meat and fish.

The sharp double bevel blade and the pointed tip of bunka knives are specifically designed to cut through meat and fish with intricate precision.

Bunka knives, just like the majority of Japanese blades, are made of high-quality Damascus steel, high carbon steel, VG10, AUS10, blue steel, and white steel.

Just so you know, a carbon steel knife is specifically known for its durability and high abrasion resistance.

With proper care and storage, it’ll take at least more than a few good years of your life before you’ll need to change your bunka knife.

What is the best Bunka knife?

If I had to recommend you a bunka knife that is both full-on functionality and aesthetics, the Enso HD 7″ VG10 Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel is the best option you have at hand.

Premium VG10 hammered steel knife, ultra-sharp edge, super-comfortable handlebar, and an aesthetic any Japanese knife user would die for; Enso-HD will enhance your culinary pleasures to another level.

What is a santoku knife?

‘Santoku Bocho’, in Japanese, means ‘three virtues.’ The name actually refers to the Santoku blade’s three uses: cutting, slicing, and mincing.

Compared to bunka knives, the santoku knife is a more popular choice among chefs due to its highly versatile design and close resemblance to the standard western chef’s knife.

As it doesn’t have a sharp tip, it is often used to replace the standard western chef’s knife due to the extra convenience during cutting.

Instead of a rock cutting motion, the chefs slice through veggies with a simple downward cut, making the process much cleaner, faster, and more efficient.

Design-wise, we get to see a lot of variety in santoku knives as they have been constantly reshaped as per the convenience of chefs.

For example, let’s look at the western variation of the santoku knives. They have double bevel blades with a slightly pointed tip.

It allows the chef to cut cleanly through delicate meats while also making the maintenance and sharpening easier.

On the other hand, we also have santoku knives that stick close to the traditional Japanese style with a single, predominantly straight-edged front blade or bevel and a less refined tip.

The single bevel gives the chef much-needed control over the direction while cutting through intricate meats and dicing vegetables and fruits.

Typically, a standard santoku knife is 4-6 inches long, featuring a thinner blade and a wide spine for swift and enforced downward slicing, chopping, and dicing.

What is the best Santoku knife?

The DALSTRONG 7″ Shadow Black Series Santoku knife is hands-down the best Japanese santoku kitchen knife you could get your hands on.

It has all the sharpness specific to a high-quality Japanese knife while having an ambidextrous handle that anyone can use.

Moreover, the premium-quality material and exciting pattern will grace your kitchen inventory for longer than any other knife in the category.

Find a full review of this knife as well as other good options here

Bunka vs Santoku: how they compare

Now that you know the basics about Bunka and Santoku knives, let’s get a bit deep into the comparison and evaluate different aspects of both knives.

Shape and design

The bunka has a relatively wide blade with a slight curve at the front edge and a tanto tip.

The spine, unlike the santoku, slants to reach the upward tip, making a slight angle at the top. This gives the knife a very sharp tip, just like traditional Japanese knives.

Moreover, the bunka knife can be both single beveled or double beveled. The double-beveled blade is made for convenience to make it suitable for both right and left-handed users.

Bunka is also a multipurpose kitchen knife suited for cutting vegetables with various techniques like tap-chopping, push-cutting, pull-cutting, and even rock-cutting motion.

On the other hand, the santoku knife design is loosely based on a Japanese cleaver known as nakiri. It has a reasonably sharp blade edge that is predominantly straight from heel to tip.

However, the spine is curved downward near the tip, making the infamous sheep foot that a santoku knife is known for.

Although generally regarded as a multipurpose knife, the characteristic thinner blade and flat profile of the santoku knife are designed explicitly for delicate meats and vegetables.

Edge and sharpness

As mentioned, a bunka knife features a double bevel blade with a signature sharp front edge and tip.

The best thing about it? The ultra-versatile double bevel blades are equally convenient for left-handers and right-handers alike.

On the contrary, Japanese manufacturers’ traditional Japanese santoku knife comes with a single bevel that is way thinner than the double-beveled bunka knife.

Western versions of the santoku knife feature a double bevel, like bunka knives. However, without compromising the characteristic straight blade design with super sharp edges.

Due to its precision, the double-beveled santoku knife is also popularly used as a replacement for a western chef’s knife in professional spaces.

Handle

Both santoku and bunka knives use the same handles, namely the Wa-handle and the western style handle.

However, the wa-handle, which comes in D-shape, octagonal, or oval shape, is highly preferable due to its ease of use in both knives.

Professional chefs prefer the D-shape handle the most due to its ergonomic design. It fits in hand very easily as the pointed end of the handle is just where the knuckles bend.

Nevertheless, where it might provide convenience to a specific group of chefs, it also makes the knife highly non-ambidextrous.

Size

Like typical Japanese knives, bunka features a shorter overall profile than the standard western chef’s knife, with blade lengths ranging between 5 to 7 inches.

This also makes the Bunka knife a lot more lightweight than a typical chef knife, thus making it easily usable for extended periods.

However, when we draw the bunka vs santoku comparison, the length and profile even get shorter and thinner in terms of the Santoku knife, with an ideal length of 4 inches.

This makes a santoku knife even easier to handle, making it one of the best Japanese knives for home and professional kitchens.

Bunka vs Santoko: when to use which

Now that we have drawn a specs-specific comparison, let’s have a look at some of the standout features of the santoku and bunka knives to see which activities would suit each knife better:

Slicing

In slicing, the santoku knife is a hands-down champion.

Due to its thinner profile and signature straight, sharp edge, it cuts through vegetables and meat like a breeze, making the slices as thin as possible.

Unfortunately, you won’t find this precision in the bunka knife due to the presence of a curve on the front edge,

Mincing

Due to the reverse tanto design and a slightly curved front blade, bunka knives are best suited for mincing. They make the process much faster and more convenient compared to a Santoku.

Dicing

Due to the sharp and easy-to-handle blade, the santoku is the best option for dicing.

You get perfectly shaped and uniform pieces of fruits, which can get extremely tricky to get with the bunka as it tends to have a wide, curved, and double-beveled blade.

Plus, you cannot press it from the top like a single beveled Santoku.

Precision works

As bunka knives taper towards the top, they have a sharp and pointed tip. This makes them the best option for precision works and special knife techniques.

Traditional Santoku knives don’t have a refined tip; thus, you cannot use them for intricate cutting.

FAQs

What are the most popular Bunka knife brands?

Although Bunka knives are generally made best by the local Japanese blacksmiths, some brands have started manufacturing their versions of the Bunka knives. Those brands include:

  • Shun
  • Masamoto
  • Global
  • Sakai Takayuki
  • Anryu
  • Yoshihiro
  • Tojiro

What are the most popular Santoku knife brands?

Unlike the Bunka knives that are primarily exclusive to Japanese brands, Bunka knives are also manufactured by western brands. Some popular Santoku knife brands include:

  • Global
  • Victorinox
  • Zwilling J.A. Henckles.
  • Yoshihiro
  • Tojiro
  • Gesshin Uraku
  • Masamoto
  • Mercer Culinary
  • Shun
  • Miyabi

Conclusion

Japanese knives are simply a staple in modern kitchen inventories, whether we talk about homes or restaurants. And among them, the most commonly used knives are either bunka or santoku.

The santoku is definitely more suited for general slicing and dicing, whether you are preparing vegetables or meat for your next dish.

If you want to get more precise, or like the rock cutting motion when prepping food, then a bunka knife might be a better option for you.

But of course, why choose? A good Japanese knife collection holds several knives so that you always have the right knife for the task at hand.

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

Read for free

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.