Bunka Knife: Double-Beveled Wide Blade Japanese Bōchō for General Use

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There are many specialty Japanese knives, and each type is used to cut and slice through various types of food. The Bunka is one of the lesser-known knives, but it’s extremely useful in the kitchen.

A Bunka knife is a double-bevel kitchen knife similar to the santoku but with a wider blade. It also has a different tip because it has a ‘k-tip’ point, which is also known as an angled reverse tanto. It is commonly used to slice meat, chop vegetables and mince herbs.

This guide explains what the Bunka knife is, its history, and why it stands out from other similar knives like the Santoku.

Japanese Bunka knife explained

Even though the Bunka knife is no longer as popular as it once was, it is still a sturdy general-use knife that chefs use to slice through meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. 

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What is a Bunka knife?

Bunka Bōchō 文化包丁 (ぶんかぼうちょう) is a general-purpose kitchen knife similar to the Santoku used to be as prevalent as the Santoku but has declined in popularity recently. 

However, it’s still a useful all-purpose kitchen knife comparable to the Santoku and Gyuto chef’s knives (best ones here).

This knife is an alternative to a regular chef’s knife. 

The Bunka is shorter, lighter, and made of stronger steel than a western chef’s knife, which helps it keep its edge longer. It can sometimes look like a narrower cleaver.

It has a double-bevel blade, so it is sharpened on both sides. This makes it easier to use compared to single-edged traditional Japanese knives.

In fact, the Bunka Bōchō is actually a Western-style Japanese knife. This means it’s not single-bevel like most others.

A Bunka knife is used for a variety of tasks, such as slicing, dicing, and chopping. It is characterized by its rectangular blade shape, which is slightly curved at the tip. 

The Bunka knife’s larger blade makes it perfect for cutting vegetables, and its triangle-shaped tip region is especially helpful when slicing through fish and meats since it doesn’t tear or rip the flesh.

It is also used to cut herbs because it allows for precise cutting. 

The blade is usually made of high-carbon steel and is often finished with a kurouchi finish (read about all the Japanese knife finishes here). 

Kurouchi is a type of finish applied to a knife’s blade. It is a traditional Japanese technique that involves coating the blade with a layer of carbonized material.

This layer helps protect the blade from corrosion and wear and gives it a unique look. 

Kurouchi is often used on Bunka knives, as it helps to enhance their performance and longevity.

The shape of the blade tip is the fundamental distinction between the Santoku and the Bunka Bocho.

Compared to other Japanese knives, the Bunka Bocho has a “reverse tanto” tip or “clip point” as opposed to a curved Kamagata “Sickle-shaped” tip like the Santoku and Gyuto. 

With the exception of this slight distinction, the Bunka shares the same benefits and drawbacks as a chef’s knife or Santoku. 

Typical Bunka lengths are between 120-240mm. The thickness of a Bunka knife can vary depending on the type of knife and the brand. 

Generally, the blade of a Bunka knife is between 2.5 and 3.5 millimeters thick.

This is slightly thicker than a traditional Japanese kitchen knife, which is usually between 2 and 3 millimeters thick.

The Bunka knife is sold with two handle types:

  1. Wa (traditional Japanese)
  2. a Western-type handle

Usually, the Bunka has a D-shaped, oval, or octagonal Japanese Wa handle shape. 

What does Bunka mean?

The word Bunka means ‘culture’ whereas the word Bocho translates to ‘kitchen knife.’

Therefore the literal English meaning is ‘cultural knife.’ This name comes from the knife’s general use in preparing traditional Japanese food.

It is a culturally significant knife because it was commonly used by home cooks and chefs in Japanese homes to prepare all kinds of traditional dishes. 

Another name for the Bunka knife is ‘Banno Bunka Bocho.’

This term means ‘multi-purpose’ knife and refers to the fact that this knife can be used in a wide range of cooking and food prep tasks. 

Therefore, the best modern name for the Bunka knife is ‘convenient cultural knife’ because it references its versatility in a modern kitchen. 

What is a Bunka used for?

The Bunka knife is an essential tool for any chef or home cook. It is a versatile and multi-purpose knife that can be used for a variety of tasks in the kitchen.

It is especially useful for cutting vegetables, slicing meat, and mincing herbs. 

The Bunka knife is designed to be lightweight and easy to maneuver, making it an excellent choice for those who are new to cooking or using Japanese knives. 

A Bunka knife is also incredibly sharp, which allows for precise and clean cuts. This is especially important when preparing delicate ingredients such as herbs and vegetables. 

The sharp blade also helps reduce the time spent prepping ingredients, as it can quickly and efficiently cut through tough foods.

The Bunka’s pointed tip makes it ideal for conducting delicate precision work, such as brunoise cuts or scoring vegetables.

It also works well for cutting through meat’s fat and sinew when undertaking minor butchering tasks.

Some chefs also use the Bunka knife to fillet fish because this blade doesn’t damage the flesh, so the fish can be used to prepare sushi and sashimi. 

The lack of curvature at the front edge of the blade limits the usage of a rock-cutting motion, but the flat profile of the Bunka is particularly suited for tap-chopping or push-cutting techniques. 

An advantage of the Bunka knife is that it is also incredibly durable. It is made from high-quality stainless steel, which is resistant to rust and corrosion.

This makes it a great choice for those who want a knife that will last for years to come.

The Bunka knife is also incredibly versatile. It can be used for a variety of tasks, from chopping vegetables to slicing meat.

This makes it a great choice for those who want a knife that can do it all.

In conclusion, the Bunka knife is essential for any chef or home cook.

It is lightweight, sharp, durable, and versatile, making it a great choice for those who want a knife that can do it all.

Variations of Bunka knives

There are two variations of the Bunka knife: the Ko Bunka Bocho and the Hakata bocho.

Ko Bunka Bocho (small bunka)

This variation of the bunka is significantly shorter than the traditional design.

The term “ko,” which appears in the title, means “little” in Japanese.

The blade on a standard bunka knife measures between 6 and 9 inches, but the ko Bunka’s blade might only be 4 inches long.

Nonetheless, it’s still a bunka in every other respect, with the same blade shape and design principles.

The ko bunka can do almost anything a regular bunka can, but it does it more precisely.

The ko bunka can be used in place of a paring knife due to its small size and dexterity.

Hakata bocho

The standard bunka shape is modified somewhat for this type. The Hakata still has the reverse tanto tip, but now the spine slopes ever so slightly upward.

To put it simply, this bunka appears less bulky and more flexible than the regular version.

Since the blade of the Hakata is curved, it is easier to conduct rock-chopping motions with the Hakata than with a straight-bladed bunka.

Bunka vs Western chef’s knife

Unlike Western chefs’ knives, the Bunka’s blade is ground at a considerably more acute angle (typically 10-15 degrees) to retain the characteristically sharp edge associated with Japanese blades.

The Bunka knife is often shorter in length than a western chef’s knife, making it lighter and simpler to use, which is especially helpful for people with little hands or limited counter space.

The Bunka is a traditional Japanese chef’s knife, while the Western chef’s knife is more familiar to those of us in the West.

The shape of the blade is the major difference between these two knives. The Bunka has an angled reverse tanto tip.

This cut is well suited for slicing vegetables, cutting meat and fish, as well as general chopping.

The Western chef’s knife has a more curved blade, allowing it to rock back and forth while cutting.

In terms of construction, Bunkas are typically made with harder steel than the average Western chef’s knife.

The similarity between these two knives is that they both have double-edged blades so they’re easier to use than a traditional Japanese knife.

Bunka vs Santoku knife

The Bunka is a variation of the traditional Santoku knife, which is a Japanese all-purpose kitchen knife.

The Santoku is a bit more versatile than the Bunka, although they are both designed to be multipurpose knives.

The major difference between these two knives is the shape of the blade. The Bunka has an angled reverse tanto tip, while the Santoku features a sheep’s foot tip. 

The Santoku’s blade is also usually a bit wider and shorter than the Bunka’s, allowing for more efficient chopping.

A Bunka knife is usually between 5-7 inches, whereas the Santoku is between 4-9 inches.

Both knives are excellent choices for any kitchen, so it comes down to personal preference and what kind of tasks you plan to use the knife for.

The tanto tip of the Bunka is more suitable for precision and intricate cutting.

Bunka vs Kiritsuke

The Bunka and kiritsuke are both Japanese-style knives, but they are quite different in terms of their design and intended use. 

The bunka is a multi-purpose knife designed for a wide variety of tasks, from slicing and dicing to mincing and chopping. 

It has a straight edge, a pointed tip, and a curved belly, making it ideal for a variety of tasks, but it’s considered a fish knife.

The kiritsuke, on the other hand, is a specialized knife designed for slicing and cutting. It has a straight edge, a pointed tip, and a flat belly, making it ideal for precise, delicate slicing.

The kiritsuke is used by professional chefs to prepare fish for sushi, and it’s an alternative to the yanagiba knife. 

In terms of size, the bunka is typically longer than the kiritsuke, with a blade length of around 180-210mm.

The kiritsuke, on the other hand, is usually shorter, with a blade length of around 150-180mm. 

This makes the bunka better suited for larger tasks, while the kiritsuke is better suited for smaller, more precise tasks.

The kiritsuke, on the other hand, is designed for precision slicing and cutting and so is usually sharper than the bunka.

Read all the The Art of Japanese Knife Sharpening: A Full Guide

What is the history of Bunka knives?

The Bunka knife is a versatile kitchen tool that has been used for centuries. It was first invented in Japan during the end of the Edo period (1603-1868).

It was originally used to cut and prepare food, but over the years, it has evolved into a multi-purpose kitchen tool.

Once the ban on beef was over, chefs started to use the Bunka knife to prepare and cut beef for various Japanese dishes.

The knife’s unique tip made it possible to slice through the flesh smoothly. 

The Bunka was inspired by the shape of a traditional Japanese sword and created as a sharp and durable knife. 

The Bunka knife quickly became popular among Japanese chefs and home cooks. It was used to prepare a variety of dishes, from sushi to tempura. 

Over time, the Bunka knife evolved to become even more versatile because it was used to prepare a wide range of ingredients, from vegetables to fish.

The Bunka knife is still hand-forged in many parts of Japan, like Sakai, Osaka, and in Seki, Gifu. 

The Enso Bunka knife is a popular option that is also available in the USA. 

Enso HD 7 Bunka Knife - Made in Japan - VG10 Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel

(view more images)

Some of the most popular brands that make Bunka knives include:

  • Yoshihiro
  • Shun
  • Tojiro
  • Enso
  • Sakai Takayuki
  • Masamoto

Learn more about the art of traditional Japanese knife-making here (and why they are so expensive)

How to care for a Bunka knife

Caring for a Bunka knife is simple and easy. Regularly hand washing the blade with warm water and soap will help keep it clean.

Drying the blade after each use is also important, as this will reduce the chances of rust forming on the steel.

In order to maintain its sharpness, it is recommended to regularly use a honing or sharpening steel to realign the blade.

It is also important to store the Bunka knife in a safe place when not in use. A magnetic knife block or leather sheath are great options for storage and protection.

How to use a Bunka knife

Keeping your fingers away from the blade when holding a Bunka knife is important. 

The best way to do this is to hold the handle with your dominant hand and the blade with your other hand. 

Your index finger should be placed on the spine of the blade, and your middle finger should be placed on the back of the blade.

This will give you the most control over the knife.

When using a Bunka knife, you should use a gentle slicing motion and not force the blade through the food.

This will reduce the chances of injury, as well as preserve the sharpness of the blade. 

For vertical slicing motions, the Bunka’s straight edge works wonderfully.

The edge rests level on cutting boards for maximum efficiency when someone is slicing food. Meat, garlic, and onions can be minced with a quick tap-chopping technique. 

In contrast to several western chef knives, the lack of a bend in the bunka blade makes rock chopping difficult.

In addition to its primary function of chopping, the Bunka’s pointed and sharp tip makes it ideal for scoring bread and producing exceptionally thin slices of seafood and vegetables for sushi. 

Any tough skin on meat and fish can be easily removed with the help of the bunka, thanks to its penetrating power.

How not to use a Bunka knife

Some foods may not be suitable for cutting with your Bunka’s blade.

Carbon steel is not the most malleable material and can break if you try to cut something too hard.

Some meats need a lot of force to cut through. If you do that with a bunka knife, the blade could bend so much that it breaks.

However, unlike the kiritsuke and gyuto, the Bunka’s broader blade won’t bend as easily under pressure.

Bones and shellfish are not suggested for use with a Bunka bocho because they can damage the blade.

Unknown facts about Bunka knives

  • Bunka knives are traditionally used in Japanese cuisine by professional chefs and are known for their versatility. 
  • They are typically made from high-carbon steel, which gives them a sharp edge and makes them resistant to rust and corrosion. 
  • The blade is usually between 5 and 8 inches in length.
  • The handle is usually made of wood, plastic, or composite material and is designed to fit comfortably in the user’s hand.
  • Bunka is a multi-purpose knife designed to be used for slicing, dicing, mincing, and chopping vegetables, fruits, and proteins. It is also a great tool for making sushi rolls and other Japanese dishes.

FAQs

Is a Bunka knife double-bevel?

Yes, the bunka knife usually has a double-bevel blade, which is sharpened on both sides. 

The Bunka knife is traditionally designed to resemble Western-style knives like the European chef’s knife, even though it can resemble a cleaver too.

Most Western knives have a double-edge compared to Japanese single-edged sword-like blades.

Although not as precise as a single bevel edge, a double bevel edge is significantly safer and easier to use for amateur chefs.

Because of the blade’s symmetry, users can make clean, vertical cuts instead of diagonal ones.

Having a knife with a double bevel edge means you can use it comfortably with either hand.

More so, the double bevel edge can be manufactured extremely thin without sacrificing any of its strength, provided that high-carbon steel is used in its production.

Do you need a bunka knife?

It really depends on your specific needs in the kitchen. A Bunka knife is a great tool for chefs of all levels, as it offers both versatility and precision.

If you’re looking for an all-purpose kitchen knife that can handle a variety of tasks with ease, then a bunka is definitely worth considering.

It’s a great substitute for a Santoku knife, but it allows for even more precise cuts due to the reverse tanto tip.

The Bunka knife is recommended for those who cook fish and meat and like to fine-cut vegetables and herbs. 

It is also ideal for precision tasks like chopping garlic, peeling fruits, and vegetables, or making thin slices.

Ultimately, the Bunka knife is a great tool for any chef looking to make precise cuts quickly and efficiently.

How do you hold a Bunka knife?

When using a Bunka knife, it is important to hold the handle correctly.

Some people use a pinch-grip where the index finger and thumb are pinching the handle, and the other fingers are wrapped around.

Others prefer to hold the handle like a pencil, with all four fingers on top and their thumb underneath.

Whichever grip you choose, make sure your hand is firmly placed around the handle to give you more control of your movements.

A contoured or tapered Western-style handle will feel most natural if you plan to grip the knife primarily by its handle.

A Bunka knife with a traditional Japanese-style handle (‘wa-handle’) feels fantastic in the hand if you use a pinch grip.

What is a Bunka knife made of?

Some blades are made of Damascus steel which is hammered steel.

It has a patterned design that looks beautiful and is also harder than stainless steel.

Other blades are made of stainless steel which is easier to sharpen and more affordable, but not as strong or as visually attractive as a Damascus steel blade.

Some Bunkas are made from high-carbon steels like VG10 or AUS-8, which offer superior strength, durability, and edge retention.

Some knives feature handles constructed of traditional Japanese materials like magnolia wood and buffalo horn.

Other knives may have synthetic handles made of micarta, G-10, or polypropylene.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a Bunka knife is a versatile kitchen tool that is great for a variety of tasks.

It has a triangle tip which is ideal for slicing through meat and fish because it doesn’t tear the flesh.

The Bunka is a great addition to any kitchen and can be used for slicing, dicing, and mincing.

A Bunka knife is a perfect choice if you want a knife that can do it all. 

Be sure to research the different types of Bunka knives available and find one that fits your needs.

Since the Bunka is a Western-style Japanese knife, it’s easier to use, even for beginners, because it has a double-edged blade. 

Store your Japanese knives the proper way with knife stands, sheaths and blocks

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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.