Japanese knife finishes | From kurouchi to kasumi to migaki explained

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  May 25, 2022

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If you’re a fan of Japanese knives, you’ve probably heard of the different knife finishes that are available. Your knife’s blade can be very shiny or have a hammered, or rustic finish.

But do you know what the difference is between kurouchi, kasumi, and migaki? How about a Damascus finish?

Japanese knife finishes | From kurouchi to tsuchime explained

Japanese knife finishes are an important part of choosing a Japanese knife and though not all are functional, they definitely serve an aesthetic purpose. Each finish adds a unique touch to the aesthetic of your knife and some, like tsuchime can prevent food from sticking to the sides of the blade.

To make each type of finish, craftsmen have to use different techniques and materials.

In this article, I’m discussing the 7 Japanese knife finishes you need to be familiar with.

The different types of Japanese knife finishes

There are 7 main Japanese knife finishes:

  1. Kurouchi / Blacksmith
  2. Nashiji / Pear skin pattern
  3. Migaki / Polished finish
  4. Kasumi / Polished finish
  5. Damascus / Damascus
  6. Tsuchime / Hand-hammered
  7. Kyomen / Mirror

Each of these finishes has its own unique characteristics and benefits.

I’m discussing each knife finish separately and comparing them.

Kurouchi finish

Kurouchi knives are forged using traditional blacksmithing techniques, resulting in a rough, textured finish on the blade.

Kurouchi means “black finish or first black”, and the blade is black in color due to the layers of iron and steel that are used in forging.

The kurouchi finish also hides scratches and signs of wear, which makes it a popular choice for kitchen knives.

However, because this finish is not polished or shiny, it will stain more easily than other Japanese knife finishes.

Kurouchi Japanese knives have a layer of carbon steel that is covered with black iron cladding which gives the knife a rustic or “unfinished” rough appearance.

If you’re looking for a less refined knife finish, this dark, rustic-looking one is a good one to go for. Not polishing off the residue that naturally forms during forging results in a dark color.

Because this finish is achieved naturally through the hammering process, it often gives the knife great strength and durability. Kurouchi knives are commonly used by chefs who value the traditional craftsmanship of Japanese knives.

If you’re looking for a durable, rust-resistant blade that can stand up to heavy use in the kitchen, then kurouchi may be the right choice for you.

But beware, abrasive cleaning products could cause the kurouchi finish to fade over time.

Many nakiri vegetable cleavers or usuba knives have a kurouchi finish.

Nashiji finish

Nashiji knives have a pear-like texture on the blade, which is achieved by hammering the steel during the forging process.

Thus, Nashiji knives get their name from the Asian pear, known as nashi pear. This blade finish resembles the delicate, subtly speckled skin of a ripe nashi pear.

The Nashiji finish is applied to both carbon and stainless steel blades. It is a popular choice for Japanese kitchen knives because it is both attractive and functional.

The Nashiji finish helps to prevent food from sticking to the blade, making it a good choice for slicing and dicing fruits and vegetables.

Nashiji finished blades are generally more polished and refined than kurouchi blades, but with similarly excellent strength and durability.

Many bunka knives have this type of finish.

Migaki finish

Migaki knives get their name from the finishing process itself–migaki, which means “polished”.

Migaki Japanese knives are made with softer stainless steel and then polished until they have a near-mirrorlike finish.

These blades are polished until they have a bright, silky gleam to them but they’re not quite like a mirror.

The degree of polishing applied by one bladesmith versus another will differ. Since the Migaki knives are made by different manufacturers, the amount of reflectiveness they have will be different as well.

It’s possible to get a mirror-like shine from some manufacturers, while others produce a cloudy finish. Polished Japanese knives have a classy appearance, but there are some drawbacks to owning one.

Scratches on a polished knife are more obvious, and this detracts from the knife’s overall aesthetic appeal.

Because of their texture, textured finishes like Damask, Nashiji and Kurouchi are more likely to maintain a consistent look over time.

Migaki knives are praised for their excellent edge retention and sharpness.

They can still be used to slice raw fish or meat, but many people like migaki knives for their heftiness and elegant look when displayed on the kitchen counter.

Brands like Misen or imarku are known for this type of finish.

Kasumi finish

Kasumi knives are similar to migaki knives, but also feature a softer, more gentle finish.

Kasumi knives are literally “hazy mist,” and refer to their finish—no layers, no etching. Kasumi knives have bright and shiny blades.

Some people believe kasumi knives hold the edge better than kurouchi.

The word kasumi means mist in English, and it refers to the subtle blade finish that’s left after the forging process is complete.

Kasumi knives are made with softer steel than other types of knives, but they still have incredibly sharp edges.

Like migaki blades, kasumi knives are highly polished and renowned for their sharpness and edge retention.

Damascus finish

Damascus or damascene blades are finished by layering different types of steel in patterns that resemble flowing water, resulting in a beautiful, swirling pattern on the blade.

The Damascus finish is actually a result of many layers of Damascus steel packed on top of each other.

The name “Damascus” denotes the steel’s Syrian origins but the finish is actually very popular in Japan.

Then pattern looks like water rippling over stones in a stream. The Damascus finish is not only incredibly beautiful, but it also helps to prevent food from sticking to the blade.

Damascus knives are exceptionally sharp and durable, making them a popular choice for professional chefs.

While Damascus knives are more expensive than other types of Japanese knives, their unique patterns and high-quality materials make them a great investment for any professional kitchen or home chef.

Many gyuto and santoku knives have a Damascus finish.

Tsuchime finish

Tsuchime knives feature a unique hand-hammered finish that gives these blades their characteristic waves and bumps.

Tsuchime knives are made with carbon steel or stainless steel, and the blades are hammered by hand to create a textured finish.

The word tsuchime means “hammered” in Japanese, and refers to the unique finish on these knives.

The tsuchime finish also helps to create a beautiful, rustic look for these knives.

Hammered knives often feel heavier in the hand, but they also have excellent strength and durability.

Tsuchime knives are often used by sushi chefs, who value the knife’s ability to cleanly slice through fish.

Many yanagiba or gyuto (chef’s knife) will have a tsuchime hammered finish.

Kyomen finish

The kyomen is a bit of a less popular knife finish because you just don’t hear much about it. But, it’s probably one of the most beautiful ones because it’s smooth and shiny like a mirror.

Kyomen knives are made with high-quality carbon steel, and the blades are polished to a mirror finish.

The word kyomen means “mirror surface” in Japanese, and refers to the incredibly reflective finish on these knives.

Some consider kyomen blades to be the most beautiful Japanese knives on the market.

Giving the knife this shiny mirror-type appearance takes lots of work, especially polishing.

Generally speaking, a kyomen finish is found on high-end deluxe knives because the finish requires so much work to complete.

What is the best Japanese knife finish?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It depends on the knife’s purpose and design as well as your personal needs and preferences.

Of course, some chefs will insist on specific finishes because they provide better performance or make it easier for food to be brushed off the blade.

However, this is a matter of personal preference. The performance of a kitchen knife will be influenced more by its blade, bevel, and sharpness than by its appearance.

But the knife aesthetic can have an impact on the viewer’s emotions.

Cutlery is an important part of the kitchen experience, and if you enjoy using it, you are more likely to enjoy your work.

A lot of people get hooked on cooking because of the high-quality cutlery and equipment they use. Your ability to prepare meals could be affected by this.

How to choose the right Japanese knife finish for you

When choosing a knife, it’s important to consider the type of steel, blade, and finish that will best suit your needs.

It depends on what type of knife you need and the finish isn’t quite as important.

For example, if you need a sturdy sushi knife, you’ll probably get a yanagi even though you might be tempted by the beautiful finish of a tsuchime gyuto.

In the end, the functionality is more important than the types of finishes.

Kurouchi, kasumi, and migaki finishes are all popular choices for Japanese knives. Each has its own unique benefits and drawbacks.

  • Kurouchi knives are known for their durability and rust-resistant qualities.
  • Kasumi knives are softer than kurouchi and hold their edge well.
  • Migaki knives are highly polished and offer superior sharpness.
  • Damascus knives are beautiful and durable, but they’re also more expensive.
  • Tsuchime knives have a unique hand-hammered finish that creates a rustic look.
  • Kyomen knives are mirror-finished and offer superior sharpness.

The type of finish you choose should be based on your needs and preferences. Consider the blade, steel, and edge retention when making your decision.

No matter what finish you choose, Japanese knives are sure to provide years of reliable service in the kitchen.

Time to sharpen your Japanese knife? Get a traditional Japanese whetstone for the job

Kurouchi vs kasumi vs migaki

Kurouchi, kasumi, and migaki are all popular choices for Japanese knife finishes. Each has its own unique appearance.

  • The Kurouchi finish is a rustic, matte black finish that is created by forge-welding carbon steel to the blade.
  • The kasumi finish is a softer, more delicate finish that is achieved by hammering out impurities in the steel.
  • The migaki finish is a highly polished finish that offers superior sharpness.

These three are super popular finishes you need to keep in mind a hammered (tsuchime) is also very popular and many brands like TUO or Yoshihiro use this finish.

Takeaway

Japanese knife finishes can be classified into 7 main types: Kurouchi, Nashiji, Migaki, Kasumi, Damascus, Tsuchime and Kyomen.

Some finishes are rough-looking like Kurouchi while others like Migaki are smooth.

Each type of finish has its own benefits and drawbacks that you should take into account before purchasing a Japanese knife.

In this article, we’ve outlined the differences between these three types of finishes so that you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you.

The best way to store your Japanese knife collection is in a sturdy knife stand or magnetic strip

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

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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.