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Japanese vs Western Knives: The Showdown [Which is Better?]

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  January 10, 2023

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When it comes to kitchen knives, there is a wide variety of styles and designs available. Among the most popular are Japanese and Western-style knives. 

While both types of knives have their own advantages and disadvantages, which one you choose depends on your cooking needs and personal preference. 

Do you want to know more about the differences between these two knife styles?

Japanese vs Western Knives- The Showdown [Which is Better?]

Japanese knives are usually lighter and thinner with a single-bevel blade, making them good for slicing. They also have a sharper edge than Western-style knives. Western-style knives are heavier and thicker with a double-bevel blade which makes them better for cutting through tough vegetables or bones. 

Are you a fan of Japanese knives or Western knives? Can’t decide which one is better?

In this blog post, we’ll compare the two and find out which one comes out on top! 

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Japanese vs Western knives: differences explained

Japanese knives tend to be lighter and sharper and are designed specifically for certain tasks like cutting raw fish in sushi and sashimi or decorative cutting (mukimono).

They are typically made of hard, high-carbon steel and are sharpened at a much steeper angle than Western knives.

Since they have a sharper edge than most Western-style knives, they can be used to make very thin cuts and are preferred by many Asian chefs.

On the other hand, Western knives are generally heavier and thicker and are designed for a wide variety of tasks, including chopping, slicing, and dicing.

They are typically made of stainless steel and are sharpened at a shallower angle.

These knives are better suited for tougher tasks like cutting through hard vegetables or bone.

They also tend to have a more durable edge that can take a beating without needing to be sharpened as often.

There are a few main differences between Japanese and Western knives:

Blade shape

One of the most noticeable differences is the shape of the blade. Japanese knives tend to have a more pointed tip, while Western knives have a more rounded tip. 

This difference in blade shape is due to the different cutting techniques used in Japanese and Western cooking. 

Japanese knives are designed for precise slicing and cutting, while Western knives are more suited for chopping and dicing.

Japanese knives tend to have a more pointed tip and a straighter edge, while Western knives have a more rounded tip and a more curved edge.

Japanese knives have a straighter, more angular blade shape, which allows for more precise cutting and slicing.

This is because the blade can make a cleaner cut and slice through food more easily. 

On the other hand, Western knives have a curved blade shape, which is better suited for chopping and slicing through tougher foods.

The curved blade also makes it easier to scoop up food.

Japanese knives also tend to be lighter and more balanced than Western knives.

This is because Japanese knives are made using a traditional method called “forge welding,” which involves layering different types of steel together to create a blade with a specific balance of strength and flexibility. 

Western knives, on the other hand, are usually made using a casting or stamping process, which results in a heavier and less balanced blade.

Blade thickness

Japanese knives tend to have thinner blades than Western knives, which makes them sharper and better suited for precise cutting tasks.

They can be used for slicing through sushi or sashimi or making thin cuts of vegetables.

Western-style knives have a thicker blade, which makes them better for tougher tasks like cutting through hard vegetables or bone.

They are also more durable and can take a beating without needing to be sharpened quite as often.

The average blade thickness of a Japanese knife is usually around 2 mm, while a Western-style knife is usually around 3.5 mm.

Blade material

Japanese knives are often made of high-carbon stainless steel or high-quality carbon steel, while Western knives are usually made of stainless steel or a combination of steel and other metals.

The type of steel used in the blade will determine how long it lasts and how easy it is to sharpen.

High-carbon steel is usually the more durable option and can last longer, while stainless steel is easier to sharpen but may not last as long.

Most Japanese knives are made of steels like AUS-8, VG-10, and ZDP-189, which are harder than the steels used in Western knives.

Western knives are made of softer steels like 420 or 440. Softer steel is not as brittle and less prone to chipping. 

Grinding

Japanese knives are typically ground on one side only (single bevel), while Western knives are usually ground on both sides (double bevel).

This has an effect on the sharpness of the blade.

Single-bevel Japanese knives are usually sharper than double-bevel Western knives, but they may not be as easy to use. 

Single bevel knives are often used by professionals in Japan and require more skill to sharpen correctly.

Another significant difference between Japanese and Western knives is the angle of the blade. 

Japanese knives have a much finer edge, with a blade angle of around 15-18 degrees, while Western knives have a blade angle of 20-22 degrees. 

The finer edge on Japanese knives allows for precise slicing, but it also means that the blade is more prone to chipping or dulling. 

Western knives, on the other hand, are more durable and less prone to chipping, but they are not as sharp as Japanese knives.

Keep the angle on your Japanese knife precise by sharpening it using a sharpening jig

Sharpness & edge retention

So which knife is sharper?

Generally speaking, Japanese knives will be sharper due to their thinner blades and single bevel grind.

However, edge retention may vary between different models of each type of knife.

Japanese knives tend to retain their edge for longer, but this will depend on the type of steel used in the blade.

High-carbon steels will usually last longer than stainless steels.

Japanese knives are usually sharper than Western knives, which makes them better suited for precision cutting and slicing.

The higher quality steel also helps maintain the blade’s sharpness for longer.

Western knives tend to have a thicker blade, which makes them less sharp but more durable.

They may not be as sharp as Japanese knives, but they will keep their edge for a longer period of time.

Handle design

Japanese knives typically have a more ergonomic handle design, which makes them more comfortable to hold and use. 

The handle is usually made of wood or plastic and is designed to fit the user’s hand perfectly. 

Western knives, on the other hand, have a more traditional handle design, which is usually made of metal and is not as comfortable to hold.

Japanese knives often have a wooden or resin handle, while Western knives may have a wooden, metal, or synthetic handle.

There are also differences in the handle design of Japanese and Western knives.

Japanese knife handles are typically made from wood, bone, or plastic, and they are attached to the blade using a single metal pin. 

Western knife handles, on the other hand, are often made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, and composite materials, and they are attached to the blade using rivets.

Sharpening methods

Japanese knives are usually sharpened using a whetstone, which is a flat stone that is used to sharpen the blade.

This method requires skill and practice, but it can produce a very sharp edge. 

Western knives, on the other hand, are usually sharpened using a honing steel, which is a rod-like tool that is used to realign the blade’s edge.

This method is easier to do but doesn’t produce as sharp an edge as a whetstone.

Price

Japanese knives tend to be more expensive than Western knives due to the higher quality steel and craftsmanship that goes into making them. 

However, the higher price tag is often worth it, as Japanese knives are usually sharper and more durable.

Overall, Japanese knives are designed for precise cutting tasks and tend to be more delicate, while Western knives are more durable and better suited for heavy-duty chopping and slicing tasks.

When you learn about the art of Japanese knife making, you start to understand why they are so expensive

What is a Japanese knife?

A Japanese knife is a type of knife used in Japanese cuisine. It’s typically made from high-quality steel and has a sharp, single-edged blade. 

Japanese knives come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are designed for specific tasks such as slicing, dicing, and filleting.

They’re also often used for decorative purposes.

Japanese knives are renowned for their sharpness and durability. They’re usually made from high-carbon steel, which is harder and more durable than other types of steel.

The blades are also designed to be thin and lightweight, which makes them easier to maneuver.

Japanese knives are also known for their intricate designs.

Many of them feature a traditional Japanese pattern called a “tsuba,” a decorative guard covering the handle.

This helps to protect the user’s hand from slipping onto the blade.

Japanese knives are also popular for their versatility. They can be used for a variety of tasks, from slicing and dicing vegetables to filleting fish.

They’re also great for decorative purposes, such as creating intricate designs in food.

In short, Japanese knives are renowned for their sharpness, durability, and versatility. They’re perfect for anyone who wants to get the most out of their kitchen.

Store your Japanese knife the traditional way in a beautiful wooden saya (sheath)

What is a Western knife?

Western knife is a type of knife that is commonly used in the Western world. It typically has a straight edge with a curved or pointed tip. 

The blade is usually made of stainless steel, and the handle is usually made of wood, plastic, or metal.

Western knives are often used for cutting, slicing, and dicing. They’re also great for carving and whittling.

Western knives come in various shapes and sizes, and they can be used for various tasks. They’re great for slicing vegetables, fruits, and meats.

They can also be used for more delicate tasks like filleting fish and carving intricate designs.

Western knives are popular among chefs and home cooks alike. They’re easy to use and often more affordable than other types of knives.

They’re also versatile, so they can be used for a variety of tasks.

Western knives are also popular among hunters and outdoorsmen.

They’re great for skinning and gutting games, and they can also be used for cutting through brush and small branches.

Overall, Western knives are a great choice for anyone who needs a reliable and versatile knife.

They’re easy to use, well-balanced and affordable, and come in various shapes and sizes. 

Whether you’re a chef, hunter, or outdoorsman, a Western knife is sure to come in handy.

What’s better: Western-style or Japanese knife?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question. It ultimately depends on personal preference and intended use. 

Japanese knives tend to be thinner, harder, and sharper than Western knives, which makes them well-suited for precise tasks such as slicing raw fish for sushi or thinly slicing vegetables.

However, this also means that they can be more delicate and prone to chipping or breaking if not used and cared for properly. 

Western knives, on the other hand, tend to be thicker and less sharp, but they are also more durable and better suited for tasks such as chopping or heavy duty work. 

Ultimately, the best knife for you will depend on your needs and cooking style.

Japanese vs German knife

German knives are the most popular types of Western knives because they’re well-known for their superior quality. 

Let’s compare how a Japanese knife compares to a German one:

Both knife kinds are similar, however, the steel hardness and blade sharpness, as well as edge angles are different.

High-quality German or Japanese knives can last a lifetime with proper care and maintenance.

Brand, quality, and construction determine a knife’s quality.

What makes Japanese knives better than German knives?

With a Japanese knife, you’ll cut accurately, beautifully, and easily because of its razor-sharp edge.

German knives have larger, more durable blades that can slice through meats, watermelons, pumpkins, potatoes, and more.

It’s better for heavy-duty cutting and chopping tasks, so you can even cut thick meat and small bones. 

Most German knives are heavier and thicker than Japanese. Full bolsters keep the knife balanced and they’re easier to maneuver.

German knives have a curved edge for slicing and chopping. They’re also usually double-bevel which makes them suitable for both left handed and right handed users.

Japanese knives are lighter and thinner than German knives. This makes them more agile and ideal for filleting fish or trimming vegetables.

That’s why sushi chefs use Japanese knives like the yanagiba.

Japanese knives feature straighter blades than German knives, but they’re sharper.

Japanese vs American knives

American-made knives are also considered a part of the Western-knife umbrella category. 

Japanese knives tend to be sharper than their American counterparts due to their harder steel material construction.

They also feature thinner blades which makes them more maneuverable for intricate tasks such as filleting fish or slicing vegetables with precision.

On the other hand, American knives have thicker blades that make them better suited for tougher jobs like cutting through thick meats or splitting bones.

They’re also made of a softer steel than the hard carbon steel of Japanese knives.

The handles on Japanese knives typically provide a better grip since they’re usually made out of wood or plastic, whereas those found on American models are often made from metal materials, giving them a heavier feel overall.

What is a Japanese version of the western-style chef’s knife?

A Japanese version of the western-style chef’s knife is called a gyuto.

It is a versatile knife that is similar in shape and function to a western chef’s knife, but it is typically made with a thinner and harder blade, which makes it well-suited for precise cutting tasks such as slicing and dicing. 

The gyuto is a popular choice for both professional chefs and home cooks in Japan, and it is becoming increasingly popular in other parts of the world as well. 

Takeaway

In conclusion, it’s clear that Japanese and Western knives have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. 

Japanese knives are sharper and lighter, but can be more difficult to sharpen. Western knives are heavier and sturdier, but not as sharp. 

In conclusion, Japanese and Western knives differ in blade shape, blade angle, the type of steel used, weight and balance, and handle design. 

These differences are a result of the different culinary traditions and cutting techniques used in Japanese and Western cooking.

If you want a sturdier, heavier knife, go for a Western one but if you’re after extreme precision, Japanese knives are more useful.

Whichever you choose, you will be satisfied!

Check out our new cookbook

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

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

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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.