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Yanagiba Knife: What Is It & What Do Japanese Use It For?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  November 1, 2022

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Ever wanted those thin sashimi slices of fish but can’t figure out how Japanese chefs do it? Your best bet is to get a specialized knife.

Yanagi-ba-bōchō (柳刃包丁) means willow blade knife, a long, thin blade perfect for slicing fish. It is a type of Sashimi bōchō (Sashimi = raw fish, bōchō = knife) to slice raw fish for sashimi and sushi. Sashimi slices should be smooth, shiny, and sharp, which a usual knife cannot provide.

In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about this specialty knife and why sushi chefs can’t do without it.

What is a yanagiba

The yanagiba is specially designed to be able to meet these razor sharp slices.

The design helps in achieving these results:

  • Length: It has a sharp long blade with blade lengths ranging from 9 to 12 inches to cut a piece of fish only in one direction, by pulling back. If you cut back and forth, you wouldn’t get the perfect shiny sharp cut.
  • Thickness: The blade is very thin to allow slicing with little effort. When applying more force to a cut, you would tear or smash the fish more than cut it smoothly.
  • Scooped design: A well-designed yanagiba will have a scooped-out back to easily remove a slice of fish from the blade after cutting.
  • Hardness and toughness: Consistency in durability and sharpness is created in the same way as a Japanese sword. The blade is formed from a combination of two sheets of steel, a softer outer jacket wrapped around an inner core of harder steel.
  • Single angle: A yanagi-ba blade is angled only from one side, with the other side of the blade being flat. This allows control of the blade angle for delicate cutting and ease of sharpening.

Almost all western knives are used to push and cut, but almost all Japanese knives are used to pull and cut instead. Unlike Western knives, the yanagiba isn’t meant for chopping or dicing. It’s a slicing knife, so you should use it to make long, smooth strokes.

A yanagiba knife is used to fillet raw fish for sashimi and sushi.

But you can also use the knife to cut up the rice sushi rolls, cut the Nori (seaweed), and the fillings for the rolls such as cucumber, avocado, etc.

Additionally, this long thin blade is perfect for skinning fish such as salmon.

The yanagiba is a great choice for sushi chefs and other culinary professionals who need a knife that can handle delicate tasks.

But even if you’re not a professional chef, the yanagiba can be a useful addition to your kitchen arsenal.

Just a heads up, the single bevel Japanese sushi knife is best used by right-handed people. If you’re a leftie, it’s safest to get a double-bevel or specially crafted left-handed sushi knife.

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What is a sushi or sashimi knife?

A sushi or sashimi knife is a type of kitchen knife specifically designed for preparing sushi or sashimi.

As you may know, sushi and sashimi are Japanese dishes that traditionally consist of raw seafood (such as fish, squid, octopus, etc.) and rice.

Given the nature of these dishes, it’s important to have a sharp knife that can easily slice through raw fish.

You also have to make very thin slices and precise decorative cuts in fish, vegetables, and rice.

Is yanagiba the same as sushi knife?

The term sushi knife refers to all kinds of knives like the yanagiba, the wide blade Deba or fish knife, and other boning knives.

Yanagiba is a style of sushi knife that is long, narrow, and sharp. It’s used to slice sashimi (thin slices of raw fish) and can also be used to fillet fish.

So, the basic answer is that yanagiba doesn’t refer to every type of sushi and sashimi knife.

What is the difference between Yanagiba and Sujihiki?

Both knives are slicer knives, but the yanagiba is made specifically for slicing fish and works especially well for sashimi and sushi, while the sujihiki is more versatile with a little higher needle-shaped blade, perfect for trimming the fat and connective tissue from cuts of boneless meat.

Conclusion

The yanagiba is a knife made specifically for slicing fish and it’s the best tool for the job. It isn’t the most versatile knife though, so it’s best for sushi chefs.

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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.