Buyer’s Guide Updated February, 2020
For the chef or the home cook, nothing can be more important than having the best Japanese kitchen knives that are sharp, durable, and reliable. If you cook quite a bit at home, then you probably have a favorite knife that you use more often than any other knife, and that’s the one you want to invest in. On the other hand, if you take your cooking more seriously and find yourself spending several hours in the kitchen at home, or if you work in a restaurant, then you need more than just one knife, depending on what type of dishes you enjoy preparing.
If you know anything about cutlery, then you know that Japanese knives are considered some of the best in the world. These knives are lightweight, incredibly sharp, and designed to handle serious volume. They’re also low maintenance, which means they don’t have to be sharpened frequently but are able to retain their razor-sharp edge for several months.
Our site is dedicated to helping you choose the best Japanese knife for home or professional use.
We’ve reviewed dozens of the leading models and came up with the top five on the market.
How We Chose the Leading Knives
If you search online, you’ll find hundreds of Japanese knives for sale, but just because they’re called Japanese knives doesn’t mean they’re the real deal. In fact, many lower-priced models labeled as Japanese knives are nothing more than your average Western style kitchen knives.
So, we not only looked at the design, we also checked out the manufacturing process in order to determine how each knife was produced. An authentic Japanese knife is made using the same process that the Japanese have used for thousands of years. These knives are not made like Western knives, in large factories, by machines. Instead, these handcrafted knives are truly a work of art.
We also looked at pricing. While Japanese knives have a reputation for being on the pricey side, they’re priced high for a reason. These reasons being that Japanese knives are made out of high-quality materials, and they’re handcrafted. So, if you run across a Japanese knife going for twenty or thirty dollars, it’s probably not authentic. These knives can cost quite a bit, but trust us, they’re worth it.
We also looked at the weight, and balance of each knife we reviewed. Some Japanese knife manufacturers offer a more modern take on the design, which can add more heft to the handle, improving cutting precision by offering better balance. Other models are very lightweight, which makes them a better choice when it comes to working with high volumes of food or for people who have arthritis or other types of disabilities that can make it difficult to work with a heavier knife.
Our goal here was to find a variety of styles of the best Japanese knives, to give you more options based on your personal preferences, the volume of food you work with, and your own specific cooking style and needs.
Our leading product is a best-selling set of three Japanese knives made by Kamikoto. This top knife manufacturer has a reputation in the industry for producing the most durable, lightweight knives on the market, and they’re designed to last for decades.
Now, let’s begin with a closer look at this popular knife set and find out why it earned a five-star rating.
Best Japanese Knives-Kamikoto Kanpeki Knife Set
This beautiful three-piece set comes in its own wooden box for safe transport and storage. The knives rated well with both the pros and home cooks, mainly because each knife is low maintenance and has a little more heft compared to the average Japanese knife. They’re also made out of ultra-tough corrosion-resistant steel, which makes them incredibly durable and perfect if you’re looking for knives you can use daily. The set includes a paring knife, Nakiri knife, and a utility knife. Each knife also features an easy grip handle, that’s comfortable to use for a longer period of time.
Most Durable-Miyabi Birchwood SG2 Chef’s Knife
Considered the perfect all-purpose knife, this Japanese Miyabi knife features a nine-inch blade that’s made out of G2 micro-carbide powder steel and a gorgeous Birchwood handle. The blade is put through a type of ice-hardening process that works to naturally harden the steel, improving both hardness and durability. The manufacturer also uses a special type of honing process that gives the knife’s blade a nineteen-degree angle for ultimate sharpness.
Leading Ergonomic Japanese Knife-TOKAGEH Japanese VG10 Chef Knife
This beautiful Japanese knife made by TOKAGEH features an ergonomic handle design, a stainless-steel core, sixty-six layers of steel on each side of the blade and a beautiful Damascus finish that’s not only attractive but helps to prevent food from sticking to the surface of the knife. Described as the ultimate go-to Gyuto knife for daily use, you’ll love how this knife feels in your hand and slices and dices with ease.
Best All-Purpose Japanese Knife-Yaxell Super Gou Chef’s Knife Review
This chef’s knife by Yaxell is equipped with an eight-inch blade made with alternating layers of hard and soft steel totaling to one hundred and sixty-one layers. It also features a tough, stainless-steel core for ultimate durability. A true workhorse in the kitchen, this knife can handle high volume cutting like a champ, but it’s also a great buy for home kitchen use.
Best Value-Shun DM0707 Classic Chef’s Knife
This Japanese chef’s knife is a beast. Measuring in at an impressive ten-inches, this model is made out of high-performance VG10 steel, yet it features a lightweight design that makes the knife easy to handle and guide. The thin sharp blade can easily tackle big and small jobs in the kitchen.
Japanese Knives Buying Guide
Many professional chefs consider Japanese knives to be some of the best knives in the world, and they aren’t wrong. In terms of quality, a lot of mastery and skill goes into designing and producing the best Japanese knives. In the world of Japanese cutlery, there is a variety of styles and types of knives to choose from. These choices can make it difficult for beginners to select the type and style of Japanese knife that would work the best for their cooking style and cutting needs.
When you’re shopping online for a new knife or set of knives, you’ll need to pay close attention to the product details and specs. Many knives labeled as Japanese knives are not even manufactured in Japan, but in China, however, the manufacturing process is similar, but there is a difference. If you’re specifically searching for a Japanese knife, then check to make sure the product is actually manufactured in Japan.
Japanese Blades Vs. Western Blades
That isn’t to say that knives manufactured in China aren’t good. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford a genuine Japanese knife, then China replicas can be a great way to save money and try out a Japanese style knife to determine if you like them. In this way, you can get a taste of their cutting quality, heft, and style.
For those of you interested in genuine Japanese knives, we’ll go over what features to look for, what materials to choose from, and what you can expect in terms of heft, cutting precision, and quality.
As we’ve mentioned, there are many styles and types of Japanese knives to choose from. The most basic is the Gyuto. This style has an average length of two hundred and ten millimeters, but you’ll also find some as long as two hundred and seventy millimeters. These knives are often compared to the basic Western chef’s knife, so if you’re looking for a large, powerful knife that can act as a multitasker in your kitchen, then the Gyuto will be your go-to model.
While they make look similar, Japanese knives are actually much different than Western knives.
One of the biggest differences is the hardness of the blade. A Japanese knife features a harder blade, which translates to a narrower edge. A Western chef’s knife commonly has a twenty-degree angled blade, while the Japanese equivalent has a fifteen-degree angle. The hardness of the blade means it can also hold an edge longer, even with regular use. The Western knife has a softer blade, requiring more frequent sharpening. As you probably know, frequent sharpening can have a negative effect on the lifespan of a knife, so the less you have to sharpen a knife, the better.
Blade hardness can also be a downside as well because harder blades can be very brittle. Just one drop can damage the blade, causing dings and chips. These blades can also not be used to cut through bone or other types of hard material.
The average Western knife is sharpened on both sides of the blade, while the Japanese style kitchen knife is sharp on only one side of the blade. This single bevel design translates to a sharper blade. However, there are some Japanese knives that now feature a dual bevel design, but they aren’t as common as the single bevel models.
With a harder blade, most Japanese knives feature a lightweight design and a thinner blade. These knives can be the perfect choice if you’re looking for a lightweight knife that can cut through pretty much anything, with minimal effort.
Most Western knives feature a thicker handle and blade design and have more heft to them. This heft aids in the cutting process.
Features to Look for in Japanese Kitchen Knives
Now that you’re familiar with the differences between the average Western kitchen knife and the Japanese kitchen knife, we’ll delve into the different types of kitchen knives and features you should look for in a quality Japanese model and what to steer clear of.
Let’s begin with the blade material.
There has been some debate regarding whether stainless steel is a better choice or if carbon steel or laminated steel can provide the better cut.
So, is stainless steel the better option?
Carbon Steel: If you fail to thoroughly dry a carbon steel knife, it has a tendency to rust. They can also rust if food particles are left on the blade. Because of this, carbon steel blades are much more high maintenance than stainless-steel blades. But if you’re normally vigilant with blade care, using a carbon steel blade can also offer many benefits. Knives with a higher carbon content are easier to sharpen and will hold an edge longer.
Stainless-steel: If you’ve spent any time in the kitchen, then you’re familiar with the fact that most stainless-steel knives are not known for holding their edge well. Unless, of course, the blade has been hardened or treated using another method. Sharpening stainless-steel blades can also be difficult. Knife blades with a high chromium content will be harder to maintain. So, if you’ve decided to go with stainless-steel, look for knives that have vanadium and molybdenum instead of just chromium.
Laminated steel: A knife blade made out of laminated steel means a hard central core with soft outer layers. This means that the edge of the blade will last much longer and can be much easier to sharpen. Folded and laminated blades are usually equipped with a high carbon steel central core. This core is what forms the knife’s cutting edge. A high carbon central core means that the knife will hold its sharpness just as long as the single layer blade is made out of the same type of steel. If the outer layers of the blade are made out of soft stainless-steel they will be easier to sharpen. And the result? The central core can be made much harder than if the blade was made entirely out of steel that had the same type of hardness.
Tang is a term used to describe how the blade of the knife is attached to the handle. There are a couple of options here; full or push. Knives that feature a full tang design simply mean that the blade will run the entire length of the handle. Often, a full tang design can translate to better quality considering the push tang design can mean the risk of the blade coming loose from the handle. With the Japanese kitchen knife, the tang style isn’t an important feature to consider because most models will feature the traditional Japanese design that consists of two separate pieces that have been welded together. However, some manufacturers that produce these knives do use a more modern production approach that can involve the push or full tang design.
Most handles on Japanese knives are made out of wood, which gives the cook a better grip on the knife. The wood is very porous and fine-grained.
The Total Guide to Style
Below we’ll go over the different styles of Japanese knives to choose from, and what type of cutting task each style excels at, so you can choose the right type of knife for your kitchen.
This knife is basically the equivalent of the traditional Western chef’s knife. It’s what you’ll find yourself using the most and it’s designed to withstand heavy daily use in the kitchen. It’s the perfect knife for slicing meat and tough fruits and veggies and it holds an edge much better than a standard Western chef’s knife.
Small All-Purpose: Santoku
This type of Japanese knife has a taller blade than the Gyuto. It works the best when it comes to cutting fruits, veggies, and fish. Because it has a taller blade it’s not as susceptible to slipping or rocking.
A great choice for carving and slicing meat and fish, the Sujihiki knife is very lightweight and precise due to the steeper bevel design.
Butcher Knife: Deba
The Deba knife has a gently curved blade and thick spine. Often equipped with a single-sided edge, the Deba works best for butchering poultry or filleting fish. It’s also one of the heaviest Japanese knives and the most durable.
Sushi Knife: Yanagi
The Yanagi knife is the type of knife that’s used in every sushi restaurant in the world. It excels at precision, due to the long eight to twelve-inch blade. This is a knife that’s designed specifically for making long slicing motions. It can also be a great choice for fish filleting. You can learn more about the right knife for the job in our article on sushi making tips.
Specialized Sushi Blade: Takobiki
The Takobiki has a square blunt tip, which is what makes it different from the Yanagi. The design is meant to protect the user against injury when cutting up large volumes of fish. This type of knife works well for slicing octopus and eel, but it can also handle slicing up fillets like a champ, although it does lack some of the precision that the Yanagi knife offers.
Executive Chef’s Knife: Kiritsuke
This is an interesting hybrid Japanese knife of sorts, combining the styles of both the Yanagi and the Gyuto. While it has the angled tip of the Yanagi, it also features a blade that’s longer than the Gyuto. This knife is the perfect choice for filleting and slicing fish and it’s usually only used by executive chefs.
Boning Knife: Hankotsu
The Hankotsu excels at deboning meat. It features a stern blade combined with a thicker spine, which is what makes it so durable.
Fish and Poultry Boning Knife: Honesuki
Unlike the Hankotsu, the Honesuki is better at deboning fish and poultry, not meat. The knife’s rigid blade and triangular shape make it the perfect choice for deboning entire chickens. Some chefs also use it as a paring knife.
Standard Bread Knife: Pankiri
Designed for cleanly slicing through baked goods and bread, the Pankiri is a serrated knife that’s specifically designed to easily cut through dense bread without crushing it.
The Petty knife is the perfect utility knife and one that’s ideal for all types of cutting tasks, but it excels at peeling and cutting fruits and veggies.
Veggie Knife: Nakiri
Picture a miniature clever and you’ve got the Nakiri Japanese knife. It’s a good choice if presentation plays a big role in your kitchen. This knife can easily cut through thick-skinned fruits and veggies, and it can dice and slice through any type of produce with excellent precision. In fact, in Japan, it’s the standard knife used for cutting up fruits and veggies.