Best Japanese Knives: Complete Buying Guide

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It’s often said that knives are the most important tools in your kitchen.  That’s why so many chefs use Japanese knives – they do the job like no other.

If you’re looking to buy a Japanese knife, there are some important things you might want to consider.

Check out this guide to learn how to choose the best Japanese knife for you, and how to properly care for it.

 

 

Why Buy a Japanese Knife?Best Japanese Knives on Board

Like so many things manufactured in Japan, Japanese knives are known for their quality.  Here’s 4 reasons why buying a Japanese knife is worth every penny.

 

They’re Incredibly Sharp

Japanese knives evolved from a long history of traditional sword-making.

And just like a sword, a Japanese knife is made with an extremely sharp edge, making it possible to thinly slice sashimi and make detailed cuts like you often see in Japanese cuisine.

 

They’re Beautifully Designed

Designed to be ergonomically correct and lightweight, a lot of people say that their hands don’t get tired holding a Japanese knife for a long period of time.

 

They’re Expertly Crafted

As a result of hundreds of years of knife craftsmanship passed down generations, it would be a massive understatement to say that Japanese knives are well-crafted.

A good Japanese knife, if cared for properly, will last you for 10 years, maybe even more.

 

They’re Absolutely Gorgeous

If having something of such beauty in your kitchen inspires you to cook better (or at all!), that may be all the reason you need to get your own Japanese knife.

 

Types of Japanese Knives

Best Japanese Knives Japan Store

Knife Shop at Tsukiji Market, Japan – Lerner Vadim / Shutterstock.com

Japanese knives can be categorized as “traditional” and “Western style.”

Western style knives came onto the scene after Japan opened its ports to other countries. Until then, the Japanese diet consisted mainly of fish and vegetables. Due to Western influences, meat was quickly added to the menu. This created a need for new types of knives that could handle tasks such as butchering meat.

Because each knife in Japan is crafted for very specific tasks, there are a lot of different styles.  Here are some of hte most common types of Japanese knives.

 

Gyuto (Chef’s knife)

Best Japanese Knives Gyuto Knife

Gyuto Knife

The best-selling Japanese knife is the Gyuto, which means “beef sword” because it was initially designed to cut meat. Its known as the equivalent of the Western chef’s knife.

It has a curved Western style blade and a sharp, narrowed tip for quick chopping.

It’s popular because of its versatility – it can cut and slice meat, fish, and vegetables.

 

Santoku (All-Purpose Knife)

Best Japanese Knives Santoku Knife

Santoku Knife

Santoku, in Japanese, means “three virtues,” and can be used for meat and fish, but especially vegetables. Just like the Gyuto, Santoku is a great multi-purpose knife.

The Santoku differs from the Gyuto because of its wider blade and rounded tip.

It’s sometimes called “Bunka Bocho.”

 

Petty Knife (Utility Knife)

Best Japanese Knives Petty Knife

Petty Knife

The Petty knife is small and perfect for cutting and peeling fruit and any other task that involves precision.

It was likely named after the French word, “petite,” because of its small size.

 

Deba (Fillet Knife)

Best Japanese Knives Deba Knife

Deba Knife

The Deba has a thick and heavy blade, designed to butcher and fillet whole fish.

The back of the blade can be used to chop thin bones, like the ones in fish and chicken.

 

Nakiri (Vegetable Knife)

Best Japanese Knives Nakiri Knife

Nakiri Knife

The Nakiri is a double-bevel knife designed to cut vegetables.

It has a very flat blade with squared tips, which makes it ideal for chopping up vegetables.

 

Yanagiba (Sashimi)

Best Japanese Knives Yanagiba Knife

Yanagiba Knife

The Yanagiba has a long, narrow blade, like a sword, and is designed for slicing and filleting fish for sashimi with a “pulling” motion.

 

How to Choose a Japanese KnifeBest Japanese Knives Cutting Fish

To find the perfect Japanese knife, it might be helpful to answer these 3 questions:

 

1. What’s your budget?

Japanese knives aren’t cheap, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering how well they’re made.

You can get knives for under $100, or ones that cost upwards of $300 (and much, much more).

It’s been said by a lot of kitchen professionals that you should buy the best chef’s knife you can afford, then build the rest of your kitchen arsenal around it.

 

2. How well will you care for it?

The type of knife you should get depends on how well you plan on taking care of it. This brings us to the important question:  Should you get a carbon steel or a stainless steel blade?

 

Stainless Steel vs Carbon Steel BladesBest Japanese Knives Sashimi

Most Japanese knives are made with either carbon steel or stainless steel (or both), and they each have their pros and cons.

 

Stainless steel

  • Pros:  Better for the average home cook because it’s easier to take care of – it resists rusting and discoloration better than carbon steel.
  • Cons: Stainless steel blades are harder to sharpen, so you might have to take it to a professional for sharpening.

Carbon Steel

  • Pros: Sharper edge that stays sharp longer, and easier to sharpen by yourself.
  • Cons: Needs more upkeep. Carbon steel needs to be wiped clean and dry after use or it can discolor and rust easily.

Another option is a carbon steel stainless clad knife, which means that a carbon steel blade is clad (covered) in stainless steel.

This style is great because it has the protection of stainless steel, but the sharp edge of carbon steel. The exposed edge does need upkeep just like with carbon steel blades, but there’s less surface area to rust/discolor.

So if you’re willing to put in a little extra effort to maintain it, a carbon steel knife might be a better fit, especially if you are a serious cook and would like to make sharper cuts.

Stainless steel clad knives might be a good choice if you’re willing to care for it, but a bit nervous about going full carbon steel.

And if you’re like me and just need things to be easier, stainless steel might be your best bet.

 

3. What is your body size?

Ultimately, the best knife for you is going to be one that feels comfortable in your hand.

If you have small hands, then you might want to try a smaller blade.

The best thing would be to go into a store and try them out, but if this isn’t an option for you, it’s generally recommended that people get an 8-inch blade and go from there.

 

4. What will you cook?

If you cook a variety of food, like most people, a multipurpose knife like the Gyuto might be your best bet.

But if you’re a vegetarian and pretty much cook only vegetables, it might make sense to get a knife designed for this purpose, like a Santoku or Nakiri.

 

If you would like to know the history, details, and see Japanese knives in action, check out this documentary:

 

Japanese knives VS German knives Knives

In the world of knives, Japanese and German knives are often considered to be the best.

Here are the main differences between them:

 

Hardness

Japanese knives are made of harder steel than German ones, which means they can have a narrower edge and keep a sharp edge for longer.

German knives, because of their softer steel, can start to bend with a lot of use. They need to be sharpened more often, which can shorten their lifespan.

But hard Japanese knives are more brittle, and can chip easily if dropped or thrown into the sink. And they’re not ideal for heavy, forceful tasks like cutting through a whole chicken.

 

Bevel

Traditionally, Japanese knives have a single, deep-angle bevel, which means they’re only honed on one side of the blade.

German knives have a double or symmetrical bevel, meaning they’re honed on both sides of the blade.

The single-bevel allows knives to be sharper, but more difficult to handle than a double-bevel, requiring a bit of practice.

 

Weight

Japanese knives are lighter than German knives because of the hardness of the steel.

Lightweight Japanese knives aren’t as tiring for your hands than a heavy, bulky German knife.

It can also make quick, precise cuts, which would be harder to do with a heavier blade.

 

Be sure to check out this video for some great advice on buying a Japanese knife:

 

How to Care for Your Japanese Knife

Here are some essential tips on how to properly care for a Japanese knife:

  • Use the right cutting surface: The best cutting board to use is an end-grain wood board (although the upkeep and getting it sanitary takes work). Never cut on metal or glass surfaces. Bamboo and poly cutting boards aren’t great, either, and can damage the edge.
  • Never put the knife in a dishwasher – hot water, movement and chemicals can damage both the blade and the handle.
  • Instead, try washing with a mild soap and warm water. And always wipe all the water off before putting the knife away.
  • To sharpen your knife, use a Japanese whetstone, or have it professionally done.
  • Try not to bend or twist the knife while cutting, because it will damage the blade edge.  Instead, try using smooth cutting motions.

 

Carbon Steel Blades

These blades require more care because they can rust easily, so take extra to clean and dry completely after each use. Using carbon steel knives on acidic foods can cause color, taste and/or smell changes.

 

Stainless Steel Blades

These knives need care, too – they can also rust if improperly cared for, just not as easily as carbon.

Try not to leave knives in the sink, or pile a bunch of things on top of it.

 

The 5 Best Japanese Knives

And here are my picks for the best Japanese knives:

Preview
Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core and Ebony PakkaWood Handle; All-Purpose Blade for a Full Range of Cutting Tasks with Curved Blade for Easy Cuts; Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan
Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife (8.25'' (210mm))
Tojiro DP Gyutou - 8.2" (21cm)
Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife
Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm))
Title
Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core and Ebony PakkaWood Handle; All-Purpose Blade for a Full Range of Cutting Tasks with Curved Blade for Easy Cuts; Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan
Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife (8.25'' (210mm))
Tojiro DP Gyutou - 8.2" (21cm)
Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife
Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm))
Preview
Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core and Ebony PakkaWood Handle; All-Purpose Blade for a Full Range of Cutting Tasks with Curved Blade for Easy Cuts; Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan
Title
Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core and Ebony PakkaWood Handle; All-Purpose Blade for a Full Range of Cutting Tasks with Curved Blade for Easy Cuts; Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan
Details
Preview
Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife (8.25'' (210mm))
Title
Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife (8.25'' (210mm))
Details
Preview
Tojiro DP Gyutou - 8.2" (21cm)
Title
Tojiro DP Gyutou - 8.2" (21cm)
Details
Preview
Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife
Title
Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife
Details
Preview
Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm))
Title
Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm))
Details

 

1. Shun DM0706 Classic 8 inch Chef’s Knife

 

Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core and Ebony PakkaWood Handle; All-Purpose Blade for a Full Range of Cutting Tasks with Curved Blade for Easy Cuts; Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan
This is a great overall knife that can handle most of your cutting needs in the kitchen.  These Shun knives are known for their quality and are used by professional chefs around the world.

Pros

  • Blade core is made of high-carbon VG-10 steel, which allows these knives to keep their sharp edges for a very long time
  • Clad in Damascus steel, which is rust-resistant and easy to maintain
  • Handle is D-shaped, fitting comfortably and securely in the palm

 Cons

  • The blade is brittle and tends to chip – especially the tip
  • Quite expensive

Check out Alton Brown’s video going into detail about why Shun knives are such a great choice:

 

Sale
Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core and Ebony PakkaWood Handle; All-Purpose Blade for a Full Range of Cutting Tasks with Curved Blade for Easy Cuts; Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan
  • VG-MAX steel is a formula exclusive to Shun with extra tungsten for a sharper edge, more chromium for corrosion resistance and additional cobalt and carbon for strength and durability
  • Handle is ebony PakkaWood; PakkaWood is a hardwood infused with resin for a durable, water resistant finish, perfect for easy cleaning and tough enough for constant use
  • For proper slicing, push the knife forward and down while cutting through food and then pull it up and back, repeating the process in a “locomotive” motion; this prevents chipping for smooth cuts
  • “Shun” the Japanese word indicates a food’s peak ripeness; Shun draws on its Japanese roots and traditional blade-making practices to produce knives that perform excellently
  • The 8-inch Chef’s Knife is a staple kitchen utensil and a great gift for newlyweds, homeowners, parents, grandparents, cooks, aspiring chefs, hostesses or to keep as a personal kitchen tool

 

2. Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layers Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife 8.25 in (Western style Mahogany Handle)

Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife (8.25'' (210mm))

Pros

  • Blade has a 3-layer VG-10 Japanese stainless steel core, which gives it incredible sharpness and edge retention
  • Clad in Damascus steel, making it resistant to rust and easy to care for
  • Handle is made of beautiful Mahogany wood

Cons

  • Tendency for the blade to chip easily if not cared for properly
Sale
Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife (8.25'' (210mm))
  • Gyuto Chef's Knife is the most versatile and essential of all chef knives perfect for dicing, slicing, and chopping fresh produce to carving a roast chicken straight from the oven.
  • 3 Layer construction with a VG-10 Japanese stainless steel center core with a HRC 60 for exceptional sharpness, edge retention, and durability with ease of sharpening.
  • An elegant 16 layer hammered outer steel is a stylish yet functional design eliminating friction and keeping food from sticking to the blade
  • A premium Mahogany wood handle with a full tang for a well balanced construction for seamless use.
  • Excellent for entry level chefs. Hand wash only and sharpen on quality whetstones. Comes ready to use out of the box. 100% handcrafted by skilled tradesmen in Japan. Not mass produced.

 

 

3. Tojiro DP Gyutou – 8.2″ (21cm)

 

Tojiro DP Gyutou - 8.2' (21cm)

Pros

  • Excellent quality blade made from VG-10 steel, but for about half the price of the Shun and Yoshihiro Gyuto knives

 

Cons

  • Smaller size handle, which might not fit someone with larger hands
  • Not as durable or sharp as more expensive knives
Tojiro DP Gyutou - 8.2" (21cm)
  • Stain resistant chef knife
  • Usable to both left and right handed users as it's even edged
  • Blade Height: 1.7" , Blade Length: 8.2"

 

4. Tojiro DP Petty / Utility Knife

Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife

Pros

  • Another high-quality Tojiro knife that’s super affordable
  • VG-10 steel stays razor sharp for a long time
  • Clad in stain-resistant steel, making it easy to care for

 

Cons

  • Like the Gyuto, the handle of this knife is small – not ideal for larger hands
  • Blade has a slightly sharp edge near the handle
Tojiro DP Petty/Utility Knife
  • Steel Type: Stain-Resistant Steel
  • Blade: Double-Edged (50/50 balanced)
  • Blade Length: 5.9" (15cm)
  • Handle Material: Composite Wood
  • Hardness Rockwell C scale: 60 ±1

 

5. Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layers Hammered Damascus Nakiri Japanese
Vegetable Chefs Knife 6 inch 1st Edition

Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm))

Pros

  • Flat shape of the blade is great for cutting vegetables cleanly, avoiding “threads” of uncut vegetables
  • Has a VG-10 stainless steel core that gives it incredible sharpness, edge retention, and durability
  • Hammered outer steel keeps food from sticking to the blade and reduces friction (and it also looks pretty!)

Cons

  • Hefty price tag, like the rest of the Yoshihiro series
Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife (6.5'' (165mm))
  • Forged and hammered with 16 layers of steel in the Damascus tradition with a VG-10 Core, the VG-10 Hammered Damascus Series has been a perennial best seller, combining performance, beauty, and extraordinary v
  • One of the most popular knives that a cook can have today is a Japanese Vegetable knife known as a Nakiri knife. The Nakiri is a Japanese double edged knife with a flat cutting edge. The flatness allows for the whole length of the knife to come in contact with the cutting board with each stroke. This is particularly helpful when chopping vegetables since it eliminates those imperfect cuts in which ingredients are hanging by a string.
  • Reminiscent of a small cleaver, this knife is cherished for its ability to chop through root vegetables to thinly slicing delicate tomatoes. From prepping greens for a salad to chopping vegetables for a main dish, the simplest of tasks are elevated with a handcrafted knife that is as beautiful as it is functional.
  • Proudly made in Japan. This knife is complimented with a premium Western Style Handle that extends to the full tang of the knife and ergonomically welds to the hand for seamless use. The hammered texture of the blade eliminates friction and keeps food from sticking to the blade. Every knife from Yoshihiro is handcrafted by master artisans creating a unique one-of-a-kind work of art.
  • Traditional Japanese knife making values a sharp edge, which requires attention and care. Sharpening and honing should be done with only water whetstones. Hand wash and dry only, and do so immediately if working with acidic ingredients. Do not use on objects such as bones, nutshells, and frozen foods.

 

 

The Overall Winner:  Shun DM0706 Classic 8 inch Chef’s Knife

 

Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core and Ebony PakkaWood Handle; All-Purpose Blade for a Full Range of Cutting Tasks with Curved Blade for Easy Cuts; Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan

 

I picked this gorgeous knife because of its balanced, comfortable fit.  It’s also very versatile.  You can use it for many uses in the kitchen.

The VG-10 steel core blade stays sharp for a long, long time and is rust-resistant – the best of both worlds!

It offers all the benefits of a traditional Japanese knife, but with less upkeep,  You can sharpen it at home, but I think it’s best to have your knives professionally sharpened.

It’s not cheap, but it shouldn’t be – it’s a top-quality knife crafted in the town of Seki, Japan, the capital of samurai sword making.

If you’re looking for an amazing Japanese knife, the Shun DM0706 Classic 8 inch Chef’s Knife is a great choice.

Sale
Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting Core and Ebony PakkaWood Handle; All-Purpose Blade for a Full Range of Cutting Tasks with Curved Blade for Easy Cuts; Cutlery Handcrafted in Japan
  • VG-MAX steel is a formula exclusive to Shun with extra tungsten for a sharper edge, more chromium for corrosion resistance and additional cobalt and carbon for strength and durability
  • Handle is ebony PakkaWood; PakkaWood is a hardwood infused with resin for a durable, water resistant finish, perfect for easy cleaning and tough enough for constant use
  • For proper slicing, push the knife forward and down while cutting through food and then pull it up and back, repeating the process in a “locomotive” motion; this prevents chipping for smooth cuts
  • “Shun” the Japanese word indicates a food’s peak ripeness; Shun draws on its Japanese roots and traditional blade-making practices to produce knives that perform excellently
  • The 8-inch Chef’s Knife is a staple kitchen utensil and a great gift for newlyweds, homeowners, parents, grandparents, cooks, aspiring chefs, hostesses or to keep as a personal kitchen tool

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