When I was in college, my roommate dated a Japanese-American grad student. One summer, he took a trip to Japan to see his relatives still living there. When he came back, he presented my roommate with what he saw as an amazing gift. No, it wasn’t jewelry or the latest Japanese fashion. It was a premium Japanese knife.
As college students, we didn’t really know what to make of this gift. That was until we actually started using the knife. This knife was life-changing. It was so much different than any knife we had used before, and we were whipping up homemade sushi and finely sliced meats and cheeses before we knew it.
So what makes the best Japanese knives so much better than a standard chef’s block? Read on to find out.
Differences Between Japanese and Western Knives
On the most basic level, Japanese knives are thinner and sharper than western knives. And, there are two main reasons for this.
- Material – Traditionally, Japanese knives are made from a carbon steel called Hagane. Inside these knives is a layer of brittle carbon steel at the core surrounded by a softer, iron steel exterior. While this creates an extremely sharp knife, Hagane steel is not durable. It tends to chip and rust, so many Japanese knives are now made with stainless steel.
- Bevel – The most traditional Japanese knives have a single bevel, unlike most western knives which have a double bevel. This means that only one side of the knife is sharpened, allowing for a lower sharpening angle. As a result, it’s possible to make the knife much sharper. This single bevel makes Japanese knives better at achieving fine slices of soft materials, like fish, raw meats and cheeses. However, single bevel knives are much more difficult to sharpen. We recommend investing in a ceramic rod with your purchase of a Japanese knife or having it professionally sharpened every six to nine months.
As you can see, Japanese knives have both advantages and disadvantages when compared to western knives. But, if you want a sharp, lightweight knife that makes beautiful cuts even in difficult materials, you need one of the best Japanese knives.
Types of Japanese Knives
When shopping for the best Japanese knives, you’ll notice that they have different names than you’re likely used to. There aren’t bread knives, chef’s knives or paring knives anywhere to be found. So, here’s a rundown of the most common types of Japanese knives.
- Nakiri Bocho – This straight and double-beveled knife is used for chopping and slicing vegetables. Some are rounded at the tip, and some are rectangular.
- Usuba Bocho – Similar to the Nakiri but with a single bevel, this blade is designed to be super thin for precision cutting.
- Deba Bocho – This rounded blade is generally thicker than the previous two, and it’s designed for gutting and breaking down fish. It’s available in three different sizes (Kodeba, Hondeba and Miokoshi Deba).
- Santoku Bocho – This is the last of the basic kitchen knives used by most Japanese households. This versatile knife is good for both slicing and chopping, making it the knife of choice if you’re only buying one.
- Yanagiba Bocho – Also known as a sashimi knife, this blade is a specialty knife designed for sushi makers. It has a rounded tip.
- Takohiki Bocho – This knife is very similar to the Yanagiba Bocho, but it has a rectangular tip.
- Fugu Hiki – This specialty knife is again like the Yanagiba Bocho, but it has a thin, narrow blade, designed specifically for slicing pufferfish.
- Menkiri Bocho – Unlike the other specialty knives on this list, the Menkiri Bocho is made to cut through udon or soba noodles. It looks somewhat like a meat cleaver, but the blade extends all the way to the handle.
- Gyuto – This is Japan’s answer to the chef’s knife. It is not a traditional Japanese knife, but it was designed after Western cuisine and the preparation thereof reached the Japanese islands. This knife has a rounded blade and is good for the rocking motion usually associated with chef’s knives.
- Garasuki – This triangular knife is a boning knife, mainly for breaking down poultry. The Honesuki is a smaller version of the Garasuki.
Santoku Knives vs. Chef’s Knives
In the USA, the most popular type of Japanese knife is the Santoku knife. That’s because this is the most versatile Japanese knife and the one that can function in a similar fashion to a chef’s knife. However, there are some key differences between the two.
While both of these knives are designed for slicing, mincing, dicing and chopping and they are both generally made from steel, Santoku knives are thinner with a straight-edged front blade in comparison to the slightly curved blade on a standard chef’s knife. Santoku knives may also feature a single bevel, rather than the double bevel found on chef’s knives. Finally, Japanese knives are almost always lighter to hold than their Western counterparts.
All of this means that Santoku knives are better at cutting meat, slicing cheese, mincing herbs and finely chopping vegetables, while chef’s knives are a better choice for disjointing meat and cutting through nuts. The latter also tends to be more versatile in the number of different cuts it can complete.
What is the Best Japanese Knife?
The best Japanese knife is ultimately the one that works best for you. Some people will prefer using a Santoku, while others may like a Gyuto.
When you’re picking out your Japanese knife, first ask yourself what you’ll be using it for and how often you’ll be using it. Then use the breakdown above to decide which type of knife is best for you. Once you’ve figured that out, you need to find the best knife in that category. This will ultimately come down to:
- Weight – Japanese knives are generally lighter than their Western counterparts, but you’ll still want to ensure the weight is comfortable for you to hold for about 10 minutes at a time.
- Length – You’ll need to adjust the length of your knife depending on your hand size. People with smaller hands should use shorter knives.
- Grip – If you have a knife you know you like to hold, look for a Japanese knife with a similar grip.
- Material – Most Japanese knives available online are made from stainless steel, which doesn’t need to be sharpened as often and is rust-resistant. However, for a more traditional knife, look for one made from Hagane steel.
- Origin – Because Japanese knives are a style rather than an origin, many such knives are now mass-produced in China and elsewhere around the world. You’ll have to search hard and pay more for a Japanese knife that has actually been produced in Japan. Look towards the bottom of our list for a couple of options.
With the above in mind, take a look at the nine best Japanese knives available to order online. We’ve picked out a variety of models at a variety of price points, so hopefully, you’ll find one you love below.
1. Shun Classic Chef’s Knife
People love the Shun Classic Eight-Inch Chef’s Knife, and it’s easy to see why. The all-purpose, eight-inch blade is made for all kinds of cutting tasks, from slicing to dicing. Furthermore, the blade is made from VG-MAX steel, which Shun has designed to include extra tungsten for a sharper edge, extra chromium for more corrosion resistance and extra cobalt for added durability. However, because this steel is quite delicate, be sure to follow the care instructions at all times. As a result, you’ll be rewarded with a long-lasting, lightweight knife that can accomplish all your kitchen needs.
2. TUO Nakiri Knife
For a quality knife at a very attractive price point, look no further than the TUO Nakiri Knife. Designed for slicing and dicing vegetables, this Japanese knife is actually made from German stainless steel. The handle is made from high-density pakkawood and features an ergonomic grip thanks to the gentle curve. In addition, the length of the blade is a middle-of-the-road six and a half inches, which is adequate for most hand sizes.
3. Imarku Sashimi Sushi Knife
Most specialty Japanese knives, like Yanagiba Bocho, Takohiki Bocho and Fugu Hiki, cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. For that reason, the Imarku Sashimi Sushi Knife, which is essentially a Yanagiba Bocho, takes the best value award on our list. At under $100, this knife will beautifully slice raw fish thanks to its 15-degree, single-bevel blade. This blade is made from high-carbon stainless steel and is 10 inches in length.
4. Miyabi Evolution Knife Collection
The Miyabi Evolution Knife Collection is made in Seki, Japan, one of the epicenters of Japanese knife production thanks to its long history of creating some of the best Samurai swords. The process to create these knives takes 42 days and more than 100 steps, including ice-hardening the blades to stave off corrosion. When ordering, you can choose between a variety of sizes, but we recommend the seven-inch Santoku knife if you want a versatile blade to accomplish most cuts in the kitchen.
Read More: Top-Rated Kitchen Knife Sets
5. VasverBlades Handmade Santoku Japanese Knife
If you’re looking for a knife that will be unique to your kitchen, consider the VasverBlades Handmade Santoku Japanese Knife. This knife is forged in Russia using premium Austrian stainless steel in a Japanese Santoku design. The result is a super sharp, lightweight knife that won’t chip and retains its sharp edge longer than average. In addition, this Etsy seller will engrave the knife, making this a great gift for someone who loves to cook.
6. Zelite Infinity Santoku Knife
BEST EDGE RETENTION
Although the Zelite Infinity Santoku Knife is made in China, it features an impressive, 67-layer Japanese steel with amazing edge retention. This ensures your Santoku knife stays razor-sharp for months at a time. In addition, the triple-rivet handle features an attractive metal mosaic which is a signature of the Zelite brand. Finally, the round handle and tapered bolster ensure this knife is balanced and comfortable in hand.
7. Global Chef’s Knife
Because Japanese knives feature super sharp, lightweight blades, they tend to be prone to chips. That’s why the Global lifetime warranty, which protects against defects and breakage, is worth seeking out. In addition to this protection, you’ll also get a quality Japanese knife when you order the Global Eight-Inch Chef’s Knife. Although this is a hybrid of several types of Japanese knives, it was designed by legendary Japanese knife maker, Komin Yamada, and features a revolutionary straight edge blade in contrast to a normal bevel. This ensures the knife is super sharp and stays that way for longer than normal.
Read More: The Top Chef’s Knives on Amazon
8. Kamikoto Kuro Series Knife Set
Kuro means black in Japanese, and that’s why these black knives are called the Kuro Series Knife Set. But, they don’t just look cool. These blades are made from zirconium dioxide, which is harder than Hagane and stainless steel with superior edge retention. The set comes with three knives, one seven-inch Santoku knife, one 6.5-inch Nakiri knife and one five-inch utility knife. All three are double bevel Ryo-ba blades and are presented in a handcrafted ash wood box.
9. Kikuichi Cutlery Honyaki Series Yanagi
As you can see from the above, Japanese-style knives don’t have to be expensive, but if you really want the real deal, be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars. For an heirloom-standard knife, you may need to shell out more than $1,000, which is the case with the Kikuichi Cutlery Honyaki Series Yanagi. This sashimi knife features a hand-forged, single bevel, 9.5-inch blade made from a single piece of white carbon. This is really one of the best knives a professional chef can own.