As Japanese cuisine evolved over the last centuries so did they knives to accommodate to cut through the texture of new, western ingredients.
Nowadays we have dozens of Japanese Knives to choose from, that can easily become overwhelming and take away the experience of getting to know the tools that would make your cooking experience more enjoyable.
Due to the high quality in production of Japanese knives manufacturers they will last you many years with proper care. There are many factors involved to keep in mind when choosing your next cutting tool.
Table of Contents
Important Factors to Consider When Buying a Japanese Knife
Profile of Blade and Length
Depending on the type of task you need to perform, you may find that you are using a knife design that favours up-and-down kinds of movements rather than push or pull cuts.
The profile of a blade is how the sharp edge of the knife is designed to come in contact with a cutboard when the spine of the knife is in parallel with the surface. The more the contact the blade has with the cutboard simultaneously, the better it will be at
chopping and slicing uniformly.
If a knife has a length around eight inches it will be useful for slicing as long as there isn’t too much space between the edge and the spine of the knife.
Some style of knives like the blade found in chef knives can be better suited to go through tougher ingredients like potatoes and even small bones while knives that may seem identical like a Gyuto can perform a bit better when it comes down to slicing and are less efficient when doing rough work.
Type of Steel
When it comes to the construction materials of a knife it is very important to identify different kinds of Japanese patented steel.
Different companies provide different levels of hardness that can be compared against using a common ruler; the Rockwell hardness scale. It measures how a knife behaves when faced against tough tests to try to break it.
The harder the steel, the sharper the edge will be able to get and usually retain it as well because the blade will be able to get really thin and will perform better with soft ingredients such as meat, fish and vegetables.
This comes at the price of being more fragile to hard hits such as bone cutting and other tasks that require more brute force rather than delicate cuts with sharp tools.
Having stainless steel means that it will not be affected by rust or any patina over the course of its life. This is a huge advantage as it means less maintenance in the long run.
Damascus patterns in high end knives may gives us a hint of what the knife making process involved as they are achieved through complex techniques to add extra durability to the blade.
Weight & Balance
It is important that when you use a tool, that it speaks to you and you find the experience of using it pleasing. How a handle grip feels in your hands and where the balance is oriented, handle or blade, will influence the work you do with it.
Japanese knives like the Gyuto, Santoku and Yoshihiro styles tend to be more handle balanced. This may translate to finer control when operating the tool and may result in greater results when doing delicate work.
On the other hand, more European styled knives like Chef’s are more focused and oriented towards its blade. As a result heavier objects should be easier to cut as there is already more weight in the knife itself and therefore it would be easier to apply more force to any ingredient due to this.
Manufacturers from Japan usually include some kind of wooden resin handle like the commercial brand Pakkawood. Although it may seem slippery it is quite the opposite delivering a solid grip even with wet hands while using it.
More European styles of handle tent to be ergonomic to accommodate to the region meals that include chopping heavier roots like potatoes.
Since the purpose of a grip is to prevent the knife from slipping away, it can be said that both styles of grip provide this functionality and that it will come down to personal taste of having a more ergonomic knife vs having a more pleasing aesthetic of a grip made out of Rosewood or Pakkawood.
Japanese Knife Reviews
Miyabi Chef's Knife
It’s no surprise since this item has been crafted by no other than the legendary manufacturer Miyabi. They pride themselves in having the Japanese qualities of purity, grace and elegance.
And they mean it.
With an authentic Japanese SG2 micro carbide powder stainless steel blade, it is comparable to a Katana blade in sharpness. I couldn’t believe that they took the time to sharpen and polish every single unit by hand using a three stage complex process called Japanese Honbazuke method. It includes using two sharpening stones and leather blocks to polish it.
Because of its length and relatively flat blade profile it will be a great fit to smoothly cut slices that will retain food’s juices and shape because of the clean one-way cut as in for example turkey in Thanksgiving or cutting salmon fish.
I like the fact that it is stainless so I don’t have to worry about getting any patina or rust to deal with.
One may think that because it is an eight inches long knife it might be difficult to use however in reality it feels light and comfortable holding on to the grip and that makes it easy to operate chopping vegetables or cutting through meat.
I’d recommend this knife to people who enjoy cooking and find value in getting tools that I know they can rely on every single time. Just looking at its delicate Damascus steel patterns makes me want to come up with new recipes so I have an excuse to use it. I’m confident I’ll be adding more Miyabi knives into my collection.
Shun Classic Chef’s Knife
Its steel performs as high as 60-62 in the Rockwell hardness test, a very sweet spot between flexibility and edge retention for a multipurpose tool such as a Chef’s knife.
Its handle is made of low key dark PakkaWood which feels great both for left- and right- handed users. Don’t get confused, this handle will last you for as long as the knife itself lasts as it has resilient properties that allows it to face daily tasks of wear and tear without getting destroyed.
If you are just getting into Japanese knives I highly recommend it for its versatility, great quality and design.
Yoshihiro Gyuto Knife
It is true that there are other knives that exceed this score but are usually meant for slicing and other delicate work. A multifunction knife needs to be more flexible to handle many tasks without chipping.
Because it is a Gyuto knife it is meant to be a multifunction tool for chefs and cooks. The main difference with a more traditional European-style chef’s knife is that this style of knives will have a shorter blade height that will result in easier meat slicing, specially in its 8.2 inches version of the knife, where with one single stroke you can create uniform slices that retain food juices and look professional because of their clean cut. No one wants to ruin a meal that took hours to make just to make it look awful after cutting and serving it. This knife is long enough that will allow you to prevent this from happening.
The fact that it comes with a protective wooden sheath called saya is very handy when it comes to carrying it around and storing it while not using it for safety and for its blade health as it will be less likely to bump into other tools.
Its natural Magnolia handle is very eye pleasing and overall the knife seems lightweight and easy to maneuver.
Being stainless steel it will be easier to maintain for chefs and cooks who don’t want to worry too much about the maintenance of the knife but because of its length it would be better suited if you use medium to big cupboards or if you have a larger hand to use it comfortably.
This level of hardness is usually found in slicing knives but being a kiritsuke and having a longer distance between its spine and the edge, makes it ideal for chopping vegetables and scooping them to another surface or into a pan.
No meat, fish or vegetable will stand a chance against its blade. What is more, with its aggressive edge, it is able to get through small places to make precision cuts.
It comes with a delicate octagonal Rosewood handle that is traditional and often found in high-end Japanese knives. A sheath made out of wood to protect the knife called saya is also included with it making it easier to store and prevent it from bumping into other tools that may result in damage in the blade.
Not everything comes for free as Blue High Carbon Steel may require additional maintenance to maintain that sharp edge by sharpening and honing with water whetstones. It should not be put inside a dishwasher and only be hand washed and dried after usage.
Also, bear in mind that Carbon steel can oxidize if not properly maintained and that should clean it up immediately if working with acidic ingredients.
However if you are willing to put this effort to keep your knife maintained properly it will reward you with making your cooking a fun and easy overall experience.
KUMA Chef Knife
It has an ergonomic European handle that is comfortable in the hands. Regarding balance, this is one of those kinds of knives that is blade oriented, meaning it might be easier to chop hard objects but when it comes to grips it ultimately comes to user handle preference.
Having the exact Rockwell score of this knife would have been really appreciated as it is a multi-functional tool and could turn out to be made out of too soft or too hard steel depending on the chef’s needs.
However I find that it is well balanced in terms of hardness so it turns out to be a great overall knife despite not knowing exactly how it compares to other knives in hardness with a scientific measurement.
Shun Sora Chef Knife
The hardness of this knife should be more than enough for most daily tasks such as cutting, slicing and chopping vegetables.
Because it has a pronounced belly towards the end of the blade it is easier to do rocking movements, however this also may imply that scooping up vegetables after chopping may not be the smoothest experience.
Usually most traditional Japanese knives would be made out of some kind of wood resin like Pakkawood. In this case Shun has decided to go for a more affordable handle that is easy to maintain which is a PP/TPE (polypropylene and thermoplastic rubbers) blend.
First of all, let’s be clear that you can never go wrong when it comes to knives made out of Japanese Steel with brands that have been around for many years. That being said we have explored the little nuances between different knives to come up with our favourite top three Japanese knives
Only by looking at the Miyabi Chef’s Knife it is clear that this knife is made for those chefs and cooks with the highest standards. Not only its SG2 micro carbide powder steel ranks near 63 in the Rockwell hardness which is honestly impressive for an all round knife such as a chef’s knife but also its handle have a very unique and pleasing wood called Karelian (Masur) Birch.
If you’d like to have the top notch tools in your kitchen, this probably should be considered as a solid choice.
Shun Classic Chef’s Knife has proven that it can stand to its company’s name and quality that it is known for. With a curved edge it is easy to do rocking chopping without losing the ability to be able to scoop up ingredients as it has a good height from edge to its spine to do so. It also has a sober black Pakkawood handle that is iconic within the Japanese knives category.
Its Rockwell hardness score is around 60-62 which is more than enough for everyday tasks without compromising on loss too much in either edge retention or flexibility.
For its price it is definitely a great choice to get into Japanese knives as it provides great value without breaking the bank.
Sometimes you need to carry a knife to work, especially if you make meals at different locations or events. In these scenarios you might find that the wooden sheath that the Yoshihiro Gyuto Knife includes can become very handy for transport and storage.
However I’d suggest this knife to people who are comfortable with bigger knives or have bigger cutting boards to work with as a 8.2 inches long knife that is not balanced towards its blade may not suit your particular way of handling knives.
What do you think about this selection of the best Japanese knives? Which one do you think it best suits you? Please let us know in the comments below!