Let me guess that you have heard enough about the precision and finesse of Japanese knives and want to learn more about them. Well, they are actually made differently and are formed with some of the best types of steel available.
Having evolved from the ancient forging tradition of samurai swords to the present-day kitchen essentials, they have proven to be highly functional and bear a vivid artistic expression.
There are about 18 types of Japanese knives that can be used in the kitchen. The most popular ones are the Gyuto, Santoku, and Nakiri.
In this post, we shall explore every type, discussing their individual features and the culinary tasks they excel at.
What are Japanese knives and why are they different?
They are simply a category of kitchen knives that are made in Japan. These knives are characterized by their hardness, exceptional cutting precision due to their sharpness, and craftsmanship. Japanese knives are usually made from carbon steel or stainless steel such as:
- Shirogami (White steel No.1,No. 2)
- Aogami (Blue steel No.1, No. 2)
Although these may seem like what you can get with other well-made knives from other countries. But any chef who has used real Japanese blades must tell you they are different. Here are some of the reasons why we maintain that Japanese knives are unique:
- High-quality steel blade
- Ruthless sharpness
- Unique blade designs
- Thin and lightweight
- High durability and longevity
- Labor-intensive forging technique
13 Types of Japanese Knives Used in the Kitchen
1. Gyuto (chef’s knife)
Think of the Gyuto as the Japanese version of the Western chef’s knife. It is therefore a versatile knife that can be used for a range of culinary tasks: from slicing through meats and fish to chopping vegetables.
Gyuto typically comes with a double-bevel blade that can range between 7 and 12 inches. This blade has a gentle curve which allows users to achieve a smooth rocking motion when slicing, dicing, or chopping.
Unlike their Western counterpart, gyutos are light and have very thin blades made from harder steel.
Further Reading: Uses of Japanese Gyuto Knife
2. Nakiri (vegetable knife)
In Japanese, nakiri means “vegetable knife”. This is a rectangular-shaped knife that is primarily designed for preparing vegetables and fruits. It usually comes with a double bevel blade edge with lengths ranging from 6.5 to 8 inches.
Unlike most of its Japanese counterparts, nakiri features a straight blade which allows it to easily achieve a simple up-and-down chopping motion. The blade’s flat profile maximizes efficiency by allowing the whole length of the knife to contact with the chopping board.
Usuba is similar to nakiri in every aspect except in the blade edge design. While nakiri is a double bevel, usuba retains the traditional Japanese signature with a typical single bevel blade.
Most professionals will settle for usuba because of its higher precision and cultural significance. But nakiri is quite easy to use, and so it’s commonly found in home kitchens.
There are two types of usuba: the kanto usuba and the kamagata usuba. The Kanto version has a rectangular shape while the Kamagata version has a curved and pointed tip.
4. Santoku (multipurpose knife)
Santoku is a medium-sized multipurpose kitchen knife known for its cutting performance and ability to handle a wide range of tasks. Its name, “santoku” translates into “three virtues” which implies the knife’s ability to cut, slice, and chop.
It comes with a wide blade that can stretch between 6.5 to 7 inches. Compared to gyuto, a santoku has a straight blade which makes it effective for chopping and slicing motions.
Read Further: Gyuto Vs. Santoku: Differences and Comparisons
5. Yanagiba (or simply, Yanagi)
The yanagi is a traditional Japanese knife with a long slender blade and single-beveled edge specifically designed for slicing raw fish into paper-thin pieces.
Its thin and graceful blade can range between 9.5 to 13 inches long. This allows for precise, clean cuts with minimal effort. Unlike the types you saw earlier, yanagi is not a multipurpose knife.
Deba is another type of traditional Japanese knife that is specifically designed for butchering fish. It excels in tasks like filleting, beheading, cutting through bones, and dealing with tough skins.
This is only possible because it comes with a robust and thick blade that is capable of handling heavy-duty tasks. It features a single bevel cutting edge and a blade length of about 6 to 8 inches.
7. Honesuki (Boning knife)
While deba is designed to handle fish butchery, the honesuki is made to handle poultry butchery. It features a thick triangular-shaped blade that can be as long as 6 to 7 inches.
This sturdy blade is ground on one side and would excel in tasks like deboning a whole chicken. It comfortably handles the force required to separate meat from the bones without compromising its sharpness.
A larger version of the honesuki knife is called Garasuki. It is used on heavy and bony meat like beef and pork.
The Kiritisuke is a unique knife that comes with an angled tip and a chisel ground cutting edge. It also features a blade that is broader than a yanagi but not as wide as an usuba and can stretch between 9.5 to 12 inches.
In the Japanese culinary arts, the kiritsuke was reserved for the executive chefs as a symbol of authority and mastery. To use it, you must wield exceptional skills. Due to its design, it can be used for versatile cutting tasks.
Further Reading: 4 Key Uses of Kiritsuke Knife
The takohiki knife is a variation of the yanagi that originated from Kanto, Tokyo. It is specifically used for slicing octopus for sashimi, but can also be used for fish filleting.
It features a long, thin, single-edged blade that could be as long as 9.5 to 12 inches. Compared to other Japanese knives, takohiki’s blade has a flatter profile which makes it suitable for achieving precise cuts.
10. Sujihiki (Slicer)
Also called Slicer, the sujihiki is an elegant knife that is designed to achieve exceptional slicing results. The knife comes with a long, narrow, sharp, and double-beveled blade.
Its slim profile allows it to achieve paper-thin and consistent slices of fish, meat, or anything under it, without tearing. It can also serve as a general-purpose knife, especially when you require a longer and more precise blade.
11. Petty (Utility knife)
The petty knife is a general-purpose utility knife that is useful, especially in tasks where you need a smaller, nimble knife for intricate cutting. This makes it suitable for tasks such as trimming, peeling, and slicing small fruits or vegetables.
Petty knives typically feature a small double-beveled blade that is usually 4.7 to 6 inches. Due to its small size and lightness, it provides excellent control and maneuverability.
12. Menkiri or Sobakiri
Also called a Noodle Knife, menkiri is a type of Japanese knife basically designed for cutting noodle dough into thin and uniform strips. It is used to cut noodles such as udon, soba, and ramen.
Menkiri comes with a strong and sturdy blade, usually a single bevel, with lengths ranging between 9.5 to 12 inches. The handle is constructed over the blade to allow for an effective push-cutting technique.
Fuguhiki is a Japanese knife originally developed for slicing fugu (blowfish) into thin, translucent sashimi. This fish contains a potent neurotoxin such that any mistake during its preparation will be life-threatening.
So, Fuguhiki, which is only wielded by skilled chefs, provides the cleanest and finest cuts possible. The knife features a long, thin, and narrow single-edged blade that is usually 9.5 to 14 inches long.
Are Japanese knives worth it?
Whether Japanese knives are worth it really depends on your preferences, cooking habits, and budget. You probably are already aware of the qualities they wield.
Yes, they are more expensive than their Chinese and Western counterparts. But they can last a lifetime if you invest in the right ones and dedicate some time to taking good care of them.
Which Japanese knife should you buy?
As a home cook, you should begin with multipurpose ones like santoku, gyuto, and probably nakiri.
But if you’re a professional chef who’s particular about what they want to achieve, then you must choose one based on your needs.
If you need a more in-depth guide, read how to choose the best kitchen knife.
Why are Japanese knives so expensive?
They’re more expensive because of three major reasons:
- Made from premium steel
- Level of craftsmanship
- Their high performance
Can Japanese knives be sharpened?
Yes, you can sharpen Japanese knives. In fact, sharpening them regularly is one way to keep their sharpness and cutting performance for a long time.
You can use various methods to sharpen them including,
- Sharpening rod or honing steel.
- Electric knife sharpeners.
But then, we strongly advise that you seek professional assistance if you’re not confident with your sharpening skills.
So, there you have it: the different types of Japanese kitchen knives. It’s all on you now to choose the right one.