Buyer's Guides Japanese Kitchen Knives

Best Japanese Kitchen Knives in 2020: Complete Buyer’s Guide         

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Four different knives

If you prepare and cook plenty of fish, meat, chicken, and veggies, then you need the best Japanese kitchen knives to get the job done fast and efficiently. These types of knives are often a better choice than the standard German knife because they come equipped with very narrow angles, which makes them sharper. A sharper knife performs with hard precision, slicing, dicing, and mincing, beautifully.

If you’ve never used or purchased Japanese knives, then this buyer’s guide that I’ve created will help you choose some beautiful new knives for home or work. In the guide, I’ve included all of the important information you need to know to choose knives that are well-balanced, beautifully designed, and equipped with a sharp edge that’s durable and able to cut with precision. I’ve also included six of the leading Japanese knives on the market, each of which earned a high rating for their beautiful design and overall quality.

Below, you’ll find a comparison chart that includes each knife, their top features, and how they rated.

Japanese Kitchen Knives Comparison Chart

ProductTypeBlade
Length
TangRating
Zelite Infinity Chef Knife
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Gyuto8-inFull
Imarku-Santoku Knife
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Santoku7-inPartial
WALLOP Nakiri Knife
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Nakiri6.5-inFull
Imarku Professional Deba Knife
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Deba Bocho6.5 inFull
DALSTRONG Kiritsuke Knife
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Kiritsuke8.5-inFull
Cangshan J Series Sashimi Knife
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Sashimi10 inFull

Best Gyuto Knife-Zelite Infinity Chef Knife


Our Rating: (5/5)

This chef’s knife, also known as a gyuto knife, by Zelite,  features a balanced, well-weighted design, complete with a rounded handle for a more comfortable grip. The design of the knife promotes improved control when dicing, slicing, or chopping. The grip features an ergonomic design that will feel comfortable in both large and smaller hands. The design also helps to reduce wrist tension and discomfort. The blade consists of sixty-seven layers of high carbon stainless steel with a AUS 10 hardness rating. It also features a full tang, which is designed to improve durability and minimizes the chance of the blade snapping.

Pros

  • Blade is made out of sixty-seven layers of stainless steel
  • Full tang
  • Ergonomic handle
  • Well-balanced

Cons

  • Not good for mincing

Conclusion

This blade arrives hand sharpened and ready to go, right out of the box. The twelve-degree blade edge will make slicing through the toughest meats and veggies a cinch. This is a double bevel, full tang knife that features the three-step Honbazuke method, which is considered the gold standard manufacturing process in the industry. Additionally, the manufacturer also offers a risk-free 100% money back guarantee, with a lifetime warranty that covers manufacturing defects. Clearly, this is a manufacturer that stands behind its products.

Best Santoku Knife-Imarku-Santoku Knife


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

This santoku knife by Imarku is made from German stainless steel that’s rust and corrosion resistant. The knife blade polishing technique used during the manufacturing process is designed to improve blade sharpness and durability. The blade is 2.5 millimeters thick, with the edges measuring in at 15 to 18 degrees on each side. The hollow edge of the knife adds air between the blade and the food that’s being cut. This prevents veggies or meats from sticking to the surface of the blade, for a faster, smoother slicing and dicing process. The handle is made out of pakkawood and features an ergonomic design that will provide more control as you cut, while minimizing wrist and hand tension.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to control
  • Well-balanced
  • Thicker blade

Cons

  • Partial tang

Conclusion

While the knife does have a reputation for smooth cuts, the big drawback is the partial tang design, which has a negative impact on the overall durability of the blade. If a partial tang isn’t a drawback for you, then you’ll still appreciate the knife’s well-balanced design, ease of use, ultra-sharp blade, and the traditional pakkawood handle with the ergonomic design.

Best Nakiri Knife-WALLOP Nakiri Knife


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

This Nakiri knife measures in at 6.5 inches and it’s a type of cleaver that’s designed to easily slice through fish, vegetables, fruit, boneless meats, and leafy greens. This model is made out of high carbon stainless steel that’s durable, and corrosion and rust resistant. The hand sharpened blade is produced using the Honbazuke method, which staggers the beveled blades at eight to twelve-degrees. This results in a cutting edge that’s razor sharp. The blade itself measures in at two millimeters thick, making it one versatile knife that’s able to handle a wide variety of tasks in the kitchen. The blade features a full tang that runs up into the handle where it’s secured with three rivets. The ergonomic handle is made out of tough pakkawood, providing a comfortable non-slip grip.

Pros

  • Lifetime warranty
  • Ergonomic handle
  • Multipurpose
  • Full tang

Cons

  • Heavy

Conclusion

This multipurpose Nakiri knife is designed for both home and professional use. The knife itself is easy to handle, well-balanced, and comes complete with a full tang design and an ergonomic handle. You’ll quickly find yourself relying on this knife for a wide range of cutting, dicing, and mincing tasks in the kitchen, thanks to the knife’s razor-sharp cutting edge, the ergonomic handle, and the overall quality.

Best Deba Bocho Knife-Imarku Professional Japanese Deba Knife


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

The deba bocho knife is commonly used in Japanese cuisine and is often relied on to cut and fillet whole fish. This style of knife is characterized by the solid, thick, and wide blade. Because of this, the knife is mainly used for processing whole fish and is able to break bones, fillet with precision, remove the head, and gut the fish. Additionally, it can also be used to prepare poultry. This model comes equipped with a large mirror polished blade that features a twelve to fifteen degree single bevel design. The blade measures in at 6.5-inches with a length of just over twelve inches. The ergonomic handle is made out of rosewood and features a firm, comfortable grip, with a handle that’s well-balanced.

Pros

  • Ergonomic rosewood handle
  • Well-balanced
  • Wide thick blade
  • Versatile

Cons

  • Size of the blade can make the knife difficult to control

Conclusion

This knife comes equipped with a blade that’s two inches wide, with a blade thickness of 5.5 millimeters. The razor-sharp, thick blade is able to easily slice through bone and will allow you to expertly prepare and fillet whole fish. Because this is such a large knife, it can be difficult to handle, however, the well-balanced design does improve control over the cutting process. Additionally, the knife is covered by a one-year warranty, which will give many cooks incentive to buy, knowing it can be returned and replaced if the knife doesn’t provide the type of raw cutting power that the manufacturer claims it does.

Best Kiritsuke Knife- DALSTRONG Kiritsuke Knife


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

This Kiritsuke knife by Dalstrong features an aggressive, sleek design with a matte black blade and handle. The scalpel-like edge is razor-sharp and was produced with the three-step Honbazuke method, with a hand finished edge. The blade has a titanium nitride coating that protects the metal from rust and corrosion, improving durability. The fiber resin handle features an ergonomic design with a textured surface that improves grip. The high-carbon steel of the blade has undergone vacuum heat treatment at fifty-eight HRC, which allows for edge retention and superior performance.

Pros

  • Titanium nitride coating
  • Blade is made out of high-carbon steel
  • Blade is corrosion and rust resistant
  • Reasonable price

Cons

  • Difficult to sharpen

Conclusion

This knife offers the type of superior cutting performance that makes it pro-quality and an invaluable tool to have in a home or commercial kitchen. If you’re looking for a versatile knife that you can rely on to cut, dice, or mince meats, tough veggies, leafy greens, and fruit, then this latest kiritsuke knife by Dalstrong is it. The lightweight knife is equipped with a blade that holds an edge longer than the average kiritsuke knife and features a unique, well-balanced design that makes the knife easier to control and handle, regardless of the material you’re cutting.

Best Sashimi Knife-Cangshan J Series 62786 Japan Sashimi Knife


Our Rating: (4/5)

This ten-inch sashimi knife is made out of VG10 steel with a HRC rating of 60+/-2. The knife features a beautiful African blackwood handle and a sheath made out of American walnut. The knife is expertly folded, using sixty-seven layers of high carbon steel, each of which ensures stain resistance, durability, and a powerful blade that’s very low maintenance. The knife also features a well-balanced design that makes it easier to handle and control. The manufacturing process includes heat treatment that’s designed to bring out the best qualities in the steel, promoting an impressively sharp edge.

Pros

  • Well-balanced
  • Heat treated blade
  • Easy to control
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Must be washed by hand
  • Price

Conclusion

Despite the longer ten-inch blade, the knife itself is surprisingly light and easy to handle, maneuver, and control. It’s designed to handle a variety of materials, but truly shines when preparing sashimi. If you’ve ever prepared sashimi before, then you know it requires a skilled, razor-sharp blade that’s thin, durable, and easy to control. This model by Cangshan delivers the type of performance and features you need in a knife you can rely on, whether you’re working with a high volume of food, or you’re preparing sashimi in your home kitchen. Well-built, covered by a limited lifetime warranty, and equipped with a long powerful and thin blade, this knife earned top marks for its razor-sharp cutting edge, and its durable design that ensures this knife will last for decades.

Japanese Kitchen Knives Buyer’s Guide

For hundreds of years, Japanese masters have experimented with different blade making techniques that resulted in superior steel blades. The techniques used have been passed down through each generation and are still commonly used to this day. Many home cooks and professional chefs use these knives because of their well-balanced design, cutting precision, and blade quality. Others prefer this type of knife because Japanese knives have a reputation for being the sharpest knives in the world, thanks to the traditional production techniques.

Before I go over what features these knives have to offer and what types of Japanese knives are available, let’s learn more about the many benefits you’ll enjoy by purchasing a set of Japanese knives for your kitchen.

Japanese Knives Benefits

  • Japanese knives have a reputation for holding an edge longer than a standard kitchen knife. This means you won’t have to sharpen them as frequently, which is definitely a huge plus for both home and pro cooks.
  • Most models are very lightweight and thin. Heavy-duty American knives may be sharp, but their thicker blades and heavier weight can make them difficult to control and challenging to use if you’re working with large volumes of food.
  • When it comes to maintenance, you’ll also find that these knives are very easy to sharpen. The process is easier and faster compared to sharpening a traditional American knife.
  • These knives are also made out of the best types of steel. Damascus steel, high carbon steel, carbon steel, and stainless steel are the most common types of steel used. Most models of Japanese knives will use high carbon steel that’s mixed with extra elements including molybdenum, tungsten, vanadium, chromium, or nickel, to create exotic alloys that have an improved durability, hardness, and resistance to corrosion.
  • These knives can last for a very long time, retaining their sharpness and shape. They are also very difficult to break, unlike traditional knives.

Must-Have Features

Table knife

Japanese knives aren’t just designed for professional chefs. In fact, they can make a great alternative to traditional Western style knives because they’re often easier to use, due to their sharper edges and lighter weight. There are many different types and styles of knives to choose from, but what makes Japanese knives so special?

These knives are famous for their durability, sharpness, and overall blade quality that makes cutting through thick meats, veggies, and other material, a cinch. They’re a great choice for dishes that require a lot of prep, such as Filipino rice recipes.

Below, I’ll touch on some of the other factors to consider before you choose a new Japanese knife and how to select each knife based on your cutting needs, skill level, and budget.

Blade Hardness

Many chefs believe that the hardness of a Japanese knife is unmatchable. The hardness of steel is graded by the Rockwell hardness scale. Steel that’s softer will have a rating of around AUS 8, and can only be hardened by fifty-six, which is pretty low. While a knife made out of this material may be durable and less brittle, it will become blunt surprisingly quickly because of the softness of the metal. These softer metals are considered inferior for knife making.

A Japanese knife will usually have a hardness rating of sixty-one to sixty-seven, which provides them with impressive edge retention. However, this comes at a price. A blade with a higher hardness rating is also prone to chipping, which can seriously damage it.

Single or Double Beveled

These knives are available in either a double bevel or single bevel design. The single bevel blade is often designed for professional cooks, since they are capable of very detailed cuts, or some may have very specific uses. Using a single bevel knife can take some getting used to and will require some practice. For most, a double bevel blade design will be sufficient and much easier to use.

Handle

Handle type will be another consideration. Many of these knives will come with either a traditional Japanese style handle or a Western style handle. Western handles are usually heavier and offer a sturdier feel. Japanese handles are lighter, cylindrical and are made out of wood. These handles may feel more comfortable to use and easier to control, due to the lighter weight and almost ergonomic design.

Size

If you’re looking for a versatile knife, one that can handle everyday cutting tasks in the kitchen, then a model that’s eight to eight and a half inches should be sufficient. However, you’ll find some knives measuring in at ten inches. These knives are designed to fillet whole fish or slice right through thinner bones, such as poultry. However, a longer blade can be more difficult to control. Japanese blades usually range from six inches up to ten. The length of the blade will depend on the type of knife. A paring knife will be much shorter than a filleting knife, while a Gyuto knife, which is similar to a chef’s knife, will fall somewhere in between.

Tang Design

You can find these knives available with a full or partial tang design. Tang refers to the way the knife’s blade is attached to the handle. A full tang features a blade that runs the entire length of the handle. In many cases, a full tang will indicate better quality and a reduced chance that the blade will come loose from the handle like it can with a partial tang knife.

Cladding

Cladding refers to how the knife’s blade has been wrapped. As an example, the core of a knife may be made out of carbon steel, but wrapped in stainless steel. This type of knife is much easier to maintain compared to a knife that’s made out of full carbon steel. Many knives are clad in a type of material referred to as Damascus, which adds an elegant swirl design on the surface of the knife. In some cases, cladding will not offer much in terms of benefits, however, if the spec sheet for the knife you’re interested in mentions cladding, you definitely want to find out what type of steel has been used.

Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel?

Most Japanese knives are made out of stainless steel or carbon steel or both. Each type of metal has its advantages and disadvantages.

Stainless steel is better for the home cook because this material is easier to take care of and tends to resist discoloration and rusting better than carbon steel. However, blades that are made out of stainless steel are harder to sharpen, so you may need to take your knives to a pro when they need to be resharpened.

Carbon steel is able to retain an edge longer and it’s easier to sharpen. However, the blades will need more upkeep. This material must be wiped clean and dried off after each use or it can rust and become discolored, easily.

Many knives will feature a combination of these two materials, called carbon stainless steel. This usually involves a carbon steel blade that’s covered in stainless steel. This is a great option since it has the protection of stainless steel, but the razor-sharp edge of carbon steel. However, the blade will still require the same type of upkeep as a traditional carbon steel blade, but there’s less surface area to become discolored or rusted.

Types of Japanese Knives

There are a couple of main classes of foraging Japanese knives known as kasumi and honyaki. The class of the knife is based on the material used during the forging process, and the method.

Honyaki

This type of knife is true forged, which means that it’s made from one material. These knives are made from white or blue steel and are forged with knife-specific top-grade steel.

Kasumi

These knives are forged from two types of material, just like a samurai sword. Often, white or blue steel is mixed with high carbon steel and iron. The two materials form a knife that’s easier to maintain and more forgiving than honyaki knives.

These knives are then further categorized based on what types of materials they’re designed to cut.

  • Deba Bocho
  • Santiku Hocho
  • Nakiri
  • Tako Hiki
  • Kiritsukes
  • Gyuto

Kiritsukes

This knife is a hybrid design that features a combination of lesser used styles of Japanese knives: yanagibas and usubas.  A usubas knife is designed specifically for veggies, while a yanagibas knife is used to slice fish. The kiritsukes is designed as a general purpose knife that can be used to prepare traditional Japanese cuisine. Many of these knives retain the single bevel design used for the yanagibas and usubas.

Gyuto

This is probably the most popular type of knife and it’s primarily designed to cut meat. It’s basically the equivalent of the chef’s knife. The knife has a narrow sharp tip for quick chopping and a curved Western style blade. It’s a popular choice because it’s very versatile and able to cut veggies, fish, and of course, meat. If you’re making a difficult dish, such as green rice, then you’ll need this type of knife, which offers plenty of control as you cut.

Santoku

This is a multipurpose knife that can be used for veggies, fish, and meat. It differs from the gyuto because of the rounded tip and much wider blade.

Deba Bocho

This knife has a heavy, thicker blade designed to fillet and butcher a whole fish. The back of the blade can be used to chop thinner bones, such as poultry and fish bones.

Nakiri

This is a double-beveled veggie knife. The blade is very flat, with a squared tip that makes it perfect for chopping up veggies and fruits, making it a great choice for prep work if you love preparing rice dessert recipes, stir fry, or stews.

Sashimi

This knife features a narrow, longer blade that’s almost sword-like. The knife is designed for filleting and slicing fish for sashimi.

Price

Often, quality is reflected in the price of the knife. This is especially true with Japanese knives. How much are you willing to spend? Are you purchasing a whole set or one knife at a time? If you’re on a tight budget, purchasing one knife at a time is actually a great option and one that will allow you to spend more on each individual knife. This ensures you end up with a high-quality knife, one that’s durability and designed to last. Often, you’ll come across budget-friendly sets that include low-quality knives that quickly rust or fall apart. If you want the real deal, then purchasing new Japanese knives should be considered a serious investment. You can find these knives available at prices ranging from $30 to $200. The price will depend on the manufacturer, the type of material the knife is made out of, the production process, and where the knife was manufactured.

Warranty

Many higher priced knives will come with some type of warranty. In some cases, you’ll notice a three to five-year full warranty. More commonly, you’ll come across lifetime warranties against defects. If you plan on investing in a pro-quality set of knives, make sure the models you’re interested in are covered by some type of warranty.

Final Thoughts

The best Japanese knives are lightweight, durable, and made from quality steel. They should feature a well-balanced design, a high hardness rating, and should come equipped with an ergonomic wooden handle that is comfortable to hold. Many of the knives that I’ve included here are perfect for both commercial and home use and are made using the traditional production techniques that have been passed down for centuries. This buyer’s guide and the products that I’ve listed here will help you choose a versatile knife or set of knives for your kitchen, so you can handle a wide variety of food types including meats, bones, veggies, fruits, poultry, and fish.