How To Choose The Best Japanese Kitchen Knife
With so many shapes, sizes, steels, finishes and handle materials it can be overwhelming knowing what to look for in a Japanese knife. Keep calm and read our helpful guide. Choosing a kitchen knife and right sharpening tools is not as hard you might think, it just seems like it because of all the choices available. We are here for you to select the best Japanese knife. The cost and the fear of getting it wrong can be stressful but since we offer 30 day money back guarantee, we are 100% sure you will love our products. We’re here to help you figure it all out and get you your new favourite knife (or a set of them :).
Our promise – You will fall in love with our products.
We get it – buying over the internet premium, personal goods can be very tricky – a good knife can cost a lot of money and it’s often scary taking a leap and clicking “add to cart” and paying for your pricey order. When you buy a Japanese knife, you’re buying something you should be able to use for the rest of your life if you look after it. We don’t want to sound cheesy here but you are not buying a simple item, you are buying a piece of handcrafted art. We choose to work with the most talented Japanese blacksmiths (few of them are more than 65 years old!), often with generations-long blacksmith traditions. When we decide what to sell on the site, we look at knives we’d only be happy using ourselves. It’s why we don’t have hundreds of ranges and why we choose not to go mainstream (we don’t sell Western type knives) and we solely focus on showcasing the best Japanese knives. We don’t favour only the popular brands. We also discover and put to the test less known Japanese blacksmiths who produce amazing quality products. We fell in love with Japanese culture and the art of blade-making at the first sight. Everything you see on Japana site is of a quality we love and we are proud of promoting. Rest assured that any of the knives you like the look of are of an extremely high standard and if for any reason you’re not happy after your purchase, we offer a 30 day money back promise.
Choosing your knife
We often get asked for a recommendation and we nearly always give the same answer if a customer doesn’t have a specific shape or style in mind or they’re after a general use chef knife. Japanese guyto’s knives are the closest equivalent of chef’s kitchen knife, hence we generally recommend to go for them. Moritaka, Yu Kurosaki, Anryu and Sakai Takayuki knives are the bestselling ones – they have it all – beauty, sharpness, a quality edge and hard wearing carbon steel and an excellent price tag – hard to resist! So many veggies to be chopped – so little time… It’s worth bearing in mind that because nearly all of the knives on the site are handmade in small forges by one or two blacksmiths and as such supply is not guaranteed and when a knife has sold out it can sometimes take months to restock. Just to give you an example, one of our blacksmith broke his wrist at the beginning of January 2016 and it took him 7 months to recover. Imagine all those pilled up orders… We truly admire dedication of our customs who backorder their favourite knives and wait patiently to get them delivered. If you’re hunting for a particular knife we have in offer, don’t leave it too long to buy it because it might be gone in no time.
What knife should you choose?
What style of kitchen knife do you need? Start with one good kitchen knife and build your knife set/collection from that. We have written a guide about which knives you really need but in short the order you should be buying are Gyuto (Chef), Petty/Paring and optionally a Nakiri or Santoku (these are Japanese style of knives and pretty handy at chopping veg and meat, carving and bread knife.). If you are a total beginner, go for Moritaka’s Gyuto 210mm if you’re looking for an all rounder, these come with a blade usually around 210mm-240mm long, which it’s not too big or small and so is usually the one knife type you’ll use daily. If you are looking for a veggie slicer, go for Moritaka’s Nakiri 165mm or Sakai Takayuki 45 Layer Damascus Nakiri 160mm They have it all – beauty, sharpness, a quality edge and hard wearing carbon steel and an excellent price tag. Below you can see the shapes of the main types of Japanese style knives: japanese knives styles types Aesthetics How a knife looks should be the last thing you buy a knife for (remember that knives are tools, not a trophy to be put in a frame – although, we know such cases!).We can’t stress enough that we promote and work only with the most respected and talented blacksmiths who create their knives with wabi-sabi concept in mind. Simplicity and roughness are main drivers. Obviously, this is not to forget that Japanese blades can be true art themselves. Hence, whichever knife of ours you pick, you can feel pretty confident that it will be a great performer. If you want perfect combination of beauty and performance, take a look at our Kikumori and Kurosaki knives. kanenobu VG-10, R2/SG2, 400, 154CM, AUS-8 – What does that even mean? These are the steel types, R2/SG2 and VG-10, Shirogami (#1) and Aogami (#2) steels being amongst the most popular ones. In choosing the best kitchen Japanese knife you should pay particular attention to the type of steel used in the blade. Steel is really the essence of the blade and primarily responsible for how the knife performs. Steel is essentially an alloy (i.e. a mix) of carbon and iron that is often enriched with other elements such as nickel to improve certain characteristics depending on the desired application. In the knife industry different types of steel are created by varying the types of additive elements as well as how the blade is rolled and heated (i.e. the finishing process). Refer to our Knife Steel Composition Chart for more details on these elements.
How sharp is Japanese knife steel?
Do you remember Zorro’s movies where the main character was using his spade to cut “Z” symbol in his enemy’s clothes? Yes? Then think of his blade’s sharpness as a poor imitation of what a quality Japanese blade can do. To help you better understand the difference, think of the times where Ikea knife “will do” and you get frustrated when the knives you have stay sharp for about 2-3 weeks of constant use. It just WON’T happen with Japanese knives. So don’t judge all knives by your bad experiences, real kitchen knives (by this we mean authentic Japanese ones) are in a completely different league. Knife steel has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, the new steels are simply amazing for making knives and we really mean it. Once you start chopping your veggies with your a Japanese knife, you will want to chop everything you have within your reach (better tell your wife to hide all the important papers already 🙂 cutting knife Japanese The ones to look for are R2/SG2, VG-10 and high carbon steels. Why are they so good? They take and hold an edge better and simply put, we are all lazy at heart, we don’t want to keep sharpening knives every time we use them. The newer steels are made from super hard steel that simply does not blunt as fast, you can go months between sharpening your knives. Crafted like this with such painstaking care, Japanese knives are incredibly sharp and are magnificent in design. As a result, they’re able to cut through soft ingredients like raw fish for sashimi without crushing the food’s delicate shape. Knife maintenance and protection Let us make this easy. There are 3 general DON’Ts when it comes to carrying for your knife, but the most important one is this: No kitchen knife should be put in the dish washer. Wipe them clean, dry and store them after each use. It’s that simple. When it comes to storing and protecting your knife, we are a huge fans of magnetic wooden knife racks. If you’re travelling or want to store your knife in a draw – we’d recommend travel chef’s bags (which can be used for daily purpose too!) to protect not only the blades but your fingers when you reach for them. For more advice about how to take care of your knifes, check this article. Knife weight If you use a knife all day every day then you want a light knife to reduce fatigue. Light knives are a joy to use and so nimble. If you are not a professional though, then knife weight really is not an issue, you simply won’t be using them long enough to get fatigued in the first place. If in doubt pick one you like the look of and that will do. You will always find detailed knife specs like total weight, blade thickness etc. in a product’s tab called Product Specifications. Blade length/size This relates mostly to chef’s and sushi knives. This topic is the one that probably gets the most discussion and the most disagreement. As a result we can’t really give you a definitive answer. At the end of the day it comes down to personal preference. If you’re in doubt for your first knife or just a good all rounder, we recommend a middle ground of a 210mm or 240mm Chef’s knife (a “Santoku” or a “Gyuto” typically) which will cover 90-95% of kitchen jobs. If in doubt follow this route, however, if you are a bit more adventurous we would say it is worth trying a longer knife especially if you hold it the right way using a pinch grip. Handles There are two main styles to choose from. The traditional Western style we typically know or the Japanese “wa” handle. Western are the style most of us will be familiar with, full tang (where the blade goes all the way through the handle), often riveted and pretty sturdy. The Japanese “wa” handle is light weight and as a result feels like it is barely there. This is a centuries old design and typically when combined with a half tang makes the knife feel significantly lighter and more nimble in your hand.
A bit of a knife history…
The city of Sakai is situated by the Osaka bay at the Japanese main island. It is said that the foundations for knife making were laid down as early as the fifth century AD , when the great mounds, the Kofun, were built. This required excellent tools, which were manufactured by local craftsmen. During the 14th century Sakai became the capital of the samurai sword making. The city kept its position during the centuries to come, and in the late 16th century they started making knives according to the same methods as the famous Sakana swords. The making of knives was a result of the Portuguese introduction of tobacco in Japan. The demand for quality knives to cut the tobacco exploded. The first tobacco knives were made in Sakai, and they were soon renowned all over the country for their unique sharpness. Although the art of blades-making has been long popular in Japan, the trend of manufacturing of highly specialised cooking knives became widespread only in the 16th century, when blacksmiths working for members of Japan’s noble soldier class, the samurai, competed against one another to create the best swords and knives. Eventually, as different regional cuisines began to develop across Japan, merchants from different regions began learning the craft. In the east, where more-rustic cooking methods reigned, stout and functional straight blades were predominant; in the west, more-delicate, pointed styles found favour. Hand-forged Japanese knives, the best of which are fabricated in the city of Sakai, are usually made in one of four different styles. The most commonly used types in the Japanese kitchen are: the deba bocho (fish filleting) the santoku hocho (all-purpose utility knife) the nakiri bocho and usuba hocho (Japanese vegetable knives) and the tako hiki and yanagi ba (sashimi slicers). Most knives are referred to as hōchō (包丁), or sometimes -bōchō (due to rendaku), but sometimes have other names, like -kiri (〜切り, “cutter”).
There are two classes of traditional Japanese knife forging methods: honyaki (mono steel) and kasumi. The class is based on the method and material(s) used in forging the knife.
Honyaki knives are forged from one material. This is generally a top-grade knife-specific steel. Kasumi are made from two (or more layers of) materials: “hagane” (hard brittle cutting steel) and soft iron “jigane” (protective steel) welded together. This style of knife offers a similar cutting edge to a honyaki blade. It also offers the benefit of being “more forgiving” and generally easier to maintain than the honyaki style, at the expense of the steels brittle nature. Some see this as an advantage. These types of knives are especially good for first time knife buyers and occasional cooks. San Mai (three layers) generally refers to knives with the hard steel hagane (over 50 different carbon and stainless steels are used by Japanese knife makers) in forming the blade’s cutting edge and jigane (soft playable steels) forming protective jacket on both sides of whatever brittle hagane steel. In stainless versions, this offers a practical and visible styling known as “Suminagashi” (not to be confused with Damascus Steel) providing the advantage of a superb cutting edge, with a corrosion resistant exterior. In professional Japanese kitchens, the edge is kept free of corrosion (when carbon steel is used for the Hagane) and knives are generally sharpened on a daily basis (which can limit the life of a knife to less than three years). Originally, all Japanese kitchen knives were made from the same carbon steel as the traditional Japanese swords named Nihonto but the forging method is different. Nihonto are forged out of one type of steel that is laminated and then differentially heat treated. Currently san mai (hagane and jigane) knives have a similar quality, containing an inner core of hard and brittle carbon steel, with a thick layer of soft and more ductile steel layered to the core (hagane) so that the hard steel is exposed only at the cutting edge. Parts of a typical Japanese knife japana
Still unsure? Don’t be. Just email us or message us directly on the chat window. We’d love to help! All you have to do is pick the knife you like the most – and we’ll help you choose the right one.