Japanese knives are famous around the world because of how sharp they are. But the truth is, not every Japanese knife can boast a sharp edge, and not all those that do will stay that way forever. So, when people say they want a “Japanese knife,” they specifically mean a sharp tool that they can use for the rest of their lives. That’s why in this article, a former professional Japanese chef will be presenting seven specially-selected knives that are recommended for “regular” people and especially those who love to cook. We hope that this guide helps you find the knife of your dreams.
The Pros and Cons of Japanese Knives
International travelers who visited Japan before the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912) and the issuing of the Haito Edict, which prohibited the carrying of samurai swords, used to refer to Japanese katana as “razor swords.” Those weapons are the basis of modern Japanese knives, which explains their incredible sharpness. The knives use the same swordsmithing techniques that allowed the physically small Japanese people to cut just about anything with their swords. That’s why a Japanese knife cuts even better than a cleaver and, because of its light weight, is much easier to handle.
The price is one of the first things that people worry about, but the truth is that not all Japanese knives are expensive. Also, you have to remember that you’re buying a knife that, with proper care and maintenance, will last you for a very long time, so spending a little more on it now will end up saving you money in the long run. In fact, I have a Sakai Uchi Hamono knife that I inherited from my grandfather that is still sharp 50 years in.
・The High Quality
Japanese knives have a history that spans more than 1,000 years, but despite that and the fact that they’ve spread to every corner of the country, there are only a few places in Japan that make them. Because the craft has such a long, proud history, every place that couldn’t cut it and produce a quality knife was ignored and forgotten about, leaving only those knife-producing regions that both honor time-tested bladesmithing techniques and improve upon them. That’s why Japanese knives are of such high quality.
・You Have to Maintain Them
It’s true that Japanese “honyaki” knives, which are made entirely from steel, need to be handled carefully so that they don’t rust. However, there are also modern Japanese knives made with the most cutting-edge technologies that make them impervious to rust and easy to maintain. For example, there are Damascus steel knives or stainless knives coated with powdered steel. Modern sharpeners are equally high-grade, too, so you don’t have to use a whetstone or anything.
・Made Especially for Japanese Cuisine
Japanese “wabocho” kitchen knives only have one bevel, which makes them difficult to handle. You also need one specially made for whichever hand (right or left) you prefer. They are great for cutting sashimi or sushi, but they actually come in many different varieties depending on the task, and are therefore more geared towards professionals.
1. Sld Steel Interruption Damascus Santoku Knife 180 mm
It’s said that 90% of professional Japanese chefs use Sakai Uchi Hamono knives, which are renowned for their sharpness. Every step in the knives’ production process is completed by skilled artisans specializing in one area like forging or sharpening. This is what makes these blades as close to perfection as possible. Among the Saka Uchi Hamono, the “santoku” knife is especially prized because it’s easy to handle and it has been designed to cut meat, vegetables, and fish, so you don’t need to switch tools while cooking. As for maintenance, all you’ll need is a sharpener. If you’re looking for a forever knife, this one is a solid choice.
・Size: 12.59″ (32 cm)
・Brand: Yamawaki Cutlery (Sakai Forged Blades)
2. Neo Verdun Santoku Knife 165 mm NVD-01 (Japan Import)
This santoku knife was made at Tsubame-Sanjo in Niigata Prefecture, one of the major areas for bladesmithing in Japan. They are mass produced and therefore inexpensive, which is a big plus. Additionally, every part including the handles is stainless steel, which is not only more hygienic, but it also means that these knives can be cleaned in a dishwasher. However, because the blades are made from stainless steel, there are people who think that, for Japanese knives, they are lacking in the sharpness and durability departments. They may not last you your entire life. Some people also feel that they are a bit too small, but they are incredibly easy to use.
・Size: 11.81” x 0.79” x 1.77” (29.9 cm x 2.0 cm x 4.49 cm)
・Brand: Alloy Steel
3. Shell Seal Seki Magoroku Six Kitchen Knives (Santoku Knife, 165 mm)
This santoku knife was made in the city of Seki in Gifu Prefecture, one of the major areas in Japan for bladesmithing where most of the knife production has been automated. Seki knives, from the blade to the handle, are made entirely from stainless steel, which makes them more hygienic and dishwasher friendly. Additionally, the blade itself is actually high carbon stainless steel, which guarantees a sharp edge that’s easy to maintain. Even with all of that, though, this knife probably won’t last you forever.
・Size: 11.42” x 2.36” x 1.81” (29.0 cm x 5.99 cm x 4.59 cm)
4. Tojiro DP Gyutou – 8.2″ (21 cm)
Like one of the previous picks, this knife was also made at Tsubame-Sanjo in Niigata Prefecture. However, this one is a gyutou, a type of double-beveled chef’s knife that was developed to cut the beef that Japan started importing from abroad during the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912). The gyutou is very popular because, same as the santoku, it’s very easy to handle. The knife is made using the “warikomi” wedge method where the edge (itself composed of the revolutionary DP cobalt steel alloy) is enclosed by rustproof steel, making it sharp enough to be perfect for both household and professional use. In the unlikely event of the knife rusting, just work it over with a cleanser a few times until it develops a rustproof layer. This knife might not have been made by artisans, but it will probably last you for the rest of your life.
・Size: 13.19” x 2.4” x 0.79” (33.5 cm x 6.09 cm x 2.0 cm)
5. Shun Sora 6 Inch Chef’s Knife with 16-Degree
This is a Sora knife, a more affordable version of the Shun series that has sold over 5,000,000 units around the world. The edge is made from high carbon stainless steel, with the rest of the knife, minus the handle, being made from stainless steel, which altogether protect the knife from rust. The handle is made from plastic for hygienic reasons. Because the Sora line is the less expensive option, the knives aren’t as good as actual Shun blades. They are very popular but at this price, you may want to look at other Japanese knives available out there.
・Size: 11.5” x 0.63” x 1.5” (29.21 cm x 1.6 cm x 3.81 cm)
6. Masahiro MV Gyutou Knife 9.4-inch
Another gyutou knife from Seki in Gifu Prefecture. This one is made from Masahiro’s original MBS-26 stainless steel, renowned for its high quality and rust-resistance. The knife is a little big, but that actually comes in handy if you’re cooking for a large number of people. Still, though, it is more geared towards professionals, and isn’t really good at delicate cutting. On the whole, there is nothing wrong with the knife, but because it is a mass-produced stainless-steel blade, it might not seem as good as something made by a skilled artisan.
Size: 9.45” x 9.45” x 0.12” (24.0 cm x 24.0 cm x 0.3 cm)
7. Forged Black Knives Santoku Knife 170 mm
The black look of the knife is a sign of its honyaki manufacturing. This is a fire-forged santoku blade of the traditional Echizen Uchi Hamono variety, which originated over 700 years ago in the Fukui region, where artisans make every blade by hand, one by one. The edge is made from incredibly durable Aogami #2 steel, making this a forever knife. However, because it is made from steel, the knife is susceptible to rust and isn’t easy to maintain, so it’s not the best fit for amateurs. However, if you can handle the maintenance, then this knife is a bargain at this price.
・Size: Total Length: 11.81″ (30 cm), Blade Length: 6.69″ (17 cm)
・Brand: Iwai Hamono (Echizen Forged Blades)
Related article: ▶ Introducing Echizen Uchihamono, Classic Japanese Kitchen Knives
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*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer’s website for more information.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.