The great reputation established by some tools can help them leave a mark in history. This also allows them to secure their position in the future and maintain their significance in our lives. Hōchō (包丁/庖丁) or Japanese knives prove it.

The Creation of Japanese Knives

Japanese knives started their remarkable signature through the influence of Japan’s old passion for blades. Katana (刀) of Samurai (武士) was one of the main factors that helped the development of Japanese knives we are all enjoying today.

Nonetheless, it won’t all be possible without the rich history of Japan that drove people to resort to the development of Japanese knives. Starting in the 1868 Meiji Restoration where the Sword Abolishment Edict was established, Katanas were banned after various wars and chaos started to vanish in Japan.

This, apparently, caused a great downright impact on the industry of swords that led to unemployment among people in that era. With this, artisans found that the only way to survive was to use their skills and knowledge in sword production to the creation of kitchen tools and other blades fit for household purposes such as saws, axes, and, most of all, knives.

It left us some of the first known Japanese blades that can be traced back to the Nara Era (710-794). It also started the reputation of some areas in Japan like Sakai when it comes to blade production. Starting from the Heian Era, Sakai nowadays still manages to produce the same quality of Japanese knives despite the changes in the blade technology. With this, we still get to enjoy a wide variety of Japanese knives such as Nakiri Bocho, Usuba Bocho, Deba Bocho, Santoku Bocho, Santoku Bocho, Sashimi-bocho, Fugu Hiki, Hamogiri, Enkiri Bocho, Unagisaki Bocho, Gyuto, and Honesuki.

What Makes Japanese Knives Unique?

The fact that Japanese knives have their very own distinct characteristics allows them to stand out among other types of knives. The first distinguishing thing about them is the material used. Far from the conventional stainless steel material of most knives, Japanese knives commonly use Hagane (also called tamahagane) which is a type of carbon steel that is not as tough as stainless steel. Nonetheless, it is capable of forming extremely sharp blades.

To form the Japanese knife, it will be given a softer iron steel outer layer and a carbon steel core that is somewhat brittle. This allows the creator to produce edge in the sharpest way possible that the knife can be compared to a sword.

However, due to their materials, Japanese knives are considered delicate as they can easily chip when used on hard materials like bones. This is the reason why modern chefs nowadays treat them as a treasure worthy of ample care and maintenance.

As the times go by, nonetheless, Japanese knives made of Hagane become rarer and rarer that some models are being produced now using stainless. They require less attention as the material is tough and resistant to chipping and rusting. While this seems to change the true essence of a traditional Japanese knife, stainless steel models can still offer the same attributes as original Japanese knives.

Another noteworthy detail about them is the single-bevel blade. With this, you get one completely straight side and an omote or the sharpened side. This style allows users to slice materials with precision which gives them clean cuts.

Generally, due to the single-bevel blades, Japanese knives favor specific types of users: right-handed individuals. While these users can easily use the Japanese knives, left-handed people would find it challenging. This is why there are other companies offering customized Japanese knives for such kinds of users. These knives, of course, come at higher prices due to the customizations needed.

Five Best Japanese Knives

With lots of types of Japanese knives, determining ‘the best knife’ seems impossible. This is due to the fact that their efficiency depends on whether you use them for their right purpose or not. With this, it is important to do short research to determine the right type of Japanese knife you need. And to make things even easier for our dear readers, we decided to round up some of the commonly used Japanese knives that would favor most users. With the help of experts, we aim to highlight their best qualities and offer our best insights. With this, we hope you find the Japanese knives you need in this review.

Best Japanese Knives Comparison & Rating

Japanese Knives

Features

TUO Santoku Knife - Japanese Chef Knife 7-inch High Carbon Stainless Steel - Kitchen Knives with G10 Full Tang Handle - Black Hawk-S Knives Including Gift Box
  • Santoku
  • all-rounder blade
  • features series of urasuki
Sashimi Sushi Knife 10 inch: imarku Professional Single Bevel Japanese Sushi Knives for Fish Filleting & Slicing, 5cr15mov Steel with Ergonomic Pakkawood Handle - Yanagiba Knife
  • Yanagiba
  • HRC 56-58 hardness
  • perfect for blocks of fish used for sashimi
FAMCÜTE 8 Inch Professional Japanese Chef Knife, 3 Layer 9CR18MOV Clad Steel w/octagon Handle Gyuto Sushi Knife for Home Kitchen & Restaurant
  • Gyuto
  • 9CR18MOV steel
  • beef sword or cow knife
Mercer Culinary Asian Collection Deba Knife, 4-inch
  • Deba
  • descaling, gutting, and breaking down fish
  • two sizes available: Hodeba and Kodeba
TUO Nakiri Knife - Vegetable Cleaver Kitchen Knives - Japanese Chef Knife German X50CrMoV15 Stainless Steel - Pakkawood Handle - 6.5" - Fiery Series
  • Nakiri
  • German X50CrMov15 stainless steel
  • chops and slices small to large vegetables

1. TUO 7” Santoku Knife

TUO Santoku Knife - Japanese Chef Knife 7-inch High Carbon Stainless Steel - Kitchen Knives with G10 Full Tang Handle - Black Hawk-S Knives Including Gift Box
Specifications:
98% Overall

Brand

TUO

Type

Santoku

Blade Length

7 inches

Weight

17 ounces

97%
durability and build
99%
versatility
98%
ease of use
99%
value for money
Pros:
  • Made from special-forged high-carbon stainless steel treated with high-tech vacuum heat and nitrogen cryogenic tempering.
  • Tough blade and retains the sharpness of the edge longer.
  • Has undergone the traditional Honbazuke method; hand-sharpened.
  • Comes in a full-tang structure and the handle is supported by three rivets.
  • The handle offers an excellent grip.
Cons:
  • The fitting of the tang and the handle is not very perfect. You can feel the difference between the material of the handle and the metal of the knife tang itself.
Final Take:

Santoku knife is one of the well-known types of Japanese knives that are now invading western kitchens. Known for its versatility to handle meat, fish, and vegetables, this kind of knife is considered an all-rounder blade.

TUO did a great job giving this model the necessary innovation which helps it improve its functionality. Though it is not made of the traditional materials most Japanese knives are known for, the high-carbon stainless steel used for its production has undergone great process and treatment which translate to a tougher blade. This makes this 7” Santoku extra-harder and more capable of retaining its sharpness for a longer time.

We also fell in love with the great texture and pattern of the blade. Besides being an addition to the aesthetic of the knife, it is very useful in breaking the contact between the blade and sticky food items like meat. Further, the blade also features series of urasuki (concave surface creating an air pocket to allow easy food release) which makes the cutting experience of users easier. With this Santoku knife, it is true you can drop the Deba (used for fish) and Usuba (used for extremely thin slices) knife due to its efficiency in a wide variety of food items. Truly excellent and a 5-star jack-of-all-trades!

2. Imarku 10” Yanagiba Knife

Sashimi Sushi Knife 10 inch: imarku Professional Single Bevel Japanese Sushi Knives for Fish Filleting & Slicing, 5cr15mov Steel with Ergonomic Pakkawood Handle - Yanagiba Knife
Specifications:
97% Overall

Brand

Imarku

Type

Yanagiba

Blade Length

10 inches

Weight

9.45 ounces

96%
durability and build
95%
versatility
98%
ease of use
97%
value for money
Pros:
  • Made of high-carbon stainless steel.
  • The blade is tough enough to manage even the toughest fish flesh.
  • The Pakka wood handle is very smooth and fully envelopes the tang of the knife.
  • Very lightweight and offers perfect balance from blade to handle.
  • Has an overall length of 15 inches, with 9.45 inches of the knife being the blade.
Cons:
  • The metallic cap at the bottom of the handle easily nicks but this is a very minimal concern.
  • The balance between the blade and the handle can is slightly noticeable.
Final Take:

Also called Sashimi-bocho or shobu-bocho, Yanagiba knives are meant to be used for blocks of fish used for sashimi. The long and slim blade allows the easy penetration of the knife resulting in a faster and more accurate cutting experience.

Imarku 10” Yanagiba knife is an excellent example of the said kind of knife. The blade is long enough to work on big chunks of meat. The texture of the blade is very smooth and it can slide through the flesh of the fish with ease. It boasts HRC 56-58 hardness which allows it to handle all kinds of fish fit for sashimi preparation.

The overall length and width of the blade make the knife very handy when there is a need to de-bone, scale, or skin the fish. The 4 mm thickness of the blade offers sturdiness while the stainless steel edge, though thin, manages to retain its sharpness for a long time. The angled tip, on the other hand, is absolutely sharp that it cuts through flesh instantly. With this one, preparing sashimi will be a piece of cake!

3. FAMCÜTE Gyuto 8” Knife

FAMCÜTE 8 Inch Professional Japanese Chef Knife, 3 Layer 9CR18MOV Clad Steel w/octagon Handle Gyuto Sushi Knife for Home Kitchen & Restaurant
Specifications:
97% Overall

Brand

FAMCÜTE

Type

Gyuto

Blade Length

8 inches

Weight

12 ounces

96%
durability and build
96%
versatility
97%
ease of use
97%
value for money
Pros:
  • Perfect for cutting tough and soft meats and chopping vegetables.
  • Favors most kitchen cutting needs and the shape of the blade is very close to western knives.
  • Uses 9CR18MOV steel that is tough enough to manage thick and hard meats.
  • The handle is ergonomically shaped and offers a solid grip.
  • Aesthetically pleasing and comes with functional texture on blades for easy food release.
Cons:
  • A bit heavy and not a full-tang knife.
Final Take:

Gyuto knives, just like Santoku, can perform a wide variety of purposes because of the form of their blade and their toughness. The knife is also somehow identical to a western chef’s knife which makes most westerners embrace it more. Furthermore, it is called a beef sword or a cow knife which explains its size.

FAMCÜTE 8” knife represents all those essential features of a decent Gyuto Japanese knife. The blade is incredibly thick and tough. Compared to others on the list, it sports an HRC of 60+/-2 making it possible to handle the toughest meat.

The body of the FAMCÜTE Gyuto knife lets easy piercing of flesh and rocking motions. The blade compared to others on the market isn’t so curved which prevents the awkward position of the arms when using its tip to pierce the meat. At 21.2 cm, the length of the blade is also pretty long which gives it extra slicing power. From the tip to the other end of the blade, there is nothing but pure sharpness that the knife is very efficient for rock-chop stiff meat. Sawing back and forth is effortless and pull-cutting softer meats is a total breeze. It also works perfectly for chopping vegetables.

We also applaud that it introduces urasuki-like dimples to aid in the food release. On the other hand, upon personally gripping the handle, we have to say that we appreciate the excellent finish of the African rosewood. It is comfortable and its weight creates a great balance to the entire body of the knife. With this, it is hard to deny that FAMCÜTE is a perfect Gyuto model that mixes beauty and functionality effectively! Five stars for that!

4. Mercer 4” Deba Knife

Mercer Culinary Asian Collection Deba Knife, 4-inch
Specifications:
95% Overall

Brand

Mercer

Type

Deba

Blade Length

4 inches

Weight

5.9 ounces

93%
durability and build
94%
versatility
97%
ease of use
96%
value for money
Pros:
  • Comes in two sizes: Hodeba and Kodeba.
  • The handle offers a comfortable grip.
  • Made of German steel.
  • Compact and easy to store.
  • Suits fish preparation.
  • Has thin blades that can easily penetrate and cut through flesh.
  • The knives are NSF certified.
Cons:
  • Breakage is the main concern about this kind of small knife due to the thin blade. Nonetheless, as long as it is only being used within its indicated purpose, the knife can last a long time.
Final Take:

Deba knife is perfect for descaling, gutting, and breaking down fish. Mercer offers the knife in Kodeba size with 4 inches blade and in Hondeba at 6 inches. Besides the two sizes available, it is also worth mentioning that the Mercer brand tried to present the knives in the simplest and most traditional way possible.

The knife comes with a traditional wood handle that is smooth and comfortable in the hands. Though it can’t be compared to the boastful colored handles of other models, it promises durability and solid structure due to its substantial weight. The natural color of the handle also gives it a unique touch like earlier Deba knives.

Moreover, the edge is razor-sharp and very precise. Besides the clean cuts it could make in the flesh of fish, it can cut through a sushi roll and sashimi without deforming them.

The blade made from high-carbon German steel with a fine-stone finish, on the other hand, is strong enough to deal with thick fish bones. Though it is comparatively thinner with other blades, it is capable enough to cut open a fish. This attribute also enables it to move through the flesh with ease, making it a very useful kitchen tool on the daily.

5. TUO 6.5” Nakiri Knife

TUO Nakiri Knife - Vegetable Cleaver Kitchen Knives - Japanese Chef Knife German X50CrMoV15 Stainless Steel - Pakkawood Handle - 6.5" - Fiery Series
Specifications:
95% Overall

Brand

TUO

Type

Nakiri

Blade Length

6.5 inches

Weight

8.2 ounces

95%
durability and build
95%
versatility
94%
ease of use
95%
value for money
Pros:
  • Made of German X50CrMov15 stainless steel.
  • The handle is smooth and ergonomically shaped to give depth to the grip.
  • The handle is made of Packwood and comes full-tang.
  • Also being offered in dimpled blades for better food removal.
  • Delivers clean cuts in vegetables without damaging them.
Cons:
  • The weight is the major concern in this kind of knife. Nonetheless, it is one of its nature that adds up to its efficiency in cutting thick vegetables.
Final Take:

Nakiri knife is one of the commonly used Japanese knives present to almost any household. TUO offers it at 6.5 inches which gives you a considerable length of the blade to chop and slice small to large vegetables comfortably.

We really love how TUO has delivered the overall design of this Nakiri knife: simple, smooth, and incredibly efficient. One of the most contributing factors that help it perform effectively is the weight of its blade. Though it could be a bit of an issue to others who are not into heavy blades, it could be enjoyed by others as the weight itself adds ease to each cutting force of the user.

It also boasts a striking, robust square shape of blade which makes it possible for you to cut some dense products using its tip. It is also noticeable that it uses a slightly tilted blade profile. With this, TUO 6.5” Nakiri offers more comfort as you can moderately tilt up your hand while cutting the vegetable. Perfect and comfortable.

Best Japanese Knives - Buyer's Guide

handle and weight

The handle of the knife and the comfort the users feel when gripping it is important. Besides the comfort, it will also aid the hands in delivering precision cuts. With this, it is best to know the size of the handle your hands are more comfortable with. Do you feel more comfortable gripping big handles or small ones? If you have big hands, it is more ideal to have big handles and vice versa for small hands. This will prevent awkward positioning of fingers that could result in improper handling of the knife.

On the other hand, the overall weight is also a big factor that will decide the proper handling of the knife. A lightweight knife is a good choice for most users. It offers better control over the blades and commonly comes with a great balance. Heavy knives, however, might be an issue for other users especially if they would be used for more than 10 minutes. Using them for an extended amount of time can cause hand fatigues.

length of the blade

The length of the blade is determined by the size of the hands of the users. Commonly, users with small hands benefit the most when using knives with shorter blades. For instance, such users could be more comfortable in using Santoku which is relatively shorter than some of the types of Japanese knives. Using them won’t also require too much arm movements.

Material

The ones featured above are made with stainless steel materials. They do not require too much maintenance since the blade itself can retain the sharpness of the edge for a long time. They also resist corrosion which is one of the major problems among knives. However, if you intend to buy a traditional Japanese knife made from Hagane, be informed that they are more delicate and harder to maintain due to the nature of the material used.

needs

Getting the right kind of Japanese knife is important to efficiently perform your kitchen needs. For instance, you use Deba for cutting fish, Takohiki for blocks of raw fish meat, Grasuki for poultry/red meat, Nakiri for vegetables, and Santoku for meat, fish, and vegetables.

Though all kinds of Japanese knives mentioned are capable of delivering sharp cuts, the forms of their blades only serve specific purposes. Using them besides their indicated purpose can either cause awkward movement of user’s hands or even dulling of knife’s blade. For instance, using Takohiki for cutting vegetables can be very inappropriate due to the excessive length of the blade. If you want to have an all-rounder knife, we suggest having a Santoku that can serve a variety of purposes.

Best Japanese Knives - FAQs

Why are Japanese knives expensive?

Japanese knives are expensive because of the materials used in the production of blades. They are commonly made of Hagane or high carbon steel materials which are much superior to other typical steels on the market. The process of production also contributes to their price since some of them are being hand-sharpened by some artisans.

Are Japanese knives worth it?

The value of the Japanese knives would be enjoyed by most users who are fond of the kitchen activities. Besides their notable sharpness, they offer specific purposes that allow users to deliver accurate clean cuts in meat, vegetables, and fish.

Can I use Japanese knives to cut any raw food item?

No, you can’t use Japanese knives to cut any raw food item. Each type of Japanese knife offers specific purposes. Using them other than their intended purpose can cause damage to the blade. Santoku Japanese knife, however, is a great all-rounder blade that can cut meat, fish, and vegetables.

What is the purpose of texture or holes in the blade of a Japanese knife?

The textured blade and the urasuki (or the concave surface) create air pockets between the blade surface and the food. This breaks the bond between the two resulting in the easier release of food items.

Author

Jimmy Black started his career as a construction and carpenter foreman. After years of hard work, he decided to go on his own. Now, Jimmy is one of the trusted experts at SolidSmack who knows at first glance whether your hammer would do a great job or not. He still involves himself in various construction projects and works for individual clients. Behind formalities, he enjoys being a father to two lovely kids who keep on asking him why they can’t quit school and travel the world like Dora The Explorer.