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.
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.
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.
1. TUO 7” Santoku Knife
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.
2. Imarku 10” Yanagiba Knife
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
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.
4. Mercer 4” Deba Knife
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.