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The 10 Best Japanese Kitchen Knives to Buy in 2021
The best Japanese kitchen knives are some of the most renowned in the world, rivalled only by German knife crafting companies for sharpness, durability, and overall quality production.
The key to Japanese steel blades is the quality of their carbon steel and alloys, and their use of technical expertise combined with traditional handcrafting that keeps the blades sharper for longer and the handles stronger.
Whether you’re a savvy kitchen professional, home cooking die hard, or a newcomer to culinary arts looking to invest in quality kit, there are a variety of useful Japanese kitchen knife options for you to explore.
Best Gyuto Knife Options
The most versatile and essential of all knives a cook can have is a Japanese chef’s knife known as a Gyuto knife. Excepts for a few minor technical differences in weight and construction, it’s essentially the same type of blade as a western knife.
A Gyuto knife features a curved blade that smoothly rocks back and forth and has an extended tip for quick chopping that can be used to cut meat, fish, and vegetables with competent ease.
1. Yoshihiro VG-10 46 Layers Hammered Damascus Steel Gyuto Japanese Chef Knife
This Yoshihiro Gyuto knife is handcrafted in Japan, forged and hammered with 46 layers in the Damascus steel crafting tradition. VG-10 is a Japanese steel exceeding the HRC (Hardness on Rockwell scale C) of most other stainless steel cutlery, which means that the cutting edge can be constructed thinner and sharper, allowing the sharp edge to cut through almost any ingredient.
The blade’s texture is designed to eliminate friction and keeps food from sticking to the blade, while the lightweight, ergonomic knife handle is hand crafted and octagonally shaped to fit the contours of your hand. The Yoshihiro VG-10 chef knife comes with a stylish protective wooden sheath called a Saya that has a decorative, edge retention, and protective function.
2. Gyuto Hajegato Unique Handle Professional 8 Inch Japanese Chef's Kitchen Knife
These chef designed blades feature Damascus stainless steel curling pattern blades balanced with a double beveled razor sharp edge. The blade is designed for maximum knuckle clearance that allows a closer grip of the handle to the blade, lowers risk for your fingers and encourage the rocking motion cutting style
The Hajegato Japanese knife uses:
- A high carbon content VG 10 cutting core
- 67 layer Damascus steel forging
- 60-62 HRC
- Deep vacuum cooling for corrosion resistance
- Each side of the blade ground at a 9-11 degrees angle to deliver professional sharpness
The quintessential Japanese cutlery, each Hajegato chef’s gyuto features a one of a kind handle in different colour combinations and traditional designs.
Best Santoku Knives
The Santoku knife is a general-purpose Japanese kitchen knife 13-20 cm long. It has a flat edge and a sheepsfoot blade that curves down an angle toward 60 degrees at the point.
You can slice downward in a single cut when using a Santoku knife which means it can be faster and more efficient when slicing ingredients compared to a Gyuto chef knife or a smaller blade.
3. Shun Classic 7 Inch Hollow-Ground Santoku All-Purpose Kitchen Knife
Shun knives are some of the most popular available. Shun (pronounced Shoon) takes its name from the Japanese tradition of eating the freshest seasonal food at the perfect moment. The Shun Classic’s VG-MAX steel is an exclusive formula alloy with extra carbon and other metals designed for increased strength, durability, edge retention and corrosion resistance.
The Shun Classic Damascus blade is formed by layering various metal alloys and forging them into a solid piece. From there, bead-blasting reveals the rippling pattern of the layers for a beautiful effect on the steel.
The ebony PakkaWood handle is designed for comfort and control. A PakkaWood handle is a genuine hardwood infused with resin, resulting in a water-resistant and durable finish (Shun knives come with a range of handle designs and pricing).
4. Tuo Black Hawk Santoku Knife - Japanese Chef Knife 7-inch High Carbon Stainless Steel
The Tuo Black Hawk is made from high carbon steel with a high-tech vacuum heat-treatment and nitrogen cryogenic tempering that ensures strength, flexibility, and blade durability. The Black Hawk’s 3D pattern reduces the contact surface between food and blade, preventing food from sticking on the blade and to maximize the slicing efficiency.
Tuo’s handle is made from long lasting G10 fiberglass composite materials for immunity to extreme temperature and humidity, and it has an ergonomic grip with satisfying heft and comfort to the well-balanced Japanese kitchen knife.
Japanese Knife Sets
A full Japanese knife set offers you the chance to get your hands on all the necessary parts of Japanese kitchen cutlery from the best knife brands at one time.
There are a range of sets available, but it’s important to at least have a paring knife, chef’s knife, and Santoku blade or utility knife, as these are the knives that you’ll use most every day in your own kitchen or place of work. Compared to a premium German knife set most Japanese kits offer great value despite being expensive, representing a cheaper option over time compared to buying knives one by one.
5. KYOKU 5-Knife Set
- Wooden Knife Block
- 8″ Chef Knife
- 8″ Bread Knife
- 5″ Carving Knife
- 5″ Utility Knife
- 5″ Paring Knife
Each Japanese blade in the Kyoku set is painstakingly manufactured for incredible hardness, flexibility and corrosion resistance. They are ultra-sharp, cobalt-strengthened, and cryogenically treated steel cutting cores for longer edge retention despite a thinner blade.
The ergonomic narrow blades help performance and comfort – they are designed to cut down on fatigue and risk of injury from repeated use in a busy kitchen. Each triple riveted Pakkawood handle has gone through special treatment to make them impervious to heat, cold, and moisture.
The sharp edges of each blade are handcrafted by professional steel artisans to a mirror polish at 13-15 degrees per side, and Kyoku knives come with a lifetime warranty, offering free exchange or return if the item is defective.
6. Ginsu Gourmet Chikara Series Forged 19-Piece Japanese Steel Knife Set
This value for money Ginsu Chikara forged knife set includes:
- Bamboo finish block
- 8″ Chef knife
- 8″ Slicing knife
- 8″ Bread knife
- 7″ Santoku knife
- 6″ Cleaver
- 6″ Boning knife
- 5″ Utility knife
- 5″ Paring knife
- Kitchen shears and honing rod
- 5-Inch steak knife set (8 pieces stamped, not forged)
Ginsu Chikara forged knives are one piece of premium Japanese Stainless Steel from tip to tang. They are well balanced, arrive razor sharp out of the box, and are designed to stay sharp longer for a low-maintenance, high quality set of forged knives.
Ginsu Chikara blades are backed by a Lifetime Limited Warranty and include a versatile steak knife set to make serving meat easier.
Other Japanese Knife Types
When I lived in Japan, I used to spend many afternoons checking out knife shops and blade sharpeners to see what awesome steel they had in store and what it was used for.
I thought long and hard about trying to get a Samurai sword, however a well-crafted traditional Japanese knife was both interesting and easier to get through customs with on the way home (I bought a mid sized, bulky razor sharp deba knife for cutting fish). Some can be swapped for the similar type of western knife – such as a petty knife or paring knife- while others were completely unique and interesting, which you’ll see below.
7. Sunlong 10 Inch Sashimi Knife
This long, narrow bladed sashimi knife has a unique & beautiful Tsuchime (“Hammered pattern”) textured VG-10 stainless steel blade core that is clad on both sides by a 33-layer Damascus stainless steel
The slicing knife uses 67 layer Damascus steel made of 58-60 HRC, ideal for fileting raw fish and seafood into sashimi size, or paper-thin slices of meat and fish. The hammered pattern on the face of the blade reduces drag and minimizes stuck on foods, while the triangular design of the handle improves skid resistance and enhances grip comfort as well.
8. Japanese Chef's Knife Aritsugu Yanagi Blue Steel Honyaki
Okay, indulge me for just a second. If you’re looking for a Yanagi traditional Japanese knife that most resembles the temper and razor sharp edge of the great samurai swords, then the very expensive Honyaki knives are for you. These Aritsugu Yanagi knife blades are the best you can buy – they incorporate the techniques used to make swords since the 1500s – and will carve up fish with grace and elegance.
The blade length, exquisite shine and balance of honyaki knives ensure that if you have one of these in the kitchen you’ll treat them like the world’s finest ceremonial weapon (and probably change your diet to sashimi forever).
9. Enso Nakiri Knife - VG10 Hammered Damascus Japanese Stainless Steel
A nakiri knife is what happens if a razor sharp edge chef’s knife and a mean cleaver had a baby. They are wicked, hectic looking pieces of kit that are sure to draw comment if you start laying about in the kitchen with one, hurtling through a pile of vegetables quickly and efficiently.
The Enso features:
- 6.5″ blade length
- Handcrafted VG10 stainless steel cutting core for excellent edge retention
- 37 layer stainless Damascus blades with hammered (tsuchime) finish
- HRC of 61
- 12 degree double bevel edge makes it simple to wield for both right and left handers.
The Enso’s handle is made from black canvas micarta symmetrical oval for a similar look and feel to wood without the worry of cracking, and the company offers a lifetime warranty.
10. Azumasyusaku Deba Knife
Another sharp blade with delusions of being a cleaver, the deba knife probably my favorite type of Japanese knife. It suits the kitchen user looking for a bit of weight and heft in the handle but retains a sharp blade and versatility to use in a range of endeavors, although ostensibly being made for cleaving fish and filleting.
This deba knife can be specialized for right and left handed users and is made to look rustic despite being viciously sharp from the best handcrafted Japanese steel.
Important Tips for Using Steel Japanese Cutlery
Traditional Japanese knife making values a sharp edge, which requires attention and care. Make sure, that if you’re investing in a quality Japanese knife brand that you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for keeping it in good order.
Sharpening and honing should be done with only water whetstones in the correct fashion to maintain a dangerous edge for the thinner blade. I highly recommend you research the best methods for sharpening Japanese steel (it’s also an extremely therapeutic skill to learn).
Japanese steel knives should be hand washed and dried only, immediately if working with acidic ingredients that can cause damage to a blade or handle. Do not use the Japanese knives on objects such as large bones, nuts, or frozen food, you can utilize a cheap cleaver or heavy blade for this purpose.