6 Must-Have Kitchen Knives for the Enthusiast: Japanese Edition

June 30, 2021

Are you looking for the best set of essential knives for kitchen use?

You're probably searching “What are the best kitchen knives?” or “What are the best kitchen knife brands?” right now. Good news: Japanese knives are a great choice to start with. Bad news: you have quite a lot of options, making you feel overwhelmed or indecisive when buying.

Japan has a long-standing reputation as one of the world's greatest knife manufacturers. They produce well-crafted knife styles for different purposes, from traditional katanas to professional and home kitchen knives.

Before you look further into specific Japanese kitchen knife brands, it would be best to familiarize yourself with the different styles first. Of course, Japanese knives come in many styles, but this article focuses on the six must-have kitchen knives to give you a great start. 

What Makes Japanese Knives Exceptional?

If you're not familiar with Japanese knives, you might ask yourself this question: what makes them exceptional?

Aside from the well-established reputation in knifemaking, here are more specific reasons why they are worth the investment.

The Crafting Process

Master artisans forge and craft each Japanese knife by hand. The process contains more than 20 steps taken with meticulous application to ensure the knives live up to their remarkable history. It requires a lot of time, focus, and skill, which is why they are relatively exceptional compared to their competitors.

Use of Materials

Japanese steels used in forging knives come in two types: blue and white steel. Each type has a set of grades that determine the steel content's purity.

Blue steel is composed of chromium, white steel, and tungsten. These components make it especially hard and capable of retaining an edge for long. On the other hand, white steel is made of pure carbon. They are more brittle and reactive to acid and moisture, so forging them to produce the sharpest edge requires great skill.

must have kitchen knives forging

The Formula of a Good Kitchen Knife

Japanese knifemakers know the three important characteristics of quality kitchen knives: hard, sharp, and thin. When it comes to these attributes, Japanese knives do it better than the rest. Their bevels are thinner and sharper, while the knife blade is made of harder steel for prolonged blade edge retention.

The Working Principle

Japanese culture is prominent for their strong determination in seeking continuous improvements in their work. Knifemakers always try to surpass the quality of their previous work, constantly striving to enhance crafting techniques and products. To this day, knife artisans still aim to produce the best quality ever made—that's how hardworking they are!

These are the qualities behind the popularity of Japanese professional kitchen knives. You can always find one or more of these tools in every top recommendation list out there, showing just how worthy they are to get a spot in your kitchen!

The Best Japanese Knives for Your Kitchen Knife Set

Are you ready to make history in the kitchen? Japanese knives offer impressive cutting and maintenance qualities to keep your kitchen tasks smooth and satisfying from beginning to end. Here are the types of Japanese knives you absolutely need to have in your kitchen right now!

3-in-1 Knife: Santoku

Let's start the list strong with a quality knife that can ace three kitchen tasks! Santoku means “three virtues,” a direct translation of its main function.

The santoku knife is a general-purpose or all-arounder knife that you can use to chop, slice, or dice fish, vegetables, and meat. Additionally, it is the most popular Japanese knife in the western kitchen setting. Made during the Meiji era, this knife’s purpose was to cater to the rising popularity of western cuisine among Japanese people.

Intricate and Artsy Cutting: Usuba

The usuba knife is a thin, single-bevel knife that makes a perfect tool for delicate cuts and slices. Skilled knife users are most likely to benefit from this knife because it's specifically designed for trained precision cutting. As for beginners, you must be extra careful using it to avoid any injuries, especially when sharpening or making thin, decorative slices.

The Sashimi Tool: Yanagi

If you're in a household that serves sashimi as part of the usual menu, then you must have a yanagi knife in the kitchen! Also called “willow blade” or “sashimi knife,” this tool is the perfect slicing knife for blocks of raw fish.

Unlike the first two Japanese knives discussed above, this one has a different structure: the knife blade is long and slim, while the blade tip is curved. An inexperienced knife user must be extra careful in using the yanagi knife due to its super sharp blade edge.

Small but Terrible Knife: Petty

Petty is the Japanese version of a utility knife or paring knife, albeit a tad bigger. The petty is the right knife for small peeling or decorative cutting of fruits and vegetables. Also, since it's a lightweight tool, you acquire better control when making precise cuts.

The Vegan Knife: Nakiri

While most Japanese knives can cut vegetables decently, the nakiri knife is designed primarily for vegetables alone. It produces a push–pull cutting motion that allows for fine cutting, peeling, and slicing your vegan dishes. Additionally, it's a way thinner version of a western meat cleaver, so it doesn't have enough power to cut through meat bones.

The nakiri knife is relatively more affordable and easier to sharpen than the usuba knife.

The Versatile Western Yanagi: Sujihiki

If you're going to cut, slice, fillet, or skin raw fish, the sujihiki knife is your go-to kitchen tool! It looks slightly similar to yanagi due to the blade profile, but the two have a significant difference: yanagi is solely made for sashimi cuts, while sujihiki is more versatile in fish and meat.

Sujihiki's long, narrow, and thin blade makes a single drawing motion for trimming meat fat or filleting fish. It can also pass as a carving knife.


You have probably heard of more Japanese knife types that aren't included in this list. Of course, they are also worth the investment, but if you have little in the way of budget and skills at the moment, this is a good lishttps://old.knifescout.com/buying-guides/t to start with.

We hope this article gives a clear impression of what you truly need in your kitchen to make the best meals to set on your dining table.

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