Having antique Japanese kitchen knives is a must if you're a collector. They're not only knives but also Japanese artifacts, and artifacts are delightful items to have. The Japanese have used the same artistry and techniques they used to create swords and apply them to the blades they craft for the kitchen. So getting a Japanese knife would be like getting yourself a katana.
These knives are made to become an extension of yourself. Much like how these knives are made for a Japanese chef who takes his craft seriously, you should put the same importance on these knives. They are built for the dedicated and the passionate. Each piece is worthy of being marveled at and even used.
You can choose many timeless Japanese knives to add to your collection or use in your kitchen. We've compiled four of the best antique Japanese kitchen knives for you.
Different Kinds of Antique Japanese Kitchen Knives
There are many vintage Japanese knives out there that you can get either as a collection piece or a functioning tool in your kitchen. Here are some of the best Japanese kitchen knives and their different characteristics for you to check out.
This chef knife originated in the Meiji Era to cater to the western market. Known to the Japanese as the "cow blade," the Gyuto is used chiefly for slicing meat but was also found useful in chopping vegetables. The tip of the blade is used for more delicate cuts and the heel for slicing thick meats.
This full tang knife is made of solid steel and is hand-finished to maintain its high quality and artisanal appeal. However, in most cases, the Gyuto knife's comfort zone is in slicing meat, hence its name.
- Full tang and forged, which makes the knife durable.
- Straight grind profile with single bevel for sharpness and straightforward slices.
- Curved blade for easy rocking motion.
- A hard steel blade with 58 Rockwell grade makes for superior edge retention.
- Manufactured and quality assured in Japan.
- You can use it for many food preparation tasks in the kitchen.
- It is lightweight and can be used for extended periods without strain.
- The quality of the knife remains excellent even after a long time.
- The price could be more than $100.
- A thin blade makes it weak for chopping hard items.
- The wooden handle may decay or crack over time.
Recommended Use For:
- Slicing, mincing, and dicing soft food items and meat.
- Disjointing different kinds of meat and bone.
The advent of the Santoku knife, meaning "three virtues," was in the latter Showa Era. The Santoku is one of the Japanese vintage chef knives made to compete with the western-made chef knives. In terms of sharpness and lightness, the Santoku won. This knife is crafted to cut three things: meat, vegetables, and fruit. Those are the three virtues of this knife.
The lighter and sharper design is influenced by Japanese culture and cuisine. The Japanese's function and detail-orientedness are applied to the santoku knife to make precise and fine cuts. This knife makes a perfect tool for sushi makers, wherein the preparation requires thorough and precise cuts.
The Santoku knife's design is unique. Unlike the chef's knife, its spine is curved while the edge is straight. Given this, it requires a bit of skill to use but will enable fine cuts when you get used to it.
- Partial tang knife blade for lightness and ease.
- Straight grind with a single bevel angle perfect for a variety of knife functions.
- Steep bevel angle at around 15 degrees for more sharpness.
- A carbon steel blade with 58 Rockwell makes the knife wear-resistant.
- Sheepsfoot point allows safety and discourages accidental piercing.
- Sharper compared to a chef knife, great for filleting, and making thin cuts.
- It can be as versatile as a chef knife and can also perform the same functions.
- Lighter than a chef knife and has more dexterity.
- Not suitable for a rocking motion.
- Can be prone to chipping because of the steep bevel.
Recommended Use For:
- Finer cuts for vegetables, fruits, and meat. Particularly seafood.
- Filleting and deboning fish meat.
The Deba knife is for making deep, carving cuts. It has a specialized function meant to be used for meat. This knife design was invented during the Edo period and still endures today. Its cutting power makes easy work on small meat and fish bones. You can also use the tip for deboning and cleaning fish.
The knife's blade is short, making the knife's length more concise than the Santoku or the Gyuto knife. On the other hand, the weight of the Deba knife is almost the same as the two knives. That's because the blade is a hidden full tang with a thickness compressed due to the blade's shortness.
What makes the Deba knife amazing is that this carving knife can withstand heavy chopping because of its thickness, unlike the two knives before it. In addition, the weight balance between the blade and the handle makes it easy to drop it down smoothly— great for beheading fishes and chopping hard items. This knife is the ultimate Japanese vintage chopping knife.
- Wide blade surface makes it easy to fillet and debone fish.
- The convex grind profile makes it powerful for chopping hard food items.
- Durable blade made of carbon steel with a 58 Rockwell toughness grade.
- Heavy yet balanced weight allows for accurate and straight chopping motion.
- It makes it easy to clean, debone, and fillet fish meat.
- The blade can resist the shock of chopping items with varying toughness.
- Less prone to chipping and denting because of the thickness of the blade.
- Not suitable for other cutting activities such as skinning, deseeding, and making thin slices.
- The blade may need more upkeep and maintenance to retain sharpness.
- You'll have to know how to sharpen Japanese kitchen knives with a convex edge to avoid ruining the blade integrity.
Recommended Use For:
- Filleting a fish.
- Deboning and disjoining meat.
- Making thick and portioned cuts on meat slabs.
If you want to buy Japanese kitchen knives with extensive meat-cutting ability, the Yanagiba knife should be part of your arsenal.
This knife is the longest on the list. With a blade length of 400 millimeters, it's almost as long as a Japanese Samurai sword. The Yanagiba was also invented around the same era when katanas were first created.
This knife's length is also its strength. The blade makes for a single stroke movement which makes for a tremendously accurate slice. No wonder this is a sushi chef's favorite tool for making that tasty sashimi. That's why it's also called a sashimi knife!
Today, the Yanagiba knife has made its way to the butcher's hand. Not only is this functional for cutting fish meat smoothly and with ease, but it can also handle slicing large slabs of meat and portioning them to different cuts.
- The long blade makes for a smooth and precise slicing action.
- Full tang knife will be sturdy for any downward slicing movement.
- Flat grind profile with a thin blade that enables thin slices.
- Makes quick work of any meat slicing tasks.
- As light as a Gyuto knife or a chef knife making it easy to use for slicing large meat.
- Only suitable for slicing and only great for meat.
- Could be difficult to store because of the knife's length.
A Time Capsule
These vintage Japanese kitchen knives are desirable because of their excellence in function and beauty and because they serve as a time capsule. Each of the blades showcased above came from different Japanese eras. Each holds a rich history from its time. Having one (or several) would be like holding a piece of history. The older the knife, the better the find.
You can find these vintage Japanese knives in online marketplaces as well as other collectors who are willing to sell them. Go and get yourself a set of these time-tested, culture-rich knives.