When it comes to Japanese cooking knives, it's important to know that the authenticity and quality of the best Japanese knives are products of tradition. A time-tested process perfected by decades of repeated knife crafting has proven this standard.
The Japanese have relentlessly taken inspiration from the famous katana. Then, they added, changed, and improved the nuances to bring it to their kitchens. Hence, traditional Japanese knives are made.
Now, different brands are taking inspiration from Japanese knives and improving them based on what they think their patrons need in the kitchen. The result is a wide variety of Japanese knife models with varying degrees of Japanese tradition in the features, characteristics, and materials put into the finished product. This article aims to explore these Japanese knives.
We're focusing our attention on the Japanese santoku knives offered by different brands in the market today.
From the word “san,” meaning three, and “toku,” meaning virtue, santoku is one of the authentic Japanese knife designs that have its origins in the Showa era. The santoku had been the Japanese's multipurpose knife before the western “Japanese” knives became popular.
Santoku knives are generally lighter and are built for thin cuts and slices. Different brands have taken the traditional design of the santoku and added their touch to this functional cutting tool. We've selected five of the best brands that kept the characteristics of the traditional santoku knife and laid out for you what differentiates each of them.
Kamikoto Santoku Knife
Tagline: Authentic and traditional
The Kamikoto santoku is considered authentic not only because it has a certificate of authenticity included in its box but also because it has the physical features that make a traditional-looking Japanese knife.
A distinguishing feature of this knife is its single-bevel edge, which characterizes every traditional Japanese knife. In addition to this, the material of this 7-inch Japanese blade is sourced from steel mills in Honshu island, Japan. The Japanese steel has high corrosion resistance, and it goes through multiple cycles of quality control to ensure it meets the master knifesmith's quality standards.
The handle also looks traditional: it's rounded and without rivets. It also has a sheepsfoot point profile. These physical features make this knife traditional.
- Curved bolster built for the pinching technique that's great for precise cutting
- Even balance on the blade and handle, allowing you to slice down effortlessly
- The single-bevel blade is meant for clean cutting of raw food items.
- It comes with an ash wood box where you can store the knife and protect it.
- The blade material is authentically from Japan.
- The physical features of this Japanese knife are traditional.
- Certified traditional Japanese craftsmen don't make the blades.
Shun Santoku Knife
Tagline: Tradition and delightful aesthetics combined
What immediately pops out of this knife is the patterns of the blade. That wave-like design results from multiple layers of Damascus steel put on the durable VG10 base blade. Another factor that makes us swoon over this blade is the pakkawood handle infused with resin to make sure it keeps the moisture out of the wood and prevents decay.
This hand-sharpened knife also hides a full tang within the round handle scale, which gives this knife a great balance to smoothly cut down on raw food items. It's almost everything we're looking for in a traditional Japanese knife. What fell short is the double-bevel characteristic of the Shun knife. On the other hand, the double-bevel edge does allow thinner cuts and slices.
- 34 micro-layers of stainless Damascus steel cladding
- 16-degree angle on the bevel
- Lightweight and balanced from the bottom of the handle to the tip
- Great blade and handle aesthetics due to the Damascus cladding and handle color
- The high-carbon steel’s hardness level is prone to chipping despite edge retention.
- Can corrode easily due to the VG10’s high carbon content
Kyoku Daimyo Damascus Santoku Chef’s Knife
Price: $33 –79
Tagline: Traditional east embraces the west
Kyoku's Daimyo Series santoku knife boldly deviates from the traditional Japanese santoku. The top part of the knife still retains a bit of the Japanese with its sheepsfoot point profile. However, its characteristics down to the tip of the handle have embraced the western design, which is in line with Kyoku's brand tagline—inspired by tradition but not bound by it.
The western knife handle style has three rivets, and the scales are curved. The tang isn't hidden, unlike the traditional Japanese style. It is a full-tang handle profile with the steel showing between the scales and capped with a branded pommel.
This santoku knife has more weight on the handle part because of the full tang. Coupled with a curved bolster, you can easily pinch the knife's neck while your fingers gently rest on the handle, and it will do the slicing trick.
- VG10 Japanese steel as its base material
- 67 layers of hammered Damascus steel on the core steel
- The steel is cryogenically treated for that additional toughness.
- Extremely tough G10 handle scales are break-resistant.
- Granton edge to prevent food remnants from sticking onto the blade's surface
- The added weight of the knife makes vertical and horizontal knife motions easy.
- Durable because of the full tang and the G10 handles
- Just like any VG10 material, it is prone to corrosion.
Miyabi Evolution Santoku Chef’s Knife
Price: $150 –170
Tagline: Japanese knife with a German knife treatment
The Miyabi Evolution is a testament to the beauty of combining German and Japanese workmanship. The Miyabi Evolution santoku knife is under the German brand Zwilling. It is the same brand that has gained its reputation from producing high-quality Solingen German knives. Now, they're putting the same painstaking work on Japanese knives and adding their touch to the Japanese knife tradition.
They let the Japanese do their craft unopposed. They hone the blades by hand in a process called “honbazuke,” yielding a razor-sharp, 12-degree edge angle. We also like how the handle has a round, full composite tang profile with a touch of a single rivet with intricate patterns.
We look forward to Zwilling introducing a Solingen blade Japanese knife. That would be a powerhouse of quality, durability, and craftsmanship.
- VG10 Japanese steel
- 65 layers of flower-patterned Damascus steel design
- The steel has undergone an ice-hardening process to achieve 60 Hardness Rockwell C (HRC)
- Traditional black Micarta handle with wood-like surface
- Handcrafted in Japan by master artisans
- Granton edge incorporation to ensure the knife blade stays clean
- The process combines German and Japanese qualities.
- Handcrafted by a Japanese artisan
- German touch on the rounded handle
- Unique kink on the blade's spine
- High HRC makes it unsuitable for chopping hard food items, which could result in chipping.
Hast Santoku Chef’s Knife
Price: $99 –120
Tagline: Tradition meets the future
Hast is a brand with a vision for the future of Japanese santoku knives: simple, functional, and substantial, just like the Japanese.
They've kept the form that characterizes Japanese santoku knives and used their own innovative material to create a minimalist, easy-to-clean santoku chef knife.
The powder steel that Hast uses for the one-piece knife is lightweight. The proportion of the thin blade to the thick handle yields a good balance for handling the knife.
Most importantly, Hast boasts a matrix powder steel that is tougher, has longer edge retention, and is stable. This innovation would give the makers of high-carbon traditional Japanese knives a run for their money.
Professionals love the Hast knife for its simplicity, convenience, and promise of performance.
- Powder steel with 60+ HRC hardness
- The 13-degree edge angle makes for an ultrathin slicing edge.
- Above-standard steel hardness and durability
- One-piece design built for easy cleaning
- It's minimalist and doesn't have a lot of moving parts to worry about.
- The material used is superior enough to match the best Japanese-selected steel.
- It's half an inch shorter than most santoku knives in the market.
In keeping with the Japanese tradition, we favor the Kamikoto santoku knife. This brand has kept its source of steel material in Japan, implying care for authenticity in material and the grassroots community of artisans that work hard to produce quality Japanese steel. We respect that.
It is also the only brand that has kept all the characteristics of a traditional Japanese santoku knife. Keeping the single bevel, rounded handle, and sheepsfoot point profile gives this knife a touch of the traditional Japanese, something hard to come by in the sea of santoku knives.
On the other hand, Kamikoto is not impervious to commercialism. They outsource the crafting of their knives, which irks Japanese knife enthusiasts as the craftsmanship is a huge factor of authenticity.
In defense of Kamikoto, they have selected masterful knife craftsmen to deliver the same quality knives that Japanese knife masters oversee. It's a practical move without sacrificing the elements traditional Japanese knives are made of.