It seems like Japanese culture is becoming more popular across the world every day. Japan has become world-famous for its food, for its spectacular nature and seasons, for its trend-making fashion, and of course for its anime and manga. So, what is the next big trend coming out of Japan? Believe it or not, people love Japanese knives!
People are beginning to take notice of the master craftsmen and women in Japan who are producing some of the highest quality culinary tools in the world. More people are buying knives in Japan than ever – and who could blame them with world-famous neighborhoods like Sakai city selling beautiful hand-crafted blades?
After reading this article you should know why there are so many different types of Japanese knives and how they are each designed to work with classic dishes. We’ll cover all of the classic Japanese knives and even recommend suitable knife sharpeners.
Remember, these knives are different from those in the West, so you should expect to treat them differently!
What’s the Difference Between Japanese Knives and Western Knives?
Hagane (鋼) is the name of the steel used to make knives in Japan. The metal is forged in multiple layers, creating a very hard center and a more malleable outer layer. The result is a strong knife with an extremely sharp edge.
Because the metal used in Japan is softer than the metal used in western knives, Japanese chefs are known to take extra care of their knives. This includes regularly sharpening them and never leaving them in water as they can easily rust.
Japanese knives are very similar in composition to samurai swords: they have a sharpened edge on one side of the blade, whilst the other side is completely straight. This is ideal for precise and thin cutting – such as making sashimi (very thinly cut meat or fish.) This means that a Japanese kitchen knife would be great for a home cook looking for something to give them more precision.
Japanese-style Knife Sharpener
Whilst a Japanese kitchen knife is known for its sharp edge, the design does make it more difficult to sharpen than Western knives. The Japanese-standard knife sharpener is a set of special sharpening stones. These stones come in three ‘strengths’: rough, medium, and soft. You are expected to use all three types when sharpening your knives, and Japanese chefs are expected to go through this routine daily.
Japanese kitchen knives need to be taken care of more regularly than Western knives. You should consider this when buying knives in Japan, as you would not want to spend a lot of money on a specialist knife only to let it become damaged.
However, you do not need to be a professional chef to be able to take care of a Japanese kitchen knife! As long as you set aside a little time to take care of them, then you will be able to maintain the knife and use it like any other kitchen knife. So – what are the best Japanese knives for home chefs?
Best Japanese Knives for Home Chefs
Many people begin searching for Japanese knives because they love Japanese food but you do not need to be into the nation’s cuisine to own a Japanese knife! Many are suitable for a home chef and can be used in other cuisines. From pro chefs to amateur cooks, there is sure to be a Japanese kitchen knife for you. Here are three styles that would fit in any home cook’s kitchen.
The Santoku is known as an ‘all-rounder’ knife, meaning that it can be used for most things. This should be the first knife a home cook should buy if they are wanting a knife suitable for all types of cooking.
The Santoku is the most popular type of knife in Japan for its adaptability. It’s equally good for cutting meat, fish, or vegetables. It has a fairly wide blade compared to other Japanese knives, so it is good for chopping and can withstand some heavy use.
We recommend the Santoku as the best Japanese kitchen knife for a home chef.
This knife is made for vegetables. Whether it’s peeling, chopping, or slicing, this knife can do the job. The knife is thinner than the Santoku, so you will be able to cut thinner slices – something closer to a sashimi cut.
The Nakiri is unlike other knives in that the blade is squared at the end, rather than rounded or pointed like Western knives. This unique look is a reason people love buying knives in Japan. It will look extra special when placed next to Western knives.
The Deba may look small and dainty next to the Santoku, but it is a very strong knife. Its blade is much thicker and designed to take more of a hit. The Deba knife is used to cut, descale and cut through tough fish bones.
The Deba is more of a specialty knife than the Nakiri or Santoku, but for anyone wanting to buy a collection of classic Japanese knives, a Deba would nicely round out their collection.
Buying Knives in Japan
What knife is right for you? The best way to choose a knife is by getting your hands on one and seeing how it feels in your hands. How is the grip? How is the weight? Remember, Japanese knife makers are proud of their knives, and they can make a knife that is perfect for you – if that is what you want. Talk to the knifemaker and tell them the kinds of food you love to make.
If you are interested in buying knives in Japan, most Japanese cities will have multiple knife makers. We recommend you go to local craftsmen rather than bigger chain stores – this way you will be able to talk to the knife maker and get exactly what you want.
There are many great knife-making neighborhoods across Japan. For example Sanjo City in Niigata, Seki City in Gifu. In Osaka, Sakai City knives are known to be some of the best in Japan. Wherever you are, seek out Japanese craftsmen and find the knife that is right for you. Good luck, and enjoy cooking!