Japanese kitchen knives

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Japanese kitchen knivesJapanese kitchen knives or simply Japanese knives.

The Japanese inscription is 包丁

Japanese knives have become among the most iconic and desired objects by a cooking enthusiast all over the world, from Europe to the United States, so not only in the eastern geographical area where it is the knives used in all home kitchens and restaurants.

They have become for many the kitchen knives used instead of the European kitchen knives and I personally use them for several years in my kitchen using a fairly complete set for use in an Italian/Cuban kitchen.

Attention! If you are a catering professional you should know that a traditional Japanese knife is not up to standard in European countries.

The steel with which it is made, precisely because it can rust easily,
is not certified for food use
.

So be careful to keep it in the kitchens of your premises because you could incur high fines.

In Japan the problem does not arise because it is assumed that a professional cook knows how to use and do the correct maintenance to his work tool.

Currently stainless steel is generally used for knives.

Traditionally, however, these knives were made of the same carbon steel as katanas, and the most expensive knives have a similar quality to these, containing an inner core of hard and crumbly steel, covered with a thick layer of softer and more ductile steel (sometimes stainless), so that the hard steel is exposed only on the cutting edge.

Now it is something iconic and legendary the sharpening of Japanese swords and knives!

In this post you will discover the various types of Japanese kitchen knives, their correct use and maintenance, and how to choose them consciously and who knows if you request a custom version of your Japanese knife.

Often even among insiders, there is always a lot of confusion and lack of accurate information on which Japanese blade to choose and use perhaps to combine it with a European knife.

When it comes to kitchen knives, Japan is immediately mentioned.

The blades manufactured in the land of the rising sun are known worldwide as the sharpest and sharpest, praised by the best chefs for their quality and often seen as real jewels because of their price.

Japanese kitchen knives
By Utagawa Hiroshige – The Storehouse of Loyalty – Chushingura (47 Rōnin) ukiyo-e set by Hiroshige Utagawa, Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1563948

The origin of Japanese knives

It all began in the city of Sekai, Osaka prefecture, which already around 1400 was famous for the production of Katana (the very sharp swords of the samurai).

A few centuries later, with the beginning of the Meiji revolution, the intention to begin a new period of peace, led to the prohibition of samurai to carry swords with them and this led to a significant reduction in requests for Katana, and the blacksmiths creators of blades changed the type of product.

Much of Japan’s high-quality cutlery comes from Sakai.

Fortunately for them, at that time trade with European countries (especially Portugal) began to intensify and a new product, tobacco, was introduced, which quickly spread throughout the country.

The production of knives began in the sixteenth century, when tobacco was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese, and Sakai began to manufacture knives to cut tobacco.

Sakai’s knife industry received a significant boost from the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868), which granted Sakai a special stamp of approval that enhanced its reputation for quality (and according to some sources constituted a monopoly).

During the Edo period (1603-1867, or more precisely the Genroku era (1688-1704)) the first deba bōchō were produced, soon followed by a wide range of other models.

The manufacture of kitchen knives and related products is still an important industry in Sakai.

It was at this historical moment that the first knives for cutting tobacco began to be produced in Sakai.

Over the years the cutlery manufacturers were perfected, starting to produce blades for different uses and given the peculiarity of Japanese cuisine for fish products, knives were created for cutting various types of fish.

Japanese kitchen knives

As shown in the image, some Japanese knives are angled on both sides, and some on one side only, while the opposite side is flat.

(a) and (c) is with a single-sided bevel where (a) is for use with the right hand and (c) for use with the left while the (b) has a bevel on both sides.

Left-handed blades are also available, although they are usually more expensive.

So a first difference from Western knives is that Japanese knives are often sharpened so as to be sharp only on one side, that is, the chamfer is only on one side.

Japanese knifemakers argue that a blade angled only on one side cuts better and more sharply, but requires more skill in its use than a blade angled on both sides.

Since most people use the knife with the right hand, it is usually the right side of the blade that is angled.

Professional European but also Japanese chefs, as well as true cooking enthusiasts, usually have their own set of knives, which they use only.

Some Japanese cooks own two sets of knives, which they use alternately every day.

After sharpening a set in the evening, after using it, they let it rest for a day to remove any metallic smell or taste that can be given to foods cut with knives.

 

Japanese metallurgy

Japanese kitchen knives
By A.Davey from Portland, Oregon, EE UU – Craftsman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61251674

It may seem like a hackneyed story, almost a way to give a more exotic look to Japanese knives or make it legendary by association with the katana but it is not rhetorical, Japanese kitchen knives have a link with the katana and samurai.

The mastery of Japanese blacksmiths has its roots in the deep Japanese Middle Ages.

At that time, the continuous wars between feudal lords required a constant production of swords and the artisans thus developed extremely refined metallurgical techniques also linked to the type of fighting arts and methodologies of use of weapons that was in sharp contrast with the fighting method that existed in those same eras in Europe where the use of thick armor required sharp and heavy weapons, used as clubs to stun the opponent or awls to pierce their defenses.

In Japan, however, the fighting technique was faster and more agile, with lighter armor, and favored the use of the cutting sword.

However, this involved a series of technical problems of the weapons because with a heavy sword like the European ones, the movement would be slower, making the attacker vulnerable.

Although light to allow the samurai to maintain agility and speed, the armor still provided some protection.

The Japanese sword therefore had to be thin to be light but reducing the thickness reduced its resistance and with a too strong blow it would have broken but thanks to this need that Japanese blacksmiths have developed technical construction solutions developed to find a fair compromise between all these complex needs that led to ingenious technical solutions of hardening the blades and construction that have crossed time and made legendary the Japanese katana.

Japanese kitchen knives
By User Alkivar on en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is (was) here, image source is: http://www.akinokai.org/images/Images.htm?Musashi.jpg, Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=724373

Assembled steels and various assembly techniques of different steels

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

The Japanese blacksmiths of the past used ferrous sands as a raw material which, thanks to the very low sulfur content, gave a more resistant steel.

They then devised the assembly technique (tsukurikomi – 作り込み).

To make the blade, Japanese blacksmiths welded together two or more types of iron with different carbon content and therefore different mechanical characteristics.

  • The supporting structure of the sword was made of a relatively soft and flexible iron, therefore able to absorb the stresses of the blows.
  • The cutting edge, on the other hand, was made of a harder and sharper steel.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.comThe tip of a santoku kitchen knife. The seam between the two different types of steel (in this case damask) is clearly visible.

The differentiated hardening on knives

Even on knives, with the same purpose as the sword makers (Japanese gunsmiths) developed the sophisticated differentiated temper.

Swords in Japan are an element of prestige that also represents the status symbol of those who own them, they are real works of art exhibited as a symbol of power and not used in battle.

A sword is an object of value not only for its technical and functional qualities, but also for the elegance of its lines.

It is worn as a symbol of belonging.

Hardening is the operation in which the blacksmith makes the iron incandescent at a precise temperature and then quickly immerses it in oil or water.

For a physical process, sudden cooling hardens the metal.

In differentiated tempering Japanese blacksmiths covered the blade with clay.

The thickness of the clay was greater on the ‘back’ or ‘back’ of the sword, and thinned as one approached the thread.

When they immersed the glowing blade in water, they did not use oil, the exposed wire cooled immediately, thus becoming harder but also more fragile.

The sides of the sword insulated from heat thanks to the thicker layer of clay cool more slowly, thus being more flexible and resistant.

Today this method known as Hamon It is used to give an aesthetic reason to the blade that surely being shorter than a sword, the flexibility function is somehow lost but it is not said that in some types of knife this method is important to give flexibility to the blade and keep the cutting edge with a higher Rockwell hardness .

 

Modern Japanese cutlers

Building a knife is not like building a katana, there is a big difference, but the story serves to understand how the Japanese take steel and “sharp things” very seriously, and that is why even kitchen knives carry in themselves the millennial experience and the Japanese tradition and this tradition, cutting research and method has been strongly transmitted all over the world making not only the katanas iconic but also kitchen knives, as well as The cheapest knife in the world.

The long metallurgical tradition of master katana blacksmiths has merged into the creation of handmade Japanese knives.

In the production of quality knives, identical forging techniques developed for traditional swords are used.

The most obvious is the assembly of different steels so as to have greater or lesser flexibility and hardness depending on the points of the knife which is harder for the blade that must be sharpened, more flexible for the main body that must absorb vibrations and torsions.

The most expensive knives (even thousands of euros) are still made from ferrous sands.

Yes, you got it right, thousands of € because there are people who understand the uniqueness of owning a unique blade tailor-made for you.

 

The “spirit” of Japanese knives

The animism of which Shinto spirituality is imbued, makes us think that in everything, especially in an object we use daily, such spiritual energy accumulates that it almost takes on a soul.

The knives long used by simple cooking enthusiasts or real professionals, at the end of their career, when they are now reduced to stumps with frequent sharpening, are brought to the temple where a kind of real funeral rite takes place.

The way in which many of these knives cut is something sometimes suggests that they have a will of their own, which can be quite sadistic for how they treacherously attack the fingers of those who use them without due attention.

It is impressive the fear that Japanese unaccustomed to cooking have knives.

That’s The site of one of Japan’s oldest knife shops (link: www.aritsugu.jp) and is located in Kyoto and seems to have been founded more than 400 years ago by a blacksmith master of swords, it is only in Japanese, but with a translator and images you can enjoy the images and find inspiration if you are a maker.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com
By Mars1111 – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 ca, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2203855

Stainless steel knife VS carbon steel

Stainless steel is a great material for making pots, baking trays and containers, a little less for making super sharp blades.

In fact, stainless steel does not reach the sharpening levels of other types of carbon steel.

A traditional Japanese knife left dirty with onion and fish entrails in the sink, already after half an hour could present spots of
rust
here and there.

You need to know that a traditional Japanese knife is made of rusty steel.

This aspect is not a sign of poor quality, but rather in this case and specific context the knife has been built thinking about what it must do and the blade is made having as a priority the cut, not the comfort of maintenance of the blade.

The maintenance of the blade in this case is taken for granted because those who use a knife of this type know how it should be used also from the point of view of maintenance.

This is why a real Japanese knife goes always cleaned already while using it and washed as soon as possible When you finish using it, possibly with a rough sponge, with the knife resting on a flat surface, and with movement perpendicular to the wire and towards the blade, not against it.

Never in the opposite direction! In addition to ruining the thread, you risk cutting your fingers.

Once cleaned, the knife should be dried well with a cloth (eye on the fingers) and stored in a safe place.

No knives in the dishwasher.

Is it a hassle to do this? I can’t tell you but slicing vegetables and food in general with a homemade Japanese knife is an experience that, for a true cooking enthusiast, must be tried at least once in a lifetime.

If you take a trip to Japan, go eat sushi in a traditional restaurant, observe how every cook always has at hand a dishcloth that passes continuously on his knife.

It is not only to clean it from fish and rice residues between cuts, but also to keep it as dry as possible.

 

Sharpening a Japanese knife

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

As you can guess such an efficient cutting capacity on Japanese kitchen knives comes from a culture of sharpening brought to the highest level.

Like all knives that are used, Japanese knives must also be sharpened and that it is important to know before making a purchase of an important knife as cost as custom Japanese knives.

Why do I tell you this, simply because talking to friends many times they tell me that they have kitchen knives at home that they have never sharpened, and you bring to sharpen knives?

Of course even the cheapest of knives if sharpened will cut, I did several tests with knives from a few euros to practice sharpening But the level of sharpening that can be achieved with a Japanese blade or in any case with a quality steel and tempered correctly is another thing.

With daily use of the knife you should refresh the thread at least once a week, then resorting to a professional sharpening every six months or once a year.

And here I want to immediately alert you because most of the local and European grinders, now accustomed to common stainless steel knives, have mostly water motor wheels.

After a passage under a water grinding wheel, a Japanese knife is to be restored, it must be taken to a maker to rearrange it, you ruined it.

Even to make a correct sharpening it is necessary to know the construction technique and the type of sharpening that must be performed.

The different types of knife must be sharpened differently, there is not only one type of sharpening, as there is not only one angle of sharpening.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.comThe sharpening of a Japanese kitchen knife must be done strictly by hand with
water stone
.

You must have at least a couple of different grains:

  • 800/1000 for bulk work and
  • 1500/2000 for finishing.

Japan is among the leading producers of sharpening stones.

The stones must always be perfectly flat to ensure optimal sharpening.

With continuous use, sharpening stones develop a depression in the center where passes are more frequent.

It is therefore important to rectify them regularly with appropriate tools.

If you bought a knife in Japan, or a Japanese custom knife made by a serious maker and that you certainly paid well, to avoid unpleasant surprises, check very well how your grinder works before taking him to sharpen, asking how he will sharpen and if he knows this type of knives.

Handcrafted

One thing you need to know about Japanese kitchen knives is that they are quite expensive.

An artisan knife precisely for the particular treatments to which the steel must be subjected to acquire certain characteristics, for sharpening and for certain finishes undergoes a good part of its hand processing, in a whole series of obligatory steps.

The prices are therefore consistent, you are not paying for an industrial knife.

For a medium-sized knife it is difficult to go below 8000 yen, between 60 and 80 euros depending on the euro/yen exchange level.

Considering transport, taxes, top-ups, when it arrives in the window of a European store you can expect to pay it between 150 and 200 euros.

In the windows and displays of many knife shops in Japan are often shown the various stages of making a knife from raw iron. A further proof of the craftsmanship of the products they sell and also to make it clear to those who do not know the art of cutlery why certain types of knives are expensive.

As for the maximum prices, as always in Japan, there is practically no limit upwards.

You can safely find knives of several thousand euros.

The conclusion is that it is not enough that it has a Japanese shape and some ideogram printed on the blade to have a knife that cuts properly.

So pay attention to what you find in household stores, even of a certain level, or online in our area.

Types of Japanese knives

The main types of knives that can be found in a blade shop in Japan.

There are almost infinite varieties, one of a special shape, established and codified over centuries of use, for every human activity, not just the kitchen.

For a knife enthusiast, certain craft shops in some districts of Kyoto or Osaka can become traps from which you can not get out without lightening the bank account.

There are knives for meat, fish, vegetables, to cut chestnuts or to peel eels, to quarter or fillet large fish or small fish, oysters, and so on and so forth.

Fascinating for lovers of Japanese cuisine are those to cut the soba (buckwheat noodles) from rolled dough, which I would see very well to be used by us to make handmade noodles.

 

Structure of a traditional Japanese blade

What differentiates a traditional Japanese knife from a Western or traditional kitchen knife?

First of all the material, steel, which in Japan is processed to become harder but this can now be remedied given the wide availability of steels that can be purchased and by skilled forgers in Europe when you have special needs.

The hardness value of the blade is expressed in HRC ( Rockwell scale) and for Japanese knives it always exceeds 60 HRC, while for Western knives it is generally on average about 56 HRC.

This must already make you understand on which type of steels you have to orient yourself if you want to reach hardness of this type or possibly perform a tempering after hardening more suitable to obtain this type of hardness.

This hardness factor means that a Japanese blade is harder but less flexible, more prone to chipping and breaking.

Not being generally a steel mixed with alloys, such as chromium for example that make it antioxidant (this would in fact result in a lowering of HRC), they are in fact much more sensitive to rust.

A Japanese knife therefore requires a lot of attention and maintenance but with an impressive cutting quality given by the perfect sharpening obtained thanks to its hardness.

Japanese kitchen knives

Type of typical Japanese handle shape

There are mainly three types of shapes:

  • Rotunda
  • Octagonal
  • D-Shape or Chestnut

Clearly the handles are made of very different materials ranging from wood to synthetic materials, but we must distinguish the traditional method from the needs of industrial knives, to get to the creations of makers who indulge themselves by experimenting with innovative materials to give an even more impactful aesthetic or for specific customer requests.

  • Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Guide to Japanese kitchen knives

Japanese kitchen knives

Types of Japanese knives

As with any tool and knives, even for Japanese kitchen knives depending on their use they totally change the shape, way of cutting, manageability.

In several cases the blades are sharpened on one side only to allow a uniform and precise cut, so they have a single bevel or a double bevel as in the case of Santoku but never have the thread as in Western kitchen knives.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

 

Chisel grind or single-bevel grind is the typical one used on Japanese kitchen knives.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.comIn this configuration the blade is bevelled only on one side and in Japanese knives it is for right-handed knives on the right side and inverted on request for left-handers.

The bevel of the worked side is flat and can have a micro thread or not have it as in Japanese kitchen knives.
The angle can vary depending on the thickness of the blade and the cutting capacity you want to achieve and the strength of the blade, so as you can imagine the same type of bevel changes according to the type of Japanese kitchen knife to be created and what specific task the blade is intended for as use.

 

Below is a complete list of Japanese knives with the description:

Deba Bocho・出刃包丁

The Deba is perhaps the most representative of the Japanese knives, sharpened only on one side and is used to fillet fish or to slice certain meats.

The name deba出刃 (bocho is the word houcho・包丁

, kitchen knife, modified to make it better pronounceable in the composite word), with its ideograms, literally means “protruding blade”.

In Japan there seems to be a legend that derives this name from the blacksmith inventor of this blade nicknamed “Deba” for its protruding teeth.

Japanese Knife Deba

In fact, Deba can also have this meaning.

It is the most massive knife and is similar to a sort of light cleaver.

It is used to cut bones or small bones in the part of the blade near the handle, while from the middle to the tip to row medium/large fish.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

For the particular shape it is the most classic among the Japanese kitchen knives, the most stereotyped, the one that every self-respecting gaijn wants to bring back from a trip to the rising sun and then show it off with friends at the first opportunity.

In deba-bocho, however, it is a fairly particular knife, an all-rounder but with characteristics that make it a knife to know to use it well.

The main feature is to have a very thick and heavy blade with an asymmetrical section: on the one hand, the blade plate is on one side convex (rounded) and on the other side it is flat.

The weight and thickness of the blade also allow it to be used to cut and engrave bones and cartilage without too much difficulty and without the fear of ruin.

This, together with the blade that for the particular shape is to be rather distant from the handle, serves precisely to facilitate the cutting of fish or meat into fillets or slices.

The deba bocho is not an ambidextrous knife, the asymmetrical shape means that left-handers have to buy one made especially for them.

Even in sharpening, precisely because of the asymmetry of the blade, particular attention must be paid to the inclination with which the wire rubs on the stone, inclined from the domed side, flat from the straight side.

As with the Usuba, the blade section is asymmetrical and trapezoidal in shape, with the flat side actually concave (urasuki).

There are various lengths that can reach up to 30 centimeters and also in this case left-handers must request the version dedicated to them, since the sharpening of the cutting edge is of the “kataba” type.

The handle can be with the chestnut section, as well as ambidextrous.

A grinder must always take care to respect the right angles of the cutting edge.

Japanese Knife Deba

 

GYUTO: Equivalent to the Western “Chef’s knife” (which inspires it), it is a sharp knife on both sides and multi-functional, therefore suitable for various cutting operations.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Santoku・三徳

Santoku, the name literally means “3 virtues”, is in fact a “hybrid” knife designed to cut, chop and slice.

It has a double flat bevel , so it is sharp on both sides.

Another fundamental knife is the Santoku, it is the all-rounder knife, which can be used very well to cut:

  • meat,
  • fish and
  • vegetables.

The term Santoku literally means “the three virtues“.

The three virtues, the three advantages.

This is the translation of the word that identifies the universal knife of Japanese cuisine, used in the preparation of fish, meat and vegetables.

The santoku tends to be sharper than the debabocho also because it has the thinner blade and is more manageable than the Gyuto being that it has a shorter blade.

It is probably the most versatile knife in the kitchen among all those that can be found in a Japanese cutlery, in my opinion it is the first Japanese kitchen knife to approach for the novices of the “really sharp cut“.

It can be compared with our chef’s chopper, but it has smaller dimensions, in fact the length of the cutting edge varies, in general, from 16 to 19 cm.

Santoku is the most commercially successful Japanese blade, so many European companies have also included it in their product lines.

The chamfering is in this case symmetrical and the sharpening is performed on both sides of the knife.

As far as the handle is concerned, there are ambidextrous versions with a symmetrical and also asymmetrical section, with the aforementioned chestnut shape.

When evaluating the purchase, left-handers will have to request the version dedicated to those who will use it.

Some very Europeanized versions also have hollow scalloped edges in the area above the cutting edge that facilitate the detachment of freshly cut foods, but in my opinion it does not make much sense if you want to maintain the tradition and depends on the type of cut and food that must be done, it is more suitable for meat with thick cuts otherwise I find it a useless processing.

This processing of the scalloped hollow edge brings airflow to minimize sticky cutting especially with meats.

As a folklore note it is interesting to know that for the Shinto tradition each object contains its own spiritual energy and once the knife turns out to have an unusable blade, it is brought to the temple for a sort of funeral rite

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Nakiri and Usuba

These two types of Japanese knives may look similar, but they are actually very different.

Both are intended for cutting vegetables:

  • grind
  • chop
  • cut into slices and julienne,
  • get thin sheets from cylindrical shaped vegetables,
  • Etc.

These are just some of the uses for which they are intended.

Their shape also allows you to use them as a spatula to collect freshly cut products.

Na-kiri or Nakiri

The Nakiri (also called Caddie) is a lighter knife than the Usuba, with a cutting edge of symmetrical section, a rectangular blade and a length that commonly varies from 16 to 18 cm.

This typical, small cleaver, with a rectangular blade and sharp on both sides, is ideal for cutting vegetables.

Even the na-kiri is quite exotic in features even if less noble and elegant.

The shape is rather squat and square.

Its use is in fact more basic dealing mainly with the cutting of vegetables.

Variations on the style of na-kiri are the Kanto-style Edogata (the Tokyo region) and the Kansai style Kamagata (the Osaka region), in fact they are almost identical except for the most attentive or more experienced eyes.

Generally intended for less experienced users, it is easier to sharpen and despite the symmetrical shape of the blade profile, it can sometimes be a right-handed or left-handed knife, when the Conformation of the handle turns out to be in “chestnut” section, that is not round or oval, but with a protuberance on one of the two sides that helps to better grip the knife and not to rotate it during cutting.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Usuba

Like the Nakiri, but sharp on one side only and rounded at the end.

More difficult to handle, it allows you to perform certain types of operations more precisely.

The Usuba is an asymmetrical knife, mainly chosen by professionals in the sector for precision cuts.

It requires more experience in use and has a more delicate cutting edge than Nakiri.

It is also more difficult to sharpen: it has a flat side, or rather slightly concave (urasuki) to facilitate the detachment of the freshly cut product, while the opposite one has a game of three surfaces with different angles Japanese katana style.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

To sharpen this type of knives, grinders use very different tools with which to compare themselves because of the different angles to be respected to obtain the optimal result during sharpening.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com
Yanagi

The Japanese knife par excellence.

This razor-sharp model is ideal for sashimi and precise fish cutting.

The technique consists of sliding the blade over the thread so as to obtain a perfect slice with a single movement.

There is no sushi-Chef worthy of the name who does not have a wide range.

Given the use is obviously a sharp knife only on one side.

Yanagiba in Italian means “willow-shaped llama” and this word identifies a classic knife of the Japanese culinary tradition, used for the preparation of sashimi.

This dish generally consists of raw fish cut into thin slices, accompanied by soy sauce, wasabi or other.

For its preparation, Japanese cooks use this knife with a cutting edge and handle of asymmetrical shape.

This sharpening is called Kataba, in Japanese.

The middle section of the blade is in fact trapezoidal in shape and the handle has the characteristic chestnut shape.

The cut of the fish slices must be carried out in a single pass, starting from the handle and arriving at the tip, to obtain a smooth surface that allows to maintain the organoleptic properties unaltered.

That is why this knife has a long and narrow blade.

It should also be noted that the flat surface of one side of the blade is actually concave (especially in medium/high range knives) to facilitate the detachment of the cut material and facilitate sharpening.

Each grinder must know how to respect the shape and angle of this symbol of the cuisine of the Rising Sun.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Takobiki

A variant of the YANAGI typical of the Kanto area.

It differs from the previous one by the uniform thickness of the blade and the absence of a tip.

Thanks to these characteristics it seems to be suitable for cutting the octopus, from which it derives its name (Tako = Octopus).

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

 

Sujihiki

Knife with a long and fine blade, extremely sharp, is the “westernized” version of the traditional YANAGI.

Often sharpened on both sides is used to slice fish and meat.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

 

Petty

Small knife with a short blade useful for minute and precise cutting operations.

It is a knife that I use a lot in the kitchen and that I like to make for friends when I see them doing very large operations with knives that are uncomfortable.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Hankotsu

It is the knife for boning, has a rigid blade and sharp on both sides.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Honesuki

Another knife for boning, but of structure and characteristics different from the previous one.

Its triangular shape and slightly flexible blade make it particularly effective for poultry bones and soft joints.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Kiritsuke

Extremely sharp knife on one side only, used for the preparation of eel.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Horoshi Hocho

Very long and very sharp knife (on both sides), visually similar to a Katana, used only for tuna filleting.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Soba Kiri

Unique knife of its kind, with a bizarre shape, designed for cutting “Soba noodels”.

Fascinating for lovers of Japanese cuisine is the knife to cut the soba (buckwheat noodles) from rolled dough, which I would see very well to be used by us to make tagliatelle by hand.

The very particular shape of a Japanese soba knife, buckwheat noodles where once the dough is pulled, it is rolled up and then cut into thin and regular strips with this special knife.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

Udon Kiri

Very similar to the previous one but used for cutting the “Udon noodels”.

Japanese kitchen knives coltellimania.com

The 3 sashimi knives

Even these knives have the typical shape that makes them immediately recognizable to most as “Japanese knives” even if less than the more typical deba.

They are characterized by a long and tapered blade, this is because the slice of fish for sushi and sashimi should be cut with a single movement of the blade, not going back and forth as you would to cut a slice of bread.

In this way the consistency of the fish is not weakened which would make it mushy and watery.

To do this, a long blade is essential, and it is also essential that it is not very thick so as to cause as little friction as possible between the meat and the steel.

 

1)Yanagiba・柳刃 o Shoububa・菖蒲刃

They literally mean the first “willow blade”, the second “gladiol blade”, because, as you can imagine, the shape of these knives resembles the leaves of the respective plants to which they are associated.

2)Takohiki

Similar to yanagiba, but with a more squared tip.

3) Ajikiri.

Literally the mullet cutter. It is a “bonsai” of yanagiba, ideal for filleting and cutting small fish.

How much does a Japanese knife cost?

In recent years, with the fashion of Japanese cuisine, sushi in the first place, we begin to see Japanese kitchen knives displayed in household stores, supermarkets, cutlery shops and inside the homes of Western Europeans and Americans.

At best, these are knives produced in Japan, but industrially made for export. At worst they are imitations, made who knows where, with some showy ideogram printed on it.

For fans of cooking in general, and Japanese cuisine in particular, as you saw reading the post there are some things to know about Japanese knives before making a purchase.

For the different production characteristics and depending on the model, Japanese knives have very variable prices ranging from about 70/80 € to several hundred (in some cases thousands) of euros.

For a professional of Western cuisine or a true cooking enthusiast, a knife of 200-300 € is in general an excellent knife that if maintained well will last over time.

For a professional of Japanese cuisine who has the precision of cutting food as a prerogative, an excellent sashimi knife is worth at least € 500 (obviously personal estimate).

Even the 10 euro knives can cut like razors but as a quality of the cut, duration, etc. they are not knives for a professional who cooks hours every day, after a few days you would already be from the grinder to resharpen it and after a few months the knife would be consumed and destroyed.

Where to buy a knife in Japan

If you want to buy a traditional Japanese knife, there are two neighborhoods you should visit, the first is the mythical Kappabashi in Tokyo (near Asakusa), the second is the less known Doguyasuji in Osaka (near Namba and Nipponbashi).

In both you will find the blade that suits you!

Japanese knife brands

I insert this list not to sponsor or recommend any of these brands but to allow you to easily do a search and understand the cost of industrial and artisanal Japanese knives, this to avoid making strange faces when you hear the cost of a custom artisan kitchen knife, I suggest you read these two posts that talk about the Knife price and a daily history of many knife makers.

If it costs € 80 or € 350 there is a reason, nobody wants to cheat you, if you want to understand why the price changes well, otherwise go to IKEA and take a knife with that shape, do not waste time if you do not understand the difference, if you do not want YOUR knife.

Although intended for similar uses, traditional Japanese knives differ greatly in shape from Western knives.

Today many Japanese companies have included in their catalogs Western-style knives to satisfy all the needs of the international market, but all continue to produce the geometries of traditional Japanese cutlery.

  • Amefa
  • Benriner
  • Böker
  • Boska
  • Claude Dozorme
  • Coravin
  • De Buyer
  • Deejo Municipality
  • Two Swans
  • Eden
  • EZ Profi
  • Fiskars
  • Fontenille Pataud (Laguiole)
  • Forge de Laguiole
  • GEFU
  • Güde
  • The Kitchenette
  • Kai
  • Knivesandtools
  • Kramer by Zwilling
  • L’Atelier du Vin
  • Laguiole en Aubrac
  • Le Creuset (wine accessories)
  • Lion Sabatier
  • MAM kitchen knives
  • Maserin kitchen
  • Messermeister
  • Microplane
  • Miyabi by Zwilling
  • Mujun
  • Munetoshi
  • Nesmuk
  • Nontron
  • Noyer
  • Opinel, 20
  • Pintinox
  • Oxo
  • PUMA
  • Richardson Sheffield
  • Robert Herder
  • Sage
  • Sakai Takayuki
  • Saladins
  • Spyderco, New
  • Suncraft
  • Tojiro
  • Tramontina – Italy
  • Triangle, New10
  • Victorinox
  • Viper
  • Wüsthof
  • Xin Cutlery
  • Yaxell
  • Zassenhaus
  • Zwilling J.A. Henckels

Japanese ceramic knives

Being that in particular the Japanese are very demanding on the sharpening and cutting edge of the blades and do not want to give up a sharp blade, a few decades ago the Japanese invented
ceramic knives
.

Ceramic knives cut almost as well as a steel knife, but they do not rust and need less care than traditional knives.

The only problem is that being fragile ceramics can break.

Read the post about ceramic knives.

If you are looking for a real knife, however, it cannot be ceramic, they cut well, it is a very fashionable production technology but that has nothing to do with real steel knives.

Conclusions

In recent years, Japanese kitchen knives have won the hearts of Italian enthusiasts and chefs and have become one of the most requested, if not the most requested, items in our cutlery stores.

Is it just a fad? Certainly not to the point that even many Western makers have started to produce Japanese kitchen knives and some specializing in the realization of kitchen knives.

The customer who asks for these knives knows what he wants, looks for high quality and knows that they are often real jewels.

I believe that all kitchen knife enthusiasts should also have some types of Japanese kitchen knives in their knife set.

Definitely an experience to try to decide which is the favorite knife to use to prepare your food at home or in a restaurant, but not only.

My advice is to buy it in Japan but there are several importers who certify knives, but even better in my opinion is to rely on some maker specialized in Japanese kitchen knives and get your own custom knife of Japanese cuisine, it can also be a beautiful Gift.

Are You Experience?

Andrea


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Andrea F

Maker and Enthusiast of Knifemaking. Other: Engineer / Professional Blogger / Bass Player / Instructor of Boxing / Muay Thai / Brazilian Jiu Jitsu / Grappling / CSW / MMA / Self Defence / FMA / Dirty Boxing / Silat / Jeet Kune Do & Kali / Fencing Knife / Stick Fighting / Weapons / Firearms. Street Fight Mentality & Fight Sport! State Of Love And Trust!

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