As a knife collector, I’ve always been fascinated by knives from different cultures. Japanese blades are no exception to the rule. In fact, I’ve found that Japanese knives are some of the sturdiest and high-quality knives you can find.
Below, I’ll go over each of the standard Japanese blade types so that you can grasp a more thorough understanding of the tools in your kitchen. I’ll also briefly cover some of the most commonly asked questions regarding Japanese blades. As you’ll soon find out, there is a vast range of versatile traditional Japanese blades.
With proper knife knowledge and care, these blades are powerhouses in any kitchen due to their unique design and sturdy construction.
14 Most Popular Japanese Knife Types
Without further ado, here are 14 of the most common Japanese knives and their respective purposes.
1. Gyutou / Chef’s Knife
The Gyutou is a versatile knife that is akin to the Western Chef’s knife. This all-purpose knife can be used for a wide variety of tasks including cutting meat, fish, and vegetables. These blades are usually right around 8-inches long.
In reference to a chef’s knife, the Gyutou is usually thinner and holds a sharper edge. While it’s similar to the Santoku knife, the Gyutou blade has a slight curve to it so it can be used in a rocking motion. The word “Gyutou” itself translates to “Beef Knife” in English.
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2. Santoku / Multipurpose
Santoku’s name translates to “Three virtues” or “Three purpose” knives. As you might have guessed, the Santoku blade is used to cut meat, vegetables, and fish making it a highly versatile multipurpose blade.
Unlike Gyutou knives, Santoku blades are fully flat. While you can’t use these knives to cut using a rocking motion, these knives are great for chopping in an up and down style cut. The blade is fixed to naturally create thin style cuts. Plus, the wide blade can also be used to scoop vegetables or thinly chopped meat directly into a pan.
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3. Sujihiki / Slicer
The Sujihiki is akin to the European slicer knife. These long, thin knives are longer than the typical chef or multipurpose blade. These knives usually have a blade that’s about 12-inches long. Sujihiki means “muscle or tendon cutter” which makes perfect sense since these knives are mainly used to slice through ultra-thin cuts of meat or fish.
This super-thin knife has an excellent edge and is made of a super hard cut of steel. Though all knives need to be sharpened regularly to perform properly, you won’t have to sharpen your Sujihiki blade quite as much as others.
Sujihiki is a precise knife that is perfect for cutting, slicing, and carving.
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4. Petty / Pairing
The name “Petty” was derived from the word petite meaning small. The Petty blades certainly live up to their name. These tiny utility knives have a 3 to 4-inch blade. Petty knives resemble smaller Gyutou or Chef’s knives in terms of stature and design.
Petty knives have a slightly curved blade making them well-suited for cutting using a rocking motion. These blades are usually used to perform small, detailed tasks like preparing herbs or small fruits and vegetables.
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5. Honesuki / Boning
A Honesuki knife has a distinct triangular shape and acts as a very stiff blade. Unlike a western boning knife, this knife doesn’t have a super flexible tip. This makes the knife especially effective when it comes to deboning or cutting through joints of meat or fish.
Its key difference from other boning knives is that its sharp, pointed tip makes it easy for you to ride the blade alongside bones and cartilage. The asymmetrical knife can also function well as a utility knife.
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6. Hankotsu / Boning
The Hankotsu blade looks like a cross between the Petty and Honesuki knives. This deboning knife can be used on all types of meat, though it’s generally used on hanging poultry. The Hankotsu blade has a thick spine and is not flexible like a western boning knife. This knife is also perfect for cleaning or deboning loins.
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7. Nakiri / Vegetable Knife
Nakiri knives look very similar to western cleavers with thick, flat-edged blade design. The single-edged blade design makes this a great knife for cutting through tough vegetables or fruits like melon or squash. The blade can also be used to make precise julienne cuts for stir-fry or other push-cutting tasks.
This knife has no sharp-tip but can cut produce quickly and efficiently for effortless meal preparation. Some knife experts refer to the Nakiri as the westernized version of the Usuba, which is discussed below.
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10. Deba / Butchery
Deba blades are large, single-bevel knives. The Deba is usually used to butcher an entire fish. These knives are very thick at the spine and are usually a bit more weighted than other boning knives. Due to this unique design combination, Deba blades can easily cut through small fish bones while still retaining an extra sharp cutting edge.
The traditional Deba is much sharper than the Yo-Deba variant, though Yo-Deba knives might be easier to handle overall.
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8. Yo-Deba / Butchery
Yo-Deba knives are the Western adaptation of the traditional Japanese Deba knife. These blades are heavy, durable, and have a thick spine. Yo-Deba blades come in handy when it comes to meat or fish butchery.
These blades are fully balanced, so they are compatible for both right and left-hand use. Unlike the traditional Deba, Yo-Deba knives are double-beveled and have a more obtuse angle edge.
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9. Yanagiba / Slicer
The Yanagiba knife, sometimes called the Yanagi-ba knife, has a unique, willow shaped blade. This knife is used for making delicate cuts of soft proteins like chicken or roast beef. The blade is also used as a fish slicer and is perfect for finessing and filets.
These single-edged traditional blades are incredibly sharp and are usually on the long side, with a blade over 10-inches. This high-end knife is known for its popularity in the Sushi space and produces a seamless, clean cut with every use.
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11. Usuba / Vegetable Knife
Usuba translates to “thin blade”, and the knives certainly live up to the name. This blade is super thin and has a signature single-bevel design. The knife can be incredibly sharp making it well suited for precise, detailed cuts. This knife is usually used to julienne or slice vegetables.
These knives may take a bit more getting used to than a Nakiri blade, but they are super powerful when used properly. Most of these blades have some sort of a square tip, though there are rounded variations depending on the region of origin.
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12. Kiritsuke / Slicer
The Kiritsuke is a unique slicer knife and that is commonly used as a slicer blade due to its long, sharp blade construction. The knife has a distinct angled-tip and is traditionally created with a single-beveled design. These blades are perfect for cutting cooked meat or fish.
Kiritsuke knives are incredibly sharp and combine the function of the Yanagiba and Gyutou blade. While these knives are super versatile, they are incredibly difficult to master. In fact, only executive chefs in traditional Japanese culture are permitted to use these special blades.
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13. Pankiri / Bread Knife
If you ever need to slice bread, you’ll definitely want a Pankiri knife by your side. These knives usually have a long, flexible blade that’s well suited for slicing through layers of cake, bread, and more.
Unlike the Western bread knife, Pankiri blades have a bit more of an angle to them with a unique triangle-like design. The blades are specially serrated so that they’ll cut through coarse crusts and baked goods with ease, without totally crushing the food in the process.
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14. Bunka / Multi-Purpose Knife
Bunka blades have a lot in common with the all-purpose Santoku knife. You can use this knife to cut meat, fish, and vegetables with ease.
The key difference between a Bunka and Santoku knife is that Bunka blades tend to have a finer, more pointed tip that can make it easier to execute fine cuts like a julienne. All in all, a Bunka blade is your best friend for preparing any meal.
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What are Japanese Knives Called and What Are They Used For?
As you might have noticed, Japanese knives have a wide variety of uses and names. Each blade name gives you an idea of what the knife itself might be used for. For example, Sujihiki means “muscle or tendon cutter”, which is why this blade name was assigned to a slicer knife.
Just like European blades, each Japanese knife has a specific job or duty to execute. However, there are some key differences between Japanese style knives and other blades which I’ll go over below.
What Makes Japanese Blades Different?
You may be wondering what makes Japanese Blades different from other Western blades. As it turns out, there is a wide range of characteristics that make Japanese blades stand out from the crowd as shown below.
Japanese styled blades are traditionally single-beveled, meaning that they’re only sharpened on one side of the blade. Most blades are beveled on the right side for ease of use, so those with a dominant left hand may need to custom order a Japanese blade.
While you will find some double-beveled Japanese blades, the knives are traditionally only sharpened on a single edge.
While western blades are somewhat interchangeable, Japanese blades are known for their highly specialized nature. Each knife has a different job as indicated by its name. Moreover, the specialized blades can take a longer time to master. Beginner chefs may have trouble starting out with the complex nature of Japanese blades.
In comparison to Western knives, Japanese style blades are usually sharper and lighter. This makes the blades well-suited for Japanese style cuisine which can require precise cutting capabilities.
Why are Japanese Knives so Expensive?
You may notice that Japanese blades are considerably more expensive than your run-of-the-mill kitchen blade. Fortunately, you truly get what you pay for when it comes to knives.
Here are a couple of reasons why a Japanese knife set may cost more but ends up being well worth the extra price:
You’ll find that many Japanese knives are hand-forged, which comes with an added price tag. However, these blades are well-made and will last you and your family years to come.
Since these blades are truly meant to last, Japanese knives are made out of the top of the line steel for seamless cutting and cooking.
Japanese knives are gorgeous and take design into serious consideration. You may find that your Japanese blade is engraved, or made with a rare wood handle. These knives may cost a bit extra, but they also double as utilitarian pieces of art.
Are Japanese Knives Cheaper in Japan?
If you know someone who plans on going to Japan or you have a trip there yourself, should you wait to purchase the knives there? In general, it depends.
Ultimately, Japanese knives will be cheaper in Japan since you won’t have to worry about the costs of shipping or transport. You’ll also get to see and feel the knives in person before purchasing them, which can make it easier for you to purchase a well-fitting blade.
However, if you feel like you could get good use out of your Japanese blades by purchasing them earlier, it may be worth forgoing the cost of shipping. These knives are particularly difficult to master, so time is an essential commodity.
Japanese Style Knives Are Impeccable
As you can see, Japanese style blades lend themselves to a wide variety of applications and uses. I have immensely enjoyed adding these sharp, efficient blades to my collection. One of the best parts of Japanese style knives is that individual blades can take years to master, so you’ll never grow tired of adding these unique, complex pieces to your individual collection.
Hopefully, this guide brought you one step closer to getting the best Japanese blade for your kitchen. Enjoy cooking a wide range of dishes with these versatile knives. Happy cooking!
Last update on 2020-09-18 at 13:50 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.