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Japanese Knife Types

Japanese Knife Types

Japanese knives are known for their unparalleled strength and sharpness compared to other kitchen knives, allowing you to make precise cuts of fish, vegetables, fruit, or sushi rolls. However, Japanese knives come in many shapes, sharpness levels, and sizes, and every type has a specific purpose. We outline the Japanese knife types, the uses for each design, and how to sharpen and care for them. Equipped with the perfect knives, you are well on your way to delighting your guests with perfectly crafted sushi.

Shop All Japanese Knives

Use the following links to explore different types of Japanese knives:

  1. What Is a Santoku Knife?
  2. Types of Japanese Knives
  3. Japanese vs German Knives
  4. How to Sharpen Japanese Knives
  5. How to Care For Japanese Carbon Steel Knives

What Is a Santoku Knife?

One of the most common Japanese knife types is the Santoku knife, a multi-purpose knife perfect for sushi operations. Because of their general-purpose usage, Santoku knives can easily be confused with chef's knives. Both kinds usually have a double bevel and feature a Granton edge. Santoku and chef knives have several anatomical differences that set the Santoku knife apart from its western counterpart.

Santoku knife with thin, light blade

Santoku Knives

Santoku knives are thinner and shorter than chef’s knives, allowing for more precision while slicing food items. As a result of these features, santoku knives are lighter and more balanced than their counterpart. It also does not have a tip or a bolster.

  • Single (one-sided) or double (two-sided) bevel
  • May feature a Granton edge
  • 5" - 8" long blade

Chef's knife with bolster and broad, heavy blade

Chef's Knives

Unlike Santoku knives, chef’s knives have a tip that allows the user to rock the blade as they cut ingredients. The design is heavier and longer than the sushi knife, with a broad blade and a thick spine. It also has a bolster and options for a serrated edge.

  • Usually has a double bevel
  • May feature a Granton edge
  • 6" - 12" long blade

Types of Japanese Knives

Japanese knives traditionally feature a high-carbon steel construction refined by acclaimed Japanese swordsmithing techniques to make them sharper, lighter, and more solid than stainless steel knives. Smiths crafted many Japanese swords using this same high-carbon steel.

Japanese knives have a high rating on the Rockwell Hardness Scale (HRC), the industry standard for measuring the hardness of steel. Therefore, you can sharpen Japanese knives to a much sharper and finer angle. The sharp edge also leads to greater ease in cutting, thus minimizing pressure on the muscles and joints in your hand. For this reason, many chefs prefer Japanese knives to stainless steel alternatives. Japanese knives' sharp bevel and thin construction make them ideal for making precise slices of vegetables, fish, and sushi rolls.

Figuring out which Japanese knives to implement in your kitchen can be confusing. We break down the various types of Japanese knives so you can make an informed decision.

Japanese Santoku knife

Santoku Knife

The Japanese word “Santoku” can be translated as “three virtues,” as this knife is ideally used for three main functions: chopping, slicing, and dicing. 

  • Multi-purpose, Western-style knife
  • Can be used to cut raw fish, meat, and vegetables
  • The blade does not culminate into a tip

Japanese Nakiri knife with rectangular blade

Nakiri Knife

With a rectangular blade, the Nakiri knife slices and dices fruits and vegetables into thin, uniform slices to add to sushi rolls. 

  • Design allows for clean chops of fruits and vegetables
  • Full tang increases safety and reduces the risk of injury
  • Long and straight blade design allows for easy slicing

Japanese Gyotu knife with flat edge and light, thin construction

Gyuto Knife

Sharing many similarities to chef knives, a Gyuto knife's light, thin construction allows it to make clean slices of fruits, vegetables, or meats. 

  • Flat edge allows for quick cuts and easy handling 
  • Well-suited for making precise cuts and working in tight spaces
  • Design makes it an ideal multi-purpose knife

Japanese Deba knife with flat edge and single-beveled blade

Deba Knife

Also used to chop vegetables and cube meats, chefs commonly use a Deba knife to carve cuts of fish. Its versatility makes it a valuable addition to any sushi restaurant. 

  • Light- or medium-duty cleaver
  • Flat edge prevents food from sticking to the knife
  • Strong enough to cut through cartilage and bones

Japanese Sashimi knife with straight, smooth edge and long, thin blade

Sashimi Knife

Characterized by their long, thin blades, Sashimi knives can cut many types of ingredients. They are ideal for making precise cuts of raw fish for sushi without tearing them. 

  • Straight, smooth edge 
  • Comparable to a Western-style slicing knife 
  • Long blade is well-suited for carving large cuts of fish 

Japanese Usuba knife with thin blade and single bevel

Usuba Knife

Translated from Japanese as “thin blade,” the Usuba knife chops vegetables into uniform slices. The thin blade causes minimal cell damage to food, thus reducing the discoloration and change in flavor resulting from oxidation. 

  • Single bevel 
  • Ideal for making fine cuts 
  • Not recommended to cut fruits and vegetables with hard skins

Japanese Sujihiki knife with straight, smooth blade

Sujihiki Knife

Comparable to a Western slicing knife, the Sujihiki knife’s straight, smooth blade is perfect for carving boneless cuts of meat

  • Short blade height creates less friction when slicing
  • Long blade length simplifies the process of peeling away excess fat or skin 
  • Ideal for executing clean slices, eliminating sawing

Japanese vs German Knives

One significant difference between Japanese and German knives lies in the hardness of their blades. Japanese blades have a higher Rockwell Hardness Scale rating, ranging between 58-66 HRC. This rating means they are harder than German knives but more brittle and prone to chips and breakage. On the other hand, German knives have softer steel with a lower rating between 52-56 HRC. These blades are more resistant to damage, but they require frequent sharpening.

Chef in white disposable gloves using a Japanese knife to cut raw fish

Japanese Knives

While they share several anatomical qualities, Japanese knives are characterized by a fine edge for delicate slicing and making precise cuts of tender foods like fish. Their high-carbon steel construction is honed and refined by hand.

  • Lighter for more controlled movements
  • Smaller blade angle of roughly 10-15 degrees makes clean cuts without damaging food
  • Straight blade for clean, precise cuts
  • No bolster and blades that taper inside the handle for a more versatile, lightweight blade and more controlled movements

German butcher knife on a plastic cutting board preparing to cut into a large slab of beef

German Knives

More familiar to Western culture, German knives are crafted from stainless steel with durability in mind. The thick blade handles tougher cuts without getting damaged, making them ideal for butcher shops. Typically, these knives are finished with a machine rather than by hand. 

  • Heavier for increased durability
  • Larger blade angle of about 20 degrees is designed to cut through tough foods 
  • Curved blade for making cuts in a rocking motion 
  • Full tang and bolster for elevated strength and balance, reducing the risk of workplace injury

How to Sharpen Japanese Knives

Because high-carbon steel is harder than stainless steel, Japanese blades require less frequent sharpening than Western knives. When sharpening your Japanese knife, use a whetstone, and avoid honing rods, steels, or any other kind of sharpening device. Follow these steps to achieve a clean, sharp edge:

Chef sharpening a knife on a sharpening stone, or whetstone.

  1. Submerge a whetstone in water for 10-15 minutes or until air bubbles stop surfacing.
  2. Place the whetstone on a solid surface to ensure it stays still while sharpening.
  3. Holding the knife at a 10-15 degree angle, move it along the whetstone from heel to toe.
  4. Repeat this step 5-10 times on each side of the knife.
  5. Reverse directions and push the knife toe to heel, repeating 5-10 times on both sides.
  6. Strop, or brush, the blade on jeans, newspaper, or leather to realign the edge.

Note: Single-beveled Japanese knives, such as Deba knives and some Santoku knives, are only sharpened on one side.

Japanese knife on cutting board next to mushrooms and ginger

How to Care For Japanese Carbon Steel Knives

The high-carbon steel blades of Japanese sushi knives are more prone to rust than stainless steel alternatives, which affects the life of the knife and your ability to use the knife safely. To avoid rusting, wash and dry the knife immediately after use. If needed, add a small amount of oil to the blade for an added layer of protection.

Also, remember that Japanese knives are not dishwasher safe, as the heat, water, and chemicals can damage the blade and handle. To preserve your knives, hand-wash them with mild soap and warm water. Here are some additional tips for your Japanese knives: 

  • Avoid using Japanese knives to cut acidic foods, as this can change the color, taste, or smell of the food
  • Avoid cutting extremely hard or frozen items with your knife, as this may cause chipping or breakage to the blade 
  • Never use the knife on a metal or glass surface. For best results, use an end-grain wooden cutting board

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