Best Japanese Knives

Best Japanese Knives for Professional Chefs and Homecooks

Ian Mutuli
Updated on

If you were already a skilled home chef pre-quarantine, then you're probably well on your way to Top Chef status by now. Most professional chefs agree that having a reliable arsenal of kitchen tools–mainly a good quality chef's knife is what clearly distinguishes the good from the great in the league of chefs. This is where having the best Japanese knives in your set comes in handy.

Japanese-style knives are highly coveted kitchen knives for their beautiful intricate detail in design, the cuts they produce, excellent edge retention and ultra-sharp premium blade. Typically, their blades are thin and delicate and might break if you don't take proper care of them- woe unto the clumsy chef! Instead, the Japanese kitchen knives allow for thin, precise cuts for a beautiful presentation- the kind you'd find in a 5-star sushi restaurant.

Japanese knives continue to live up to their undisputable reputation for unmatched precision and detailed craftsmanship. That said, finding the best Japanese knives for you comes down to a matter of personal preference. Start by considering your current and aspirational kitchen tasks. Next, you'll have to consider your eating habits—are you vegetarian or a meat-loving hunter? Or maybe you just need a versatile Japanese blade that slices through everything delicious.

What are Japanese Kitchen Knives?

Western knives are predominantly made in Germany or France, while Japanese kitchen knives are made in Japan. As a result, western kitchen knives are generally more durable and hefty, while the best Japanese knives are lauded for their nimble precision, razor-sharp edges, and lightweight handling.

Japanese artisans have perfected their blades and knife production techniques over the years, dating back to the Samurais. Samurai swords were deadly ultra-sharp swords.

Are Japanese Knives Better Than German Knives?

To know the main difference between Japanese and European knives, think of German knives as the more universal kitchen knives and Japanese knives as elite specialist knives. Generally, Japanese knives are lighter and have a super sharp edge and sharp tip than their German counterparts.

Since Japanese chef knives have a thinner blade, they'll require more care and maintenance since they're a little more prone to breaking or chipping at the tip. So the Japanese kitchen knife might need a little more tending, but their thin and light construction makes them great for fine and delicate tasks, such as cutting vegetables or slicing fish. Let's take Sushi as a prime example; since you don't cook it, the freshness of the ingredients used and the preparation method is how you distinguish a great sushi chef from a mediocre one.

German knives, on the other hand, are relatively heavier and bulkier than most Japanese knives. This means that they have a thicker blade, making them more sturdy and requiring more sharpening on an excellent cutting edge retention. As a result, German knives are better designed for heavy-duty tasks, such as breaking down a chicken.

Ultimately, the better knife for you is based on your needs and preferences.

Type of Japanese Knives

a) Gyuto knife/ Japanese Chef's Knife: The Gyuto knife is the go-to Japanese knife in most kitchens. They are generally lighter, have thinner blades, and have a higher degree angle than the typical Western chef's knife. As a result, Gyuto knives can perform most tasks.

b) Santoku knife/ Multipurpose Knife: The Santoku knife is probably the most familiar type of knife for most Western cooks. Translated' Santoku' means the 3 virtues or to solve 3 problems. Aptly it's designed for multiple purposes like dicing, slicing, and mincing. Typically, they are more compact than the Gyuto knife and great for people with small hands. It's also an excellent knife for smaller and more delicate work.

c) Nakiri Knife/Vegetable Knife: Translated Nakiri means 'cutting greens,' the Nakiri is the more obvious choice for julienning and precise cutting of vegetables. The flat cutting edge ensures a clean cut without struggling with the tomato skin. They are specially crafted to cut vegetables and are pretty good at it.

d) Yanagi knife: The Yanagi knife is used in carving meat, like slicing boneless fish fillets into sashimi and toppings for Sushi. Its gracefully long and thin blade is specially designed to cut the slices in a single drawing stroke. This technique applies minimal pressure on the fish to avoid stress and further cell destruction.

e) Petty knife/ Paring Knife: The Japanese paring knife is the more diminutive sibling of the Gyuto knife. A petty knife is your best choice when tasks call for a smaller blade. These would include tasks such as hulling strawberry stems or slicing garlic. 

1. Shun Classic 8" Chef's Knife - Best Gyotu Knife

Shun Classic 8” Chef’s Knife with VG-MAX Cutting...
  • VG-MAX steel is a formula exclusive to Shun with extra tungsten...
  • Handle is ebony PakkaWood; PakkaWood is a hardwood infused with...
  • For proper slicing, push the knife forward and down while cutting...
  • “Shun” the Japanese word indicates a food’s peak ripeness;...
  • The 8-inch Chef’s Knife is a staple kitchen utensil and a great...

Blade Length: 8 inches | Blade Material: Carbon steel | Type of Knife: Gyuto/ Straight-edge steak

'Shun' is a Japanese word used to mean food's peak ripeness.' Shun is a reputable Japanese knife brand, and the Shun Classics are the original Shuns. The Shun classic is the first Japanese knife to be made available to a broader audience in North America.

It feels both solid and sturdy in your hands for a good grip. Its ample weight securely rests in your palm in a way that's light enough to slice vegetables and still heavy enough to slice meat. In addition, the Shun Classic 8-inch chef knife embodies intricate details that date back to the Japanese traditional culture, such as having a PakkaWood handle and an ultra-sharp edge.

It has a blade that's made out of Shun's proprietary VG-MAX steel and covered using Damascus stainless steel. This Japanese kitchen knife is designed for precise cuttings with edge retention without the need to sharpen it. 

Pros:

  • VG-MAX cutting core and Damascus stainless steel for the ultimate edge retention without the need for sharpening
  • Additional cobalt and carbon steel for extra strength and durability
  • Ebony Pakkawood handle that's waterproof, durable, and anti-bacterial
  • All-purpose blade
  • Curved blade for easy cuts
  • Handcrafted in Japan
  • Well made consistently
  • Offers a wide variety of styles that suit every chef
  • Razor-sharp blade

Cons:

  • The blade isn't as great for total beginners
  • Not suited for cutting hard foods like butchering chickens or chopping hard veggies, e.g., carrots

2. Miyabi Birchwood SG2 8" Chef's Knife - Most Durable Japanese Knife

Sale
Miyabi Chef's Knife, 8-Inch, Birch/Stainless Steel
  • G2 micro carbide powder steel
  • Authentic thin Japanese blade profile
  • Hand honed using the three step Honbazuke process to a 9.5 to 12...
  • Handle length:5.39 inch

Blade Length: 8 inches | Blade Material: Stainless steel | Type of Knife: Gyuto

'Miyabi' is a Japanese term used to describe 'courtly elegance.' Still, in this context, the term is used to describe 'happiness' or 'pleasure.' In a world where everyone uses dark wood or stainless steel handles on their knives, Masur Birchwood handles stand out.

Not only is this Miyabi SG2 8" chef's knife straight-up gorgeous, but it also feels as great in hand. It comes with a wood handle that's soft and smooth and light, a marbled color that complements the Japanese steel blade. In addition, this high-quality blade features a stunning floral damask pattern and a powder steel core layered by 2 different steel sheets in 100 layers. Ultimately, this helps preserve the edge retention. 

Pros:

  • G2 micro carbide powder steel for durability
  • Aesthetically attractive handle
  • Authentically thin Japanese blade profile
  • Sharpest durable knives that are a good knife investment
  • Beautiful handcrafted knives that are top-quality
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • Doesn't come with a sheath to store the knife
  • Relatively pricey

3. Global G-48 7-Inch Santoku Hollow Ground Knife - Best Santoku Knife

Sale
Global G-48-7 inch, 18cm Santoku Hollow Ground Knife,...
  • All-purpose 7-inch hollow-ground Santoku knife for chopping,...
  • Blade made of high-tech molybdenum/vanadium Stainless steel
  • Face-ground with long taper so edge remains sharp longer
  • Stainless-steel handle molded for Comfort and dimpled for safe...
  • Measures approximately 11 by 3 inches; wash by hand; Lifetime

Blade Length: 7 inches | Blade Material: Molybdenum/Vanadium stainless steel | Type of Knife: Santoku

A Santoku knife is a multipurpose Japanese blade that's especially great for people with small hands since it's a relatively short blade, usually with 165mm length that's easier to handle. From the length and shape of this Santoku knife, you get a comfortable grip on small hands.

Global Japanese knives are quite unique from other brands since they're constructed from a single piece of premium stainless steel, making the blade noticeably thinner. This 8-inch Chef's Knife's blade has a bottom that seems proportionally wider than other Japanese knives that have a thinner bolster- where the blade meets the handle.

The bottom of the blade is quite sharp, seems almost entirely unfinished, and is excellent for hacking through the meat. Its dimpled handle gives you slip-proof control. The handle is also filled with sand for an added balanced weight when you cut.

Pros:

  • Great for small hands
  • Comfortable grip and slip-proof control
  • Well-balanced weight when you cut
  • Made from a single premium Japanese steel for durability

Cons:

  • Doesn't come with a blade cover

4. Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Nakiri Vegetable Knife -Best for Vegetables

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Yoshihiro VG-10 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless...
  • Forged and hammered with 16 layers of steel in the Damascus...
  • One of the most popular knives that a cook can have today is a...
  • Reminiscent of a small cleaver, this knife is cherished for its...
  • Proudly made in Japan. This knife is complimented with a premium...
  • Traditional Japanese knife making values a sharp edge, which...

Blade Length: 6.5 inches | Blade Material: VG 10 steel/Damascus steel | Type of Knife: Nakiri

The Yoshihiro brand has been crafting knives since the 14th century in a history that dates back to Sakai, Japan. This Japanese knife brand uses a technique that's adapted from the swordsmiths who created the famous Samurai Katana.

The Yoshihiro Nakiri makes it top of the best Japanese knives list as the best Japanese knife for vegetables. It's forged and hammered with 16 layers of the VG-10 Damascus stainless steel. This Yoshihiro Nakiri is a double bevel knife with a flat edge that allows the entire blade to make contact with whatever you're chopping. 

If you do a lot of plant-based cooking, always go for the rectangular, flat-edged Nakiri knife that makes slicing vegetables such a dream. It's well-balanced to create thin cuts in a push-pull motion while the hammered texture on its blade surface keeps your food from sticking. 

Pros:

  • Double bevel
  • Very sharp edge
  • Made from real Damascus steel
  • Comfortable grip and handle
  • Best Japanese knife for vegetables

Cons:

  • Doesn't come with a blade cover

5. Shun Classic 6-Piece Slim Knife Block Set - Best Assorted Knife Set

Shun Classic 6-piece Slim Knife Block Set
  • Set includes: 3.5-inch Paring Knife, 7-inch Santoku Knife, 8-inch...
  • VG-MAX cutting core with 34-layers (each side) and stainless...
  • Rockwell Hardness: 60-61; hand-sharpened Japanese double-bevel...
  • D-shaped PakkaWood handle is strong, durable and resists moisture
  • Handcrafted in Seki, Japan; hand wash with gentle dish soap and...

Blade Length: Assorted | Blade Material: VG-MAX steel | Type of Knife: Block set

This Shun Classic knife block 6-piece set is handmade with lades, and it includes more carbon for extra strength, chromium for corrosion resistance, while the tungsten helps keep the blade edge fine and sharp. The Pakkawood handles are comfortable to grip. Shun knives are reliable and beautiful.    

The set includes the best Japanese knives for different; 3.5" paring knife, 6" utility knife, 8" chef's knife, 9" honing steel, and kitchen shears. It also comes in an attractive knife block that has plenty of extra room to grow your knife collection.

These knives are ultra-sharp but aren't meant for hard foods such as frozen foods or bones. However, if you need one for tougher jobs, Shun does offer a Western cook's knife that's wider-angled and that can be easily added to your collection.

Pros:

  • 6-piece assorted knife set that includes a honing steel
  • More affordable than individually buying each
  • Unlimited free sharpening
  • Comfortable grip
  • Sleek design
  • Knife block storage included in the purchase

Cons:

  • Includes more than what the regular cook may need

6. Shun Classic 4-Piece Steak Knife Set -Best Steak Knife Set

Shun DMS-400 Classic 4-Piece Knife Set Enhance Dinners...
  • Make every steak dinner more enjoyable with these razor-sharp...
  • These handsome steak knives perform with precision and enhance...
  • Handcrafted in Japan, these knives feature premium VG-MAX blade...
  • Beautiful ebony PakkaWood handles complete the handsome look of...
  • Enhance the flavor and enjoyment of favorite steaks with...

Blade Length: 4.75 inches | Blade Material: VG-MAX stainless steel | Type of Knife: Straight-edge steak set

Like the Shun Classic steak knife that's handmade in Seki, Japan, this steak 4-piece set is made using VG-MAX steel, the company's proprietary 'super steel.' VG-MAX steel contains high levels of tungsten to create a strong, more refined grain razor-sharp edge. With this, slicing through a juicy thick Cowboy steak is much easier.

This 4-piece set also comes with black durable Pakkawood handles and ultra-sharp blades that are coated with a 34 micro-layer Damascus wrap. This not only renders the knives elegant but also resistant to staining or corrosion. Unlike others on the list, this Shun 4-piece set comes with traditional Japanese straight handles. This adds to that modern aesthetic vibe which not only looks great on your dinner table but also comes with a presentation box, making it an excellent gift option for anyone's knife collection.

Pros:

  • Best Japanese steak knife set
  • VG-MAX stainless steel for a razor-sharp Japanese kitchen knife and ultimate edge retention without the need for sharpening
  • Ebony Pakkawood handle that's waterproof, durable, and anti-bacterial
  • Handcrafted in Japan
  • Storage/presentation box included
  • Razor-sharp
  • Sleek design

Cons:

  • Relatively pricey

7. Mac Knife Series 8-Inch Hollow Edge Chef’s Knife -Best Budget Pick

Mac Knife Series Hollow Edge Chef's Knife, 8-Inch, 8...
  • 2mm Blade, rust-resistant, exceptionally sharp, made out of high...
  • Original Molybdenum steel has better edge-retention
  • Pakka wood handle
  • Hand wash is recommended Not dishwasher safe
  • Made In Japan

Blade Length: 8 inches | Blade Material: Molybdenum high-carbon steel | Type of Knife: Gyuto

If you're on an inflexible tight budget or just starting your knife collection, you can look at this affordable Japanese chef knife option that works for both right and left-handed users. The Mac Hollow Edge Chef knife is crafted from high-carbon stainless steel by skillful Japanese artisans in Seki, Japan.

This Japanese chef knife has a blade that's hand-sharpened, hand-ground, and hand-cooled to create a razor-sharp blade that retains its edges for a long time. Of all double-bevel knives, this is the most affordable, which is also easier to sharpen. In addition, its hollow edge gives it advantages over the non-dimpled models since its shape and design reduce the friction when cutting through moist produce such as potatoes to create a cleaner cut.

It has a comfortable handle and taper blade like the traditional Japanese Gyutos. Of the best Japanese knives on this list, the Mac Hollow Edge Chef Knife is the most affordable Gyuto option that offers you a workhorse Japanese knife in the kitchen.

Pros:

  • Durable and lightweight construction
  • Crafted from high-carbon stainless steel for a rust-resistant and razor-sharp edge that retains for long
  • Multipurpose kitchen knife
  • Great for both righties and lefties
  • Affordable Gyuto knife option
  • 3 different size options 

Cons:

  • Too lightweight for tough foods

8. KUMA Professional Damascus Knife - Sturdiest Knife

KUMA Professional Damascus Knife - 8 Inch Japanese Chef...
  • Forged for the ages - Famous for its resilience, we forged 67...
  • Cook for hours - Our razor sharp blade doesn't mean we sacrificed...
  • Makes you want to cook, when you look at it - Slicing through any...
  • You'll Love your KUMA and so will your cooking enthusiast Mom,...

Blade Length: 8 inches | Blade Material: Japanese VG-10 Core Damascus Steel | Type of Knife: Gyuto

Of the best Japanese chef knives, the KUMA 8-inch chef's knife is the sturdiest option. It has a thin blade that makes it great for cutting through vegetables or delicately slicing through meat. This Japanese chef knife is made of 67 layers of pure Japanese VG-10 Core Damascus stainless steel.

This construction makes it strong, chip-resistant, corrosion-free and stain-resistant. In addition, the handle is slightly beveled, making it a single bevel knife that feels pretty strong and sturdy in your hand.

Additionally, it features a full tang (blade running through the handle) and a great balance. KUMA single bevel knives are hand-finished to ensure that they have sharp edges right out of the box.

Pros:

  • Versatile Japanese chef knife
  • VG-10 Core that makes it corrosion-free and stain resistant
  • Single bevel knife handle and sheath that's made of hardened carbon steel
  • Sturdiest Japanese chef knife option
  • Ideal for professional chefs and home cooks
  • Durable construction
  • Lightweight and ergonomic handle
  • Has extraordinary longevity and strength
  • Comes with a V-grade sharpening technology for durable sharpness

Cons:

  • Relatively too small to handle big chunks of raw meat

9. KYOKU 8" Japanese Chef Knife

Sale
KYOKU Chef Knife - 8"- Shogun Series - Japanese VG10...
  • TOP-NOTCH VG-10 JAPANESE STEEL – Crafted with superior Japanese...
  • FUNCTIONAL & AESTHETIC DAMASCUS STEEL – The blade consists of...
  • ERGONOMIC G10 HANDLE: Highly impervious to heat and moisture, the...
  • WELL-BALANCED DESIGN: Our 8” Japanese chef knife is designed to...
  • A KITCHEN KNIFE FOR EVERY TASK: Every kitchen needs a versatile...

Blade Length: 8 inches | Blade Material: Japanese VG10 Core/67-Layers Damascus Blade | Type of Knife: Gyuto

Kyoku began its work with the sharp intention; to make high-end Japanese cutlery more affordable for both professional chefs and home cooks alike globally. The Kyoku chef knife pulls of a great balance of beauty, functionality and affordability. It has a meticulously crafted golden mosaic pin on its handle, evoking that luxurious aura.

A wide, curved blade that offers both versatility and performance in your kitchen. Rightly maintaining its spot in the best Japanese chef's knives, this chef knife can do the mincing, dicing, or slicing as good as a powerful blender would. In addition, it sports a well-balanced, lightweight design, making it an ideal choice for home cooks or chefs preparing food for large crowds.

Pros:

  • Both functional and aesthetically attractive
  • Durable yet affodable
  • Crafted using a premium Japanese steel
  • Ergonomic handle that's highly impervious to heat and moisture
  • Well balanced design
  • Great edge retention
  • Full tang design
  • Comes with both a sheath and case

Cons:

  • Not fully rustproof

10. Enso Chef’s Knife

Sale
Enso Chef's Knife - Made in Japan - HD Series - VG10...
  • Chef Knife handcrafted in Seki City, Japan; 8 inch blade (13-3/8...
  • Japanese VG10 steel cutting core for excellent edge retention;...
  • 37-layer stainless Damascus blades with hammered (tsuchime)...
  • Black canvas micarta handle for a similar look and feel to wood...
  • Double bevel edge for both right and left-handed use; All Enso...

Blade Length: 8 inches | Blade Material: Japanese VG10 Steel | Type of Knife: Gyuto

'Enso' is the Japanese word for 'harmony.' These knives are forged in Seki, combining both the culture and technology to design state-of-the-art knives that are sure to align with the needs of chefs globally. It has a micarta handle with a robust tang construction that helps maintain balance and ensure durability.

Like other Japanese knives, the Enso chef knife comes with a superb edge retention and double-bevel edge that makes it ideal for both right- or left-handed chefs. It's superbly designed for slicing, dicing, and chopping fruits, vegetables, and much more. Its curved belly means that it can be gently rocked through fresh herbs or spices for a fine mince.

Pros:

  • Enclosed full tang handle for strength, durability and balance
  • Excellent edge retention
  • Sleek hammered or sashimi finish
  • Double bevel edge that's ideal for both right or left-handed users

Cons:

  • Relatively heavy handle

What Factors to Consider for the Best Japanese Knives?

A) What Materials?

Understandably, it can get a little confusing when confronted with words such as carbon and stainless steel. Here's a little tip:

  • Knives already contain carbon since it's part of the alloy mix with stainless and carbon. Usually, it'd be designated with the word 'high,' as "high-carbon stainless steel"
  • In essence, high carbon steel knives are still steel knives, but the stainless steel added aids in longevity. So high carbon steel blades are heavy-duty and will maintain the sharp edge longer but might corrode and rust
  • The addition of stainless steel helps mitigate discoloration and rust
  • Chromium gives the blade the silver shine helping it stay beautiful for longer with less maintenance

B) Level of Maintenance?

Caring for a Japanese blade will take a little more work than the European knife and other cheaper knives. Here are some tips:

  • Hand-washing since most blades are ice-hardened and brittle and may chip when exposed to harsh detergents from the dishwasher. Additionally, to protect the handles from cracking when exposed to the heat or steam in the dishwasher
  • Dry them right after cleaning to help ensure they don't pick up rust or water spots
  • Practice sharpening them at home using whetstones. It takes practice. 

C) Storage Options?

  • When it comes in a set, storage might not be an issue since the block is usually included
  • If you get high-quality Japanese knives individually, some come with sheaths to help protect the blade, while others don't
  • If you prefer storing them in a drawer, then an organizer might be the best solution to make sure they are not loose
  • Another great storage choice is the magnetic strips that you can affix to the wall

Frequently Asked Questions on the Best Japanese Knives

1. What are the different types of knives?

Japanese knives can be best categorized under the best uses for each knife:

  • Japanese chef's knife
  • Japanese Paring knife
  • Japanese utility knife
  • Japanese boning knife
  • Japanese bread knife
  • Japanese carving knife
  • Japanese cheese knife
  • Japanese tomato knife

2. What are Japanese paring knives called?

The Japanese Petty knife is the ideal paring and utility knife that's perfect for all the tasks that the Gyuto or Santoku are simply too large to handle. More specifically, petty knives are great for small fruits, vegetables and herbs.

3. How do you use of Santoku knife?

In full, Santoku knives are known as Santoku bocho knives, which loosely translates to '3 uses', and are ideal for mincing, dicing and slicing.

4. What is a Wa knife?

The Wa-handle knife is a traditional Japanese handle knife. They're lighter and come in all types of wood with different colors. Generally, these knives have a tang that's approximately 3/4 the length of the handle. The handles are usually glued in place.

Meta Description: The Best Japanese knives should be made of premium blade material and have better edge retention. Here are the best 10 we reviewed.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.