Japanese Kitchen Knives: Ultimate Guide
Some of the most popular types of knives in the world areJapanese kitchen knives, especially if you are looking for heavy duty kitchen knives that will last the course and slice with ease.
They areproduced with high quality materialsand stay sharp after years of use. There are differenttypes of Japanese knivesthat are used in different cutlery purposes and hopefully you will get a better understanding of just why they are so popular with both professional & amateur cooks around the world.
The reason I am writing aboutJapanese chefs knives set, is because my wife was a Japanese speaking tour guide and later on a translator for a large Japanese NGO calledJICA.
She made many friends and I became really interested in Japanese and Asian culture and seeing as I am a bit of research geek, I thought I would write about the different the,!
Types of High End Japanese Chefs Knives
Japanese Gyuto Chef Knife
There is a wide range of different types ofJapanese knife stylesthat have a rich history and are all beautifully produced.
The class is based on the methodand material used in producing the knives.
Traditional Japanese knife-forging methods have two classes, namely thehonyakiandkasumi.
Honyakiare made from one material andare trueforged knives.
The most common type ofhonyakiknives are blue steel and white steel.
Kasumi knives are made of two materials, namely the high carbon steel also known as “hagane” and a soft 1/10
iron also called “jigane”.
These two materials are forged together.
Kasumi knives are easier to maintain than the honyaki.
Essentially, they are all fantastic, and some of the best japanese knives in the world are detailed below with information about how they are used and what their function is.
Western Vs Japanese Knives
The fundamental distinction between Western style knives Vs Japanese style knives; is the idea that the Western knife is honed on both sides of their edge. They therefore have what is known as a symmetrical bevel.
However, professional Japanese chef knives are used much in the same way as their Western counterparts, just for different styles of cooking.
What are the different types used for?
Udon kiri for making udon
Soba kiri for making soba
Unagisaki hocho or the Japanese eel knife
Usuba bocho or the professional vegetable knife
Deba bocho or the kitchen knife for fish
Gyuto that is similar to western chef’s knife
Honesuke or boning knife
Nakiri bocho or the standard vegetable knife
Maguro bocho are the very long knifes for making tuna fillet
Sashimi bocho or the sashimi slicer
Yanagi ba are 210-300 mm in length to slice sashimi
Santoku that means “three virtues”. It is used to cut fish, meat, and vegetables. It has a western style with double-level blades.
Let's go deeper into the different Chefs Knives available
The Japanese have long been known for their sword making ability and that craft has been instrumental in turning it into a world class kitchen knife trade
The Basic types of Japanese Cutting Knives
We use kitchen knives daily, whether in a professional culinary setting or in our home kitchens and just as we have several differenttypes of kitchen knives for different purposes in the West, so do the Japanese.
One of the basic Japanese chef knives is the Deba. The Deba knife is typically thick and used for cutting and filleting fish.
In the United States, it is associated as a cleaver and cleavers are used for butchering chicken. Many cooks and chefs in the US use it for cutting bones but this is not really recommended for this kind of task.
The Gyuto knife is the Japanese equivalent of standard Western European French knife. This is an all-around kitchen knife but it is not recommended for jointing out a chicken.
Essential to any knife set; the standard length is 5 to 15 inches and it’s made of very hard steel but has thinner blade than typical Western European blades.
Yanagiba or Sashimi Knife
The blade of this type of Japanese kitchen knife is typically long and narrow and comes in a variety of sizes from 8 to 12 inches. In the United States, it is called “Yanagi” or sometimes “shobu”.
This is strictly used for cutting fish, but in most modern Western houses and Japanese sushi restaurants, Yanagiba knife is mostly used for cutting and slicing tasks for any kind of food, meat or vegetable due to its length and ease of slicing.
The Takohiki knife is sometimes called Yanagiba.
It is often confused with the Takohiki knife with its blades because of their similar looking style, however the difference lies with the edge of the blade.
The Yanagiba has pointy edge while this Takohiki knife has square tip.
This type of knife is used to cut octopus with “tako” actually meaning “octopus” in English!
Each manufacturer of Japanese knives have different Takohiki knives and typically they have 8.5 to 15.5 in length.
In French, it is called “the petit” because of its small size.
It is used for everyday cutting purposes and it is traditionally a single-ground knife but many manufacturers today make petty knives as V-grind knives as well.
This is the mostpopular Japanese kitchen knifein American households, maybe because most celebrity chefs around the world use one, from from a Kyocera Ceramic Santoku to a Mac Santoku.
It is used in everyday cutting tasks because of its versatility.
The standard length of blades of Santoku knives vary from 6.5 to 9.5 inches and the blades may have a traditional Japanese handle or a Western European handle depending on the manufacturer.
What Is The Best Steel For A Knife
Nowadayshigh carbon steelis all the rage and is morepreferred by professional chefsover stainless steel,
for several reasons:
1.Carbon steel stays sharper and “hold its edge” for longer than a stainless steel blade 2.Despite being much harder then stainless; carbon steel is actually easier to sharpen
However carbon steel does have some downsides when compared with a stainless steel blade, most notably that as a result of itsincreased hardness; it is alsomuch more brittle.
This forces you to look after your blade more and can be thought of as a good thing, especially if you are really serious about cooking.
So what has this got to do with Japanese kitchen knives?
Well, according to a professor of metallurgical history from MIT, the carbon content of Japanese blades has been steadily increasing over the centuries as well as other base metals:
1940s—Carbon (edge) 1.02%, Carbon (body) 1.02%, Manganese 0.37%, Silicon 0.18%, Phosphorus 0.015%, Copper 0.21%
1800s—Carbon (edge) 0.62%%, Carbon (body) 0.1%, Manganese 0.01%, Silicon 0.07%, Phosphorus 0.046%, Copper 0.01%
1700s—Carbon (edge) 0.69%, Carbon (body) 0.43%, Manganese 0.005%, Silicon 0.02%, Phosphorus 0.075%, Copper 0.01%
1500s—Carbon (edge) 0.5%, Carbon (body) 0.5%, Manganese 0.005%, Silicon 0.04%, Phosphorus 0.034%, Copper 0.01%
This means that the hardness and therefore sharpness, has also increased over the same amount of time, giving us much sharper blades that hold their edge for longer – this is a good thing any way you look at it!
History and Production
The beautiful & amazing country of Japan
Originating from the historical location ofSakai in Japandating back to the 14th century, Japanese knives are known to haveSamurai sword quality.
During that era and after the Meiji Restoration, thecarrying of Samurai class swords was prohibitedas part of the attempt to modernize Japan.
However, the need for Samurai swords still existed for the military, and traditional samurai swords are still made by swordsmen.
But during those times that the Samurai swords were banned, the majority of swords makers refocused their expertise in making Japanese knives.
In the 16th century, the production of steel knives in Sakai began when the swordsmen made knives for cutting tobacco.
During the Edo period, thedeba bocho types of Japanese kniveswere started to be manufactured, followed by other widespread kinds of knives.
Today, the majority ofmodern Japanese knivesare produced in Seki, Gifu which is where state of the art technology and manufacturing is updated to produced world class, high-quality stainless steel and laminated steel kitchen knives.
The kitchen in Japanese culture, is a very important place and only the finest products are accepted into it.
Some of the Japanese knives brands and associations located there are the Seki Cutlery Association, Seki Swordsmith Museum, Seki Outdoor Knife Show, the Cutlery Hall and the OctoberCutlery Festival.
What actually makes a Japanese kitchen knife so special?
Legend goes that the foundations of the incrediblyskilled knife makingbegan as early as the 5th century AD, when the ancient megalithic tombs, orkofun, were built.
The process required not only askill that was far in advance of other nationsof the time; but also incredibly advanced tools which were also manufactured by other skilled workmen.
As a result of itsskill in making the famous Katana or Samurai swordsand the difficulty with the manufacturing process; Sakai kept its position as the premier knife making city.
The late 16th century saw a pivot away from traditional sword making, togeneral purpose knives, in part to do with the new Western trade with Japan.
The introduction of tobacco from the Portuguese, created a brand new need for for veryhigh quality knivesto cut the tobacco crop cleanly…more difficult than you might expect.
Sakai was the go to place to make these newtobacco knivesas a result of their well known craftsmanship and they became known all over Japan for theirsharpness and longevity.
Needless to say, this skill became in demand around the rest of the world as a result of the increasing speed with which world trade was being conducted.
Did you know that most modern Japanese chef knives have their origins in tobacco cutting?
During theMeiji Restorationin the late 1860’s,Japan began to modernizeand become a much more significant power in the world.
The efforts to modernize Japan were great and unfortunately, (depending on how you look at it), many of its old traditions were replaced with newer ways of doing things.
As a result of this, as well as thedecreasing demand for swordsin general, the knife makers had to turn towards other, more profitable ventures…such ascooking knives!
How are they made?
Traditional Japanese knife makinginvolves several steps carried out by different craftsmen, all requiring great skills. Generally speaking, there are 3 main steps which include:
Smith forging (Hizukuri)
The metal is heated an hammered to its shape by way of apedal powered hammering machine.
The befit of controlling his machine by foot is thatthe craftsman can vary the speedof the blows and can also get a more precise shape, right at the beginning of the process.
This process also includes the tempering and quenching methods that give the blades their unique hardness.
the temperatures can reach upwards of 2,000°C where the blade is then heated until around 900°C and hammered which will bond the metals together.
Sharpening and honing (Tazuke or Togi)
The blade gets it sharp edge.
When the rough blade has its overall shape, the craftsman will give it to the next man in the process,a togishi or polisher.
This craftsman’s job it is torefine the shape of the bladeand make it look beautiful. This process takes a lot of time, and can last anywhere up to several weeks for thehighest quality knife blades.
It is not unusual for the polishing process to take longer than the actual crafting; a well done polish massively improving the beauty of the blade
There is also a converse to this whereby a bad polish will ruin the days of hard work. For example, an inexperienced polisher can ruin a blade by hurting its angles and/ or wearing down too much steel.
Theblade is attached to a haft
, or a handle, usually made from magnolia wood.
The makers might then mark the handles with their seal and for the really expensive ones; give the buyer to have their name or symbol engraved on the blade itself!
These are just some of the most basictypes of Japanese cooking knivesused today around the world.
They are durable and have roots from the historical art of Samurai sword making. There are more types, varieties and uses than mentioned here, and of course and obviously way, way more history & culture surrounding them…in fact to just explain about the many differenttraditional Japanese bladeswould take a website in itself!
TheJapanese culture is rich & deepand Japan has succeeded in modernizing the art of sword making by not making deadly Samurai swords anymore but instead transforming it into a manufacturing wonder creating a variety ofversatile knives.
Even if Samurai no longer exist, their memory lives inside every household.
Japanese culture has so many contributions to the world and one interesting part includeshigh end Japanese kitchen knives.