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These Are the Best Japanese-Style Knives for Most Home Cooks

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

You probably hear a lot these days about Asian, Japanese, and Japanese-style knives and are wondering What’s the deal? What exactly are they? Why would I want one? Do I need one?

They’re designed to cut the foods common in Japan — like seafood and vegetables — and to make the very thin and precise cuts that are a hallmark of Japanese cuisine. You’ll find the blades are thinner and sharper than the ones you’re used to, and the best ones virtually glide as they cut. Because they are so thin, Japanese knives are more delicate and shouldn’t be used for tasks like cutting up butternut squash or cleaving through chicken bones.

Japanese knives are often very specialized. There are slicers designed for sushi, which are only sharpened on one side and exceedingly sharp, making it super easy to fillet a piece of salmon, cut up a piece of tuna, or slice through rolls. We aren’t recommending any fish slicers here, as we’re guessing you don’t make your own sushi or sashimi all that often. You can use any sharp blade to cut fish for an occasional roll or perhaps tuna for a poke bowl.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The best knives for you are more likely to be somewhat all-purpose. I narrowed things down to four shapes that are so versatile, you may find yourself reaching for them every time you cook. These knives are crafted of high-quality steel so that they can be thin and sharp, yet sturdy and hold their edges for a long time. That’s why they don’t come cheap.

As with all cutting utensils, the most important thing is to make sure you keep your Japanese knives sharp. You’ll want a sharpener that can maintain them at a 15-degree edge. Fortunately, there are now many on the market to choose from. Two I like are the Chef’sChoice 15 Trizor XV EdgeSelect Professional Electric Knife Sharpener and the Zwilling J. A. Henckels 4-Stage Knife Sharpener.

Why You Should Trust Our Gear Pro

For more than 30 years, I was in charge of testing and reporting on everything from wooden spoons to connected refrigerators at the Good Housekeeping Institute. I’ve walked the floors of every trade show and read every new product release for longer than most digital publications have existed!

My street cred? I also worked as a chef in New York City restaurants for seven years.

I’ve tested, used, and played with nearly every piece of kitchen gear (including knives) to come on the market for years. When it comes to gear, it takes a lot to impress me, and I know what actually works.

Picked by a Pro. Tested by Real Home Cooks.

I’ve tested what feels like every knife on the market (at all the price points, low to high!) and these are my all-time favorites. But you don’t have to take my word and my word alone, either. Kitchn editors — a unique hybrid of professionals and home cooks, who develop and test great recipes in real home kitchens — and real Amazon shoppers weighed in on some of these picks too, testing my favorites in the context of their actual home cooking.

After all, when it comes to kitchen gear, what matters is that it works for a home cook — not just that a chef endorses it, or that it passed some high-flying bar in a sterile test kitchen. You want gear that is above all, practical, long-lasting, and mindful of real cooks, real kitchens, and real budgets.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Best Japanese Chef’s Knife

Global NI 8-Inch Asian Chef’s Knife, $140 at Bed Bath & Beyond

This knife is an easy entry into the world of Japanese knives. It’s very similar in shape and size to the Western-style chef’s knife you’re used to. What makes it different is that it’s lighter and has a thinner, sharper blade. Manufactured in Japan, it’s constructed of steel that’s formulated to hold an edge for a long time. You can use this guy for all-purpose slicing and chopping as well as for mincing garlic and herbs with a rocking motion, as the blade is slightly curved on the bottom. The handle and blade are made of one continuous piece of steel, which makes it exceptionally comfortable to pinch grip at the back of the blade. Plus, it means it’s very easy to wash, because there are no grooves to collect gunk. On the handle, small dimples add texture and give you a good grip.

Second opinion: “What I love about this knife is that it looks extra chef-y, but also feels like a perfect knife for the average home cook who has moderate knife skills,” says Lauren Masur, staff writer. “It’s extremely comfortable, easy to control, and sharp, sharp, sharp.”

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Best Japanese-Style Santoku Knife

The Japanese word santoku means three virtues. In the case of the santoku knife, this refers to its ability to slice, cut, and mince. Sounds like a chef’s knife, right? The difference is that the blade is thinner, straighter, and shorter. Rather than a point at the tip there’s a rounded edge called a sheepsfoot. While this gives you a lot of precision, you won’t be able to rock the knife back and forth — instead, you will have to learn to lift up the blade between cuts.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

My favorite santoku is from the Wüsthof classic collection and has the same great balance and feeling in the hand that I love in the company’s Western-style knives. Along the edge of the blade, divots create small air pockets between the blade and the food. They help things like starchy potatoes or sticky scallops fall off rather than adhere to the blade.

Second opinion: “I received this knife as a gift and thought I’d never use it. After all, I have a Wüsthof chef’s knife that I love,” says Lifestyle Director, Lisa Freedman. “Fast forward to now and I can’t believe how often I reach for it. I use it for potatoes and fruit, sure. My favorite way to use it? Cubing up blocks of cheese.”

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Best Japanese Knife for Vegetables

If you cut a lot of veggies, the nakiri is a knife to love. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a tool that cuts more evenly and cleanly than this one. The blade is thin, straight, and has a blunt edge. To cut, you’ll use more of a chopping motion than a rocking one.

The Japanese-made Shun has a stainless-steel blade clad with 16 layers of steel that give its surface a beautiful wavy pattern called Damascus. The design also reduces friction, so the blade seems to literally float through whatever you’re slicing, even when you’re cutting tough items like carrots.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

For making long, thin julienne strips of ginger or cucumber or cutting up an eggplant, this knife can’t be beat. The wide, flat surface makes it easy to scoop up vegetables and bring them to the pan. And it would also work well for thinly slicing frozen fish or beef for sashimi, carpaccio, or a stir-fry. However, when you dice an onion, you may miss having a point to make vertical cuts before you slice.

Second opinions: “Without hesitation, I can say that this knife is the sharpest I’ve ever used and I have a drawer full of very sharp blades,” says one reviewer. “My girlfriend was chopping vegetables with a different knife; I got this out and had her try it — she was able to fly through them about 10 times faster,” says another.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Best Japanese Prep Knife

Think of this as a mini chef’s knife. It’s ultra-thin, sharp, light, and nimble, and like a chef’s knife, it’s all-purpose but for cutting smaller items. Use it for mincing a clove of garlic, chopping just a few leaves of parsley, slicing cheese, or paring an apple. With its pointed tip knife, it can maneuver around bones and joints, which makes it useful for turning chicken breasts into cutlets or even filleting a small fish. The Miyabi comes from Japan and has a mirror finish that helps it glide. As the handle is faceted rather than rounded, it gives a nonslip grip.

Second opinion: “I love that this knife is so light,” says Ariel Knutson, news and culture editor. “But not light in that cheap way. Light and powerful. It feels so agile in my hand, which means I chop faster and feel less bogged down.”

Do you have a favorite Japanese knife? Tell us about it in the comments below!