Japanese Kitchen Knife FAQ

Japanese Kitchen Knife FAQ

These are based on questions that we have been asked by our customers. We will continue to update this list as we encounter more inquiries. We hope you will find this section useful!

1. What brand and style of knife should I purchase to slice through salami easily?

A thin but strong blade is needed to slice through salami. German knives are usually too thick for this task and you will not be able to cut thin, precise slices. Takamura’s HSPS Pro is a great choice for slicing salami but if you are looking for something a little more affordable, check out Haku. Since salami is pretty hard to cut through, you may find that a gyuto is the best style of knife to use..

2. Which brand offers an affordable but good quality knife?

Based on feedback from our customers, Haku, Takamura’s red handle series and Ikkaku Donryu are the more affordable knives that offer great value.

3. I am a home cook and use my knives maybe 3-4 times a week. I’m not picky at all but I want value for my money. Which knives would be good for me?

Kyocera’s ceramic knives are a good choice because they offer lifetime sharpening services and warranty but if you don’t want a ceramic knife, Ajimisaku or Ikkaku Donryu’s smaller gyutos may be good options for you. .

4. I want to buy my first yanagi (or Japanese style single bevel knife). What’s a good knife to start with?

If you have never used a Japanese style single bevel knife, you may not want to splurge for you first purchase. If that’s the case, some good choices are the stain-resistant yanagi from Sakon, Kanetsugu and Sakai Takayuki. If you, however, want to experience all the advantages of a Japanese style knife, you should consider the Tsukiji Masamoto Nami Kasumi yanagi or Sakai Takayuki's Kikutaka (coming soon). Just be aware that single bevel carbon steel knives are more delicate than stain-resistant double edge knives so don’t ever use them for rough tasks. Also keep them dry at all times.

5. I use my knife for very fine knife work. Which knives are the best for these tasks?

The Takamura Damascus Hana series is highly recommended for those who do fine knife work- the blade is exceptionally thin and sharp and you can slice through effortlessly with minimal cell damage on the food’s surface. You won’t even need to use the mandoline anymore for thin slices. The thin blade will allow you to cut precise brunoise and juliennes with clean corners. Any of the paring knives from Takamura are also highly recommended. Nenohi's Sakura series is another great option because they combine the best characteristics of Japanese and Western knives and have a thin blade. Traditionally, the usuba is used for fine knife work with vegetables, so Tsukiji Masamoto's Usuba is also recommended.

6. I’m a line cook and looking for the most durable and best value knife. Which knives do you recommend?

Haku or Ikkaku Donryu are the go-to knives for many of our line cook customers. They are affordable and easy to maintain.

7. What’s the difference between German and Japanese Western-style knives?

There are many Western-style knives from Japan like gyuto (chef’s knife), sujihiki (slicing knife) and yo-deba (Western version of a deba). Japanese knives tend to have thinner blades and the types of steel that Japanese manufacturers use tend to be harder. You may think that Japanese knives would be harder to sharpen because of that, but because of the thickness of the knife, it is usually easier to sharpen Japanese knives. You have to remove a lot more steel on thick knives to make it sharp again.

8. What’s the difference between Western-style and Japanese-style knives?

The main difference is that traditionally, Japanese-style knives have a single bevel edge and are made with carbon steel (not stain-resistant). Japanese knives are modeled after katana swords, and are either made with carbon steel and a softer iron put together (kasumi) or with one single piece of carbon steel (honyaki). Many people claim that traditional Japanese knives are much sharper because of the single bevel but also because of the amount of carbon in the steel. They are more prone to rusting, but they have better edge retention and superior sharpness. Using a sharp knife to make precise and fine cuts has always been vital in Japanese cuisine because a lot of food is served in its raw state. It is much harder to mask poor knife skills when the food has not been cooked and altered.

9. Can I use an oilstone with these Japanese knives?

Oilstones come in several varieties. The most common are Norton India or Economy stones and these are typically coarser and less friable than Japanese whetstones. These coarse particles can often dislodge and cause a thin, hard knife to chip so we recommend against using oilstones.

10. I’m a home cook but I cook a lot and am pretty confident with my knife skills. Which brands would you recommend?

We recommend the Takamura red handle or HSPS Pro series, Haku or Sakai Takayuki Western style knives for serious home cooks. These are all great for professional use but also suitable for those who cook a lot at home. They are all stain-resistant and easy to maintain. For those who are looking for extra sharpness and don’t mind a carbon steel knife, the Western style Tsukiji Masamoto knives are popular. If you are looking for a Japanese style knife to use at home, the stain-resistant single bevel knives from Sakon, Kanetsugu and Sakai Takayuki are all reasonably affordable and suitable for home use.

11. Which knives have the thinnest blade/edge?

For Western style knives, the Takamura knives have the thinnest blades. For Japanese style knives, any of the usubas have the thinnest blades (usuba literally translates to mean “thin blade”).

12. Is it true that Japanese knives are more well balanced?

Japanese knives (traditional and Western style) tend to be lighter than German knives and many people would say that they are more well balanced as well. Some prefer the feel of heavier knives but they strain your hands after long hours of use. Poorly balanced knives will not sit still in your hands when you grip it lightly because either the blade or handle is too heavy. In the video below you can see that Nenohi Cutlery care a lot about knife balance so their knives will sit comfortably in your hand without toppling over.

13. Which are the most popular knives for professional cooks?

For line cooks, Haku and Ikkaku Donryu are the most popular because they are affordable and good value for the quality. People who don’t mind spending that little bit extra for an even better experience will go for the Takamura HSPS pro or Nenohi G-Type series. As for people who want a Japanese style knife, the most popular is Tsukiji Masamoto (not honyaki or blue steel but the others).

14. I’m a culinary student, looking for a knife to replace my school issued knives, but I don’t want to splurge. Which knives would you recommend?

We highly recommend Haku to culinary students because it offers great value for its quality. We collaborated with Nenohi Cutlery with the needs of culinary students and line cooks in mind.

15. What is Damascus?

The original method for producing Damascus steels is not known but it has roots in South Asian and Middle Eastern sword making. Two different types of steel are layered and folded to product the beautiful Damascus pattern. Many modern day Damascus knives are actually just etchings of the pattern, but some are made with Damascus steel. The higher quality Damascus knives are actually produced by the blacksmiths themselves (instead of purchasing from the steel manufacturer). Examples are Sakai Takayuki Damascus series and Takamura’s Hana Damascus HSPS series.

16. What’s the difference between a sujihiki/slicer and gyuto/chef’s knife?

As you can see, the sujihiki is longer and thinner than a gyuto. A gyuto is a multipurpose knife that is great for a variety of tasks such as cutting and chopping vegetables and cutting boneless meat or fish. A sujihiki is not very practical as a multipurpose knife because of its length, and is better used for slicing (using long strokes). It can be used for slicing cooked meats, terrines, pates, fish and cake. But some cooks like to use sujihikis as their multipurpose knife.

17. If I only want to buy one sharpening stone, which grit should I buy?

Get a 1000 or 2000 grit stone if you only want one stone. If you sharpen regularly and only need the stone for finishing touches and to realign the edge, these medium grit stones will do the job.

18. Are the best knives ones that have the sharpest initial edge?

It is definitely great to find a knife with a sharp initial edge but it shouldn’t be the only factor to consider when purchasing a knife. You might find a knife that has an amazing initial edge but find that it doesn’t have good edge retention. A kitchen knife is a tool that can be used for a very long time (sometimes a lifetime), so you should look for a knife that is sharp, easy to sharpen and also has good edge retention. Quality Japanese knives are made to be sharpened.