What Makes Japanese Knives Different from Others?

When you talk about knives, nothing comes close to the quality and durability Japanese culinary knives offer.

They have an amazing reputation in the industry. If you have tried using any of the esteemed Japanese knives, then you probably know what we are talking about. From Samurai swords to handy kitchen knives, Japanese people have dedicated a special craft for their knives.

If this is your first time hearing about these blades, then you might be wondering what’s so special about them. In this article, we will discuss the history of Japanese knives, as well as the qualities they have that make them such a standout in the industry.

The history of Japanese knives

The existence of knives is prevalent in many parts of the world dating back centuries ago. However, in Japan, the use of knives can be rooted from as early as the Nara Era (710-794). If you happen to visit the Imperial Treasure House, in the Nara prefecture, you will see long, amazing blades.

These blades were utilized in religious ceremonies headed by the Japanese Aristocracy. This is where the development of several knife types took place. The Edo period birthed knives like Deba (kitchen knife), Nakiri (vegetable knife), Yanagiba (sashimi knife), and as meat became more popular in Japan, the Gyutu (Chef’s knife) entered the scene.

In Japan, chefs have to undergo strict training until they can create superb dishes that will pass the test of the professionals. They are not only expected to learn how to cook, but they should expertly know how to handle and use knives too.

To a chef, a knife is a personal item. After a day in the kitchen, chefs will polish and sharpen their knives to extend their life for years. There are also myths that knives become inhabited by spirits after years of use.

When a knife is no longer good to use, it is not quickly disposed of. Japanese chefs appreciate the knife’s life and productivity, hence the birth of Hocho-zuka.

Hocho-zuka is where knives are buried. Like swords, knives are believed to be housed by spirits, so the Hocho-zuka is made to consecrate the spirit within the knives. The monument is also where chefs pray to improve their cooking and knife skills.

What are the components of Japanese Knives?

Japanese knives are developed using a piece of steel. The modern Japanese way of forging processes create each blade. There are two different processes when forging knives, each offering their unique characteristics to the final output.

Kasumi knives – Also known as mist knives, it combines soft iron and hard steel for extra sturdiness and sharpness of the blade.

Honyaki knives – Also referred to as true-forged knives, it only uses steel in the blade, hence the sharpness stays for a longer period.

The best Japanese knives

Truth be told, there are a lot of Japanese kitchen knives out there, but which are the ones that you really need?

Gyuto or Chef’s Knife

The literal translation of gyuto is “beef sword,” meaning it is mainly used for meats. The Chef’s Knife possesses a slightly curved blade to allow the chef to conveniently rock the knife back and forth during the cutting process. This knife can replace any kind of Chef’s Knife in a Western kitchen. That’s how versatile this knife is.

Santoku

Known as the “knife of three virtues,” the Santoku is the most versatile of all, mainly used for fish, vegetables, and meat. It comes with either a Japanese or European handle. The knife is between 6.5’ to 7.1’ long and usually has double-bevel.

Deba

Known as the butcher’s knife, the Deba knife is originally designed to cut and fillet fish and chicken. The blades look tough, but it’s soft enough to fillet meats with ease. This knife should not be utilized to chop bones.

Petty

The Petty knife is used for paring. It is like a smaller version of a Gyuto knife, but a utility one. It can be helpful when chopping fruits and vegetables. Likewise, it is also used for peeling fruits, removing cores, and performing other delicate work around fruits and vegetables.

Takobiki

Known as the slicer knife, the Takobi knife comes with a sharp single-edge, which is perfect for slicing sashimi, crudo, and sushi. It has a blunt edge, offering a hint of safety.