What’s so special about Japanese knives?

Published on April 17 2019.

Photo: Courtesy Chubo Knives

So you think your kit needs some Japanese knives? This handy guide from Chubo Knives is a must-read before you buy.

If you love to cook or know any professional chefs, chances are you’ve stumbled across Japanese chefs’ knives. Japan has more than 600 years of sword and knife-making pedigree, which is plenty of time to perfect the craft of knife-making. And it shows.

The main differences that set Japanese knives apart from their French and German counterparts is the weight and the steel used. Generally, Japanese knives are lighter, feel more balanced in the hand and feature steel that is harder, thinner and able to hold an edge for a longer time. These are exactly the reasons they’re so popular among professional chefs, and why they’re perfect for the precision tasks chefs do all day every day.

It’s also worth noting that Japanese knives are designed with a specific task in mind. Find the right knife for the right job using this handy explainer from Chubo Knives, one of the partners of the 2019 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.

There are two main categories of Japanese knives: double-edged (hybrid) and single-edged (traditional).

Hybrid knives

Hybrid Japanese knives are double bevel and sharpened on both sides. They can be sharpened at a 50/50 or 70/30 angle.

Gyutou(chefs’ knife): The direct translation of gyutou is cow sword, but this medium to large (7-10 inches) knife is an all-purpose blade, great for a variety of vegetables and meat. If you only purchase one high-quality knife, this would be a great place to start.

Petty(small utility knife): Petty knives are usually 4-6 inches long and perfect for small detailed work like chopping small vegetables and fruit. This knife is also great for precision tasks like cutting delicate herbs.

Santoku (all-purpose knife): This shape, usually 6-7 inches in length, is very popular in Asian kitchens. Its name means three virtues, which gives a hint at its all-purpose capabilities. The blade is slightly taller than the average chefs’ knife, which keeps your knuckles a bit higher off the cutting board. It’s great for both chopping and cutting with a rocking motion.

Sujihiki(slicer): This long thin blade is the perfect tool for carving roast meats and cutting thin portions of other proteins, such as fish. Use it to prepare sushi, sashimi and crudo.

Nakiri(vegetable knife): This square-shaped blade is like a butchers’ knife for vegetables. It’s perfect for cutting uniform batons of all kinds of vegetables and positively sails through harder vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, potato and melon.

Honesuki(poultry boning): The thicker spine and pointed tip of this knife make it perfect for small butchery tasks like breaking down whole chickens and swiftly cutting though soft joints.

Traditional knives

Traditional Japanese knives are sharpened on a single edge and made to excel at one specific task. Although you can find some variation in shape, finishing and tip shape in different regions of Japan, these are three of the most popular types.

Yanagi (sashimi knife): This is the long fillet knife used by sushi masters due to its precision cutting when working with delicate fish.

Usuba(vegetable knife): Larger and heftier than a nakiri, this blade is the secret to executing the elaborate and precise cuts of Japanese cuisine, such as katsuramuki, where long, wafer-thin slices of vegetables are produced.

Deba(fish butchery): The wide spine and razor-sharp edge of the deba is essential for breaking down fish and cutting through bones.

Chubo Knives was founded in 2012 with the idea of bringing the art of Japanese knifemakers blacksmiths to a wider audience. Chubo products are available at chuboknives.com. Until 31 May 2019, Chubo is offering a special offer where you can save $20 on orders of $150 or more. Use coupon code MD20 at check-out. Any questions? Contact info@chuboknives.com