Japanese Knives.

Joined Jul 16, 2009
My chef, who is Japanese, says she can acquire knives from Japan as her mother is coming into the country. She also tells me that they are Cheaper to acquire in Japan.
So naturally I'd love to jump on the opportunity the only problem is there are so many different types of knives, especially Japanese made, that I am completely lost in choosing..
So I come to you guys with this to hear your opinions on specific Japanese knives.

Myself, I tried to check out the first website I could google about Japanese knives, and they still list like 200 different knives from 25 different knife-smiths. Or more ...

[edit] I may have exaggerated those numbers a little bit :cool: [/edit]
Joined Apr 10, 2009
It won't let me post URLs without 5 posts minimum, so actual information to follow in next post.
Joined Jul 16, 2009
Wow, loads of information there. JapaneseChefsKnife.com was the site I was referring to, which I googled.
Thanks a lot and I'm going to look through knifeforums.com ..

But does anyone have Their opinion on some Japanese makes?
Joined Oct 9, 2008
If she's coming from Japan, a fair number of brands will indeed be cheaper -- often a great deal cheaper. But it depends considerably on what kinds of knives you're looking for. I realize you're new to this, so let's start with a little triage:

1. Do you want Western-style or Japanese-style knives? I'm talking about the shapes here. For example, do you want a chef's knife or a sashimi knife? Are you looking to upgrade what you've got or try something new? It may help to think in terms of function: what do you want knives for, as in, for what kinds of cutting?

2. You're a professional, so you work under some restrictions as far as what you can and can't use in the kitchen. Are you allowed wooden handles? Do you want carbon or stainless steel?

3. Where do you stand on sharpening: do you do it yourself, have them ground, have someone else in the kitchen do it, etc.? If it's you, what are you sharpening on?

4. What sort of budget were you planning to spend? It's true that Japanese knives are cheaper in Japan, but that's not to say they're cheap.

5. How much of an expert is your chef? I mean, not every Japanese chef is an expert on Japanese knives, and you don't want to get into something super-intricate if you've got nobody to advise you on the care and feeding.
Joined Jul 16, 2009
[EDIT] I bolded what I think are my answers in short if you just want to skim through [/EDIT]

I'd indeed like both western And Japanese style knives. Mainly looking to upgrade I'm probably not looking for any "specialty" knives, just the basic chef's knife, santuko and yes I'd like a sashimi knife as well.
So, an all purpose knife, meat and fish knife, a vegetable knife etc.

I don't necessarily have restrictions actually .. I'm not sure if I've worked with too many stainless steel knives, but I'm pretty sure I'd prefer a carbon steel blade. As far as the handle goes, again, I haven't worked with a wooden handle, the only thing that sets me off from wooden handle is that it sounds as if it would be a little Light?
I like weight to my knives, unless I was cutting fish, then I wouldn't necessarily prefer a heavier knife for that.

I sharpen myself for the most part. But sometimes I think if I have a Really expensive knife I should get a professional to do it.
I use a whetstone to do so..

Budget? That's a good one ... Shun knives are what, between 200 - 300?! I was looking on japanesechefsknives.com, some knives are cheaper than that.
Of course, the cheaper they are individually the more I can get, yes? I'm not sure if I'm about to go ahead and throw down 800 for one knife.
(Depending on exactly how much time I have to place an "order" with her [the amount of paychecks I could collect] my budget can be anywhere from 500 - 1200.)

And your' #5, I take it as you're saying that my chef is to guide me through with my knives?!
I don't look to my chef to advise me with my knives. For many reasons, which I am not about to get into because that would make my reply just awfully too long!

Thanks a lot for your help, I hope my reply isn't too long :crazy:
Joined Apr 10, 2009
I have a few "Japanese" knives.

240mm Global G-16 Chef's Knife
300mm Misono Swedish Carbon Steel Sujihiki
150mm Watanabe Petty
150mm Tojiro DP Honesuki

I use the petty during service at work every night. It's small and nimble and works well during the rush.

I use the Global during prep for all purpose chopping, mincing, slicing.

The Tojiro is a boning knife, and works wonders on chickens, ducks, and once a 14# halibut.

The sujihiki is great for all slicing, it is the western equivilant of the yanagiba sashimi knife.

I prefer western knives for their double bevel edge, but plan to get into more traditional knives one of these days.

Edit: By western knives, I mean western style japanese knives such as the sujihiki, nakiri, and honesuki.
Joined Oct 10, 2005

Check out this guy, he's Vancouver based, and will come to restaurants/hotels personally with knives and stuff. He came to my place and asked me to try out some of his knives for a week. Some nice stuff there, very knowledgeable and level.

Joined Oct 9, 2008

Okay. That's clear enough. Some basics:

1. Chef's knife, gyuto, santoku: the gyuto is essentially a French-profile chef's knife. A santoku is an equally all-purpose knife whose odd, fat profile is best-suited to a very short knife, on the order of 6"-7". It is very much a home knife. I would suggest that as a professional, you will most prefer a 10" (270mm) gyuto. If it's to be carbon steel, I recommend the Masamoto Souhonten KS. If you want stainless, and have no enormous price restrictions, the Suisin Inox is wonderful. Both these knives will cost around $300 apiece, and are among the best gyutos made.

2. A sashimi knife comes in three basic flavors: yanagiba, takohiki, fugubiki. The best of these, and the most versatile, is the yanagiba. The takohiki (or takobiki) is square-pointed and a bit less versatile; its use is largely restricted to Tokyo, where it competes about 50/50 with the yanagiba. The fugubiki is much like a yanagiba but with a thinner blade; its primary function is to slice transparently thin slices of rather tough fish, e.g. fugu (blowfish), and it is not ideally suited to a wider range of slicing. A yanagiba under 270mm hasn't the weight to do its job ideally; 300mm or 330mm are the professional standards, with 360+ restricted to people with very particular demands that you (based on what you've said) do not have. A 300mm yanagiba can cost a mint or a sane price; expect anywhere between $200 and $400, depending on what you choose. Your best bet is white steel (shiroko), not blue (aoko), the small superiority in toughness of the blue steel being primarily suited to people who cut raw fish for a living, which you do not; white is also generally cheaper. I would recommend a high-end well-respected brand, e.g. Aritsugu (Tsukiji) or Masamoto Souhonten. Aritsugu sells by mail in Japan through their website, www.aritsugu.jp.co; Masamoto is sold through retailers around the country, and is most cheaply and effectively purchased at an online dealer via Rakuten (tell your friend and she'll know what I'm talking about).

3. Other popular J-knife purchases: petty knife (long paring knife, if you don't know the term); deba (heavy filleting knife); yo-deba (rather like a chef de chef). I think a petty knife isn't worth the money unless you get a huge amount of use out of a long paring knife, because an excellent short paring knife can be had for so little money in the US (e.g. Victorinox); if you do buy a petty, don't spend more than $50 or so, and again, use a top reputable brand. If you're not going to get instruction and advice from your chef, don't buy a deba: you won't know how to fillet with it, because it's totally unlike a Western filleting knife, and it really has no other use; if you do decide to buy one for some reason, get 180mm-195mm, because greater length than this is primarily useful if you do not use any sort of all-purpose knife (e.g. a gyuto/chef's knife). Buy a yo-deba if you use a chef de chef a lot; otherwise it's a waste of money.

4. I recommend Aritsugu and Masamoto because although they are not the cheapest, they are consistently high-quality, very large firms. You won't have the opportunity to deal direct, so don't take chances with a smaller firm. Other reliable high-end firms include Suisin, Sakai Takayuki, and others.

5. With a gyuto, you generally have a choice between western and Japanese-style handles. It doesn't make much difference, I find, but you get what you like. With wooden handles, the place you most need a heavier handle is with a very long, heavy knife, especially a yanagiba for slicing raw fish; if you want, you can ask for an upgraded handle in ebony (quite expensive) or dense Japanese oak (itchii -- less expensive). Upgrades run between about $50 and $200, as a rule; I would buy itchii for about $50-$75 unless you just have to have black.

6. You're going to need to work on your sharpening technique. You may want to buy a couple of excellent whetstones. I would recommend a Chocera (超セラミクス) 2000 and then perhaps a Naniwa Super-Stone 5000. That's not a perfect pair or anything, but they're very good and easily available via Rakuten again. If your knives are pretty sharp, you can start all work on the 2000 stone and then polish (if you want to polish, as with your yanagiba) on the 5000.

7. Your knives will not come fully sharpened. That's the way it goes. I suggest that you start looking around for somebody in your area who is an expert with Japanese professional knives. Try on-line. Somebody is going to have to flatten, sharpen, and polish these knives before you can use them. Maintaining that takes some practice, but doing it from scratch is not something you can do without a good bit of expertise.
Joined Jul 16, 2009
Holy cow!! That post is super informative. Thanks so much. I probably won't get my chef to grab me some knives because she is really busy and her mom is coming so soon. But I appreciate all the help because I'm still going to grab some for myself. I see your location is Kyoto. Are you living there?!
Joined Oct 9, 2008
Not any more, unfortunately. I'm back in the Boston area, and haven't updated my personal info. But I was there for a year and did a fair bit of research on knives.

If you are buying through US online retailers, my recommendations about brands change considerably. In fact, I'd leave it to someone who usually buys this way. Prices are wildly different -- inconsistently so -- between Japan and the US. But my suggestions for styles and such remain.

the tourist

Joined Jul 21, 2009
As I have stated, there are many companies that offer Japanese chefs' knives at very reasonable prices--and with all of the styles and shapes discussed here.

My first choice in research is always www.japanwoodworker.com and for a very simple reason. Not only do they have some very good pricing, but they also show various makers in a head-to-head format. And they breakdown all of the styles needed, both with western handles and the traditional Japanese grip shapes.

(JWW also sells tools, fixtures, and stones to keep your knives sharp.)

Not as often, but I also utilize www.japanesechefsknife.com

Where else can you conveniently find an Hattori knife for under a hundred dollars?

Latest posts

Top Bottom