Sushi Knife wanted!!

Joined Jul 17, 2010
Hi all,

I just happened to stumble upon this site and thought someone out there might be able to help me!

I'm looking to buy a sushi knife and to be honest I know absolutely nothing about Sushi or Knifes :-/

Its a present for my boyfriend you see, he's massively into his sushi (even has a boat to catch his own tuna!) but he's always complaining about the knives he has. Birthday is coming up so I thought perfect! and then I started looking thinking it would be easy..... big mistake!

So far the 2 ones that keep coming up the most are the Shun Pro II Sashimi knife 270mm and the Masamoto KA series Yanagi Sashimi 270mm. Does anyone have these knives so I can get a real review on them? Any better ones out there?

Any help would be massively appreciated!!

Thanking you in advance :)


so the question is, does he even use a Japanese style of fileting fish? the Deba and Yanagi are the Japanese duo of knives for working with fish. if he doesn't know the method or isn't interested in learning, then these knives would be a waste. if he complains about sharpness, then he may not be sharpening well enough to really use such knives. sushi chef's have $5000 knives which they always sharpen before service. even the sharpest knife will go dull eventually... and even the worst knife can be made extremely sharp for a short time. a good knife can be made very sharp and keep its sharpness over longer use. i have good knives and i sharpen on a 6000 grit stone after a day of use at work. people with lesser knives need to constantly steel while at work.

anyways, the knives you are looking at are for slicing the filet of fish into sashimi, which is something that can be done with a nice chef's knife too. if he needs a knife for removing fish from bone, then he would need a deba... or a boning knife if he goes by the western style.

Shun is good, albeit expensive because it looks pretty. Out of the box sharpness is very good and you can send it back to get sharpened by them. (free, but you pay shipping) I have not used Masamoto, but I hear they are similar in terms of cutting ability. Most people will recommend cheaper knives that are just as capable as Shun, but if its a gift then the Shun is pretty.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
To begin with, there's really no such thing as a "sushi" knife.  I mention this only so that you'll recognize that some of the people who have given you advice were talking down to you. 

As huy bui said, the "sushi set" consists of both a deba and a yanagiba (aka yanagi).  In order to break down a fish in the Japanese traditional style, you really need both knives.  However, no matter how the fish is broken down into loins or fillets, a yanagi will do a fine job of portioning "sushi" style slices.

It takes a lot of skill to use a deba.  I wouldn't bother buying one for the BF unless he's already manifested some desire to learn.

The yanagi is a great deal more intuitive.  Getting really good takes a lot of practice, but "good enough" is another matter.  The yanagi is also somewhat more adaptable.  You can use one to cut your Sunday roast beef, or carve a turkey breast (once it's off the bone), or almost any other slicing task.

A "gyuto" is the Japanese name for a chef's knife.  Even though gyutos are often made with Japanese style ("wa") handles, the gyuto is really not a Japanese style blade at all.  Rather it's a "French" profiled, knife sharpened on both sides in the western style.

If your BF is into cooking and knives, and you want to get him his first high end knife, a Japanese manufactured chef's knife is the way to go; even though there's nothing particularly "sushi" about it.  In fact it's a bit counter-productive for a knife whose primary use is to be slicing -- especially portioning fish.

So if you're looking for something which excels at cutting perfect, bite-size portions of raw fish, which is also western friendly -- nope to the gyuto.  The knife to consider then is a "sujihiki" (the Japanese name name for a European slicer). 

Sharpening traditional Japanese, chisel-edged knives like yanagis offers special challenges.  They are kept far sharper than any knife comes "out of the box," far sharper than many people would believe.  Most good yanagis don't come sharp from the knife maker.  Rather, the makers expect that the new owner will "open" the knife and create exactly the edge he likes best.  In addition the chefs using knives like a Masamoto KA (for instance) sharpen them every single day. 

I can't overemphasize how important sharpening is with all knives -- and especially with fish cutting knives.  In order to make the sort of clean, glass-smooth cut that is part of Japanese fish service, you need a very sharp, and well polished edge.  When I say "razor sharp," that's no exaggeration.

Considering you frequently the knives need to be sharpened it's unrealistic to rely on a "professional" knife sharpening service or a a two week round trip to the factory every time the knife needs sharpening.  So, it's important to get a knife which your boyfriend can sharpen himself.

Sujihikis are easier for most poeople to sharpen than yanagis, so that's one thing to consider.  

Getting back to your original question:  Shuns are mediocre knives at best.  Friends don't let friends buy Shun.  We are always delighted to get the question before someone actually makes the purchase.

Masamoto KAs are excellent, but they're (a) not stainless, and (b) very expensive.  You're looking at around $500 for a 27cm or 30cm KA.  If you wanted to buy him a good "soup to nuts" sharpening kit suitable for the knife, you (and/or he) would be looking at another $300.

So before we go any further let's see if we can't figure out what type of knife would best suit your BF, the way he sharpens, and fits your budget.  While I have some ideas, I'd like to hear more. 

  • What sort of knives does he (or the two of you) have now?  Tell me about them? 
  • Does he keep them sharp himself?  Is he a good sharpener?
  • Do you think he'd prefer a western or Japanese style handle for this special knife?
  • Does he love to cook?
  • "Carbon" OK?  Or, must be stainless?  They each have their advantages, y'know.
  • Do you really want something that's (more or less) fish specific?  Or, are you thinking of something more flexible?  In case you haven't guessed, I'm leading towards suji or yanagi with these questions.
  • What is your real budget?  Would you be willing to include a sharpening kit, if necessary?
Looking forward to continuing the discussion,

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Joined Jul 17, 2010
Thank you both very much for your detailed responses!

Ok, I'll do my best to answer your questions BDL!

1) I honestly don't know what type of knife he is currently using... When he brings in a fish I tend to hide until its prepared, I'm a bit squemish when it comes to all that business! All I know is by the time its on the table it looks just as good as in our favourite Sushi restaurant!! I will try and investigate further, perhaps while he's sleeping I'll raid his kitchen drawers... :) I would honestly be embarassed to tell you what kind of knifes I use, though I did get a real bargain in Ikea, 6 knives for 4 euros! ;-) Told you I was useless!

2) I've seen him sharpen a couple of times, he seems to do this everytime he's preparing to cook. Whilst I would have no idea if he's doing it right he seems to look pretty confident whilst doing so! He's a very hands on person, always working with wood, metal etc and I can honestly say he's a perfectionist in everything he does, annoyingly so sometimes!

3) I think he would definately prefer a Japanese style knife, simply because he is always going on about how good the Japanese are at making things, Japanese cars, food etc. Therefore as its a gift I would prefer Japanese, but then could be persuaded other wise if its a bad idea concerning the knife.

4) He absolutely loves to cook, infact apart from taking his boat fishing I'd say its his favourite thing to do, and can also say he's very good at it. He never uses a recipe, he's always trying different things in the kitchen and luckily I get to be the judge most of the time, and its always thumbs up :)

5) Regarding carbon or steel, you'd be a better judge than me... From what research I have done (and correct me if I'm wrong!) I understand that carbon steel is harder though requires a lot more maintenance. I honestly don't think that would be a problem, I'm sure this knife will probably end up getting more attention than me!

6) Because I want the gift to be related to both his love of fishing and of cooking, I really would like a knife that is specific to fish.

7) I think my budget is around $500, though could increase if absolutely necessary, I have a few months left and don't mind living of baked beans for a while...  As for the sharpening kit I would definately be willing to invest in one for him, maybe for Christmas though! I can see him loving the knife and also learning to and actually sharpening it perfectly himself.

Thank you again so much for your response, it must have taken some time!

As for the Shun knife, most of the feedback I have had is, like you say Buy Hui, that its more of a pretty knife. I cannot stress enough that if the BF researched what I had bought him on the Internet and found it was more of a gimmick than a serious fish lover knife I would not be in the running for worlds best girlfriend!

Look forward to hearing from you!
Joined Feb 13, 2008

Just a couple more questions before we get down to specific brand suggestions,  although to be honest I've got a range of choices that would work for both of you already in mind. 


You said you see him sharpening frequently.  I assume by that you mean he's using a steel or rod hone as opposed to bench stones.  What I'd like to know is if he uses bench stones too.  If he did it, it's something he'd do every couple or three months or so. 

If he does do it, we need to find out if he uses waterstones or oilstones.  If he doesn't but is interesting in learning, we need to plan for it.  If he isn't interested in learning we'll have to limit our knife choices to those which can be well sharpened in some other way.

There really isn't any other practical way to sharpen a yanagi well, other than on bench stones.

FYI, carbon doesn't take much more care -- it requires that care be given regularly and immediately.  It's "high maintenance but worth it."  The primary advantages aren't hardness per se, but edge taking and holding characteristics, some of which may be related to hardness. 

If you want to know more, I'll be happy to go into detail but the important thing for our purposes so far is that pretty much all good yanagis are made in the "honkasumi" fashion with a layer of soft carbon cast iron, welded to a layer of hard carbon steel.  Good stainless steel yanagis are rare -- not that there aren't a couple.  By the way, the two layer, honkasumi construction goes together with a one-sided chisel edge like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

I notice you wrote about one price in Euros and another in USD.  Would purchasing from an e-tailer in the US or Japan be a problem?  Would one be better than another?

In the meantime, here's a little taste:

The short answer to almost any question about Japanese knives either includes or is limited to "Masamoto."  So, one model or another is going to be a good choice.  In my opinion the KS ("S" stands for "white-paper steel," or "shirogami) is a better knife than the KA ("A" stand for "blue-paper steel," or aogami), and cheaper too. 

Supposedly aogami holds an edge a little longer than shirogami, but shirogami is easier to sharpen to "ultra-sharp" levels.  Home cooks don't really need the durability, it's not like the knife is going to start dulling in the middle of the shift.  On the other hand, anything that will get you sharper is a good thing.

Joined Jul 17, 2010
Hello again BDL!

Good news... I did some investigating last night and told my friend to ask him if he knew anyone who could sharpen a knife with a waterstone, as her husband had a special knife that needed doing. His response was the one I was hoping for, he said he had one and she should bring the knife to him and he would make it like a razor for her. Phew. So I think we're safe on that one.

I'm currently living in Cyprus, hence the Euro reference, and quoted the knife budget in dollars, as all the ones I've seen so far have been from the US. I won't have a problem ordering from the US, even if they are funny about delivering here I have a friend who has a US address I can use. I'm not so sure about Japan, would just have to ask the question when I found a particular supplier...

By the way, just wanted to say thank you for your responses, I really do appreciate it! Never thought I'd ever learn so much about knives, or actually start becomming interested myself!

Look forward to hearing from you! :)
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Okay... I think we've got enough information to start getting specific.  I'll try to give you a range of recommendations to choose from with the idea that while these knives are different from one another, any would suit very well indeed.  In other words, this universe is limited to very good choices -- you can't possibly make a mistake.  Add to that, there is no such thing as a "best" knife, and it should take away a lot of pressure.

You want a yanagi to be long so that you can make all your cuts on the draw, with as few back and forth movements as possible. That keeps the cut very smooth -- something that's critically important for fish meant to be eaten raw.  270mm is the minimum, 300mm is much better.  If you only have space in your kitchen and cutting board for a shorter knife, don't get a yanagi. 

By the way the importance of a glass-smooth cut reinforces the importance of an extremely sharp, well polished edge, as well as an acute, flat bevel. 

And in turn, that reinforces the greater truth that sharpening and cutting skills are each more important than the knife itself.  

Your BF is going to want a real polishing stone for this knife -- something like a Naniwa SS 10K or a Kitayama.  And if he doesn't already have one, he'll want a fast, coarse stone to flatten the blade road.  Don't waste his Christmas, let him buy his own.  If he wants advice, you know where to find me.

Also, please understand that the very best knives usually don't come with great edges from the factory.  I suggest having it "opened" (first sharpening) by someone who is very familiar with yanagis before giving it to the BF.

All three of the e-tailers I've linked to are in the States.  You seem to have one foot still here -- at least through friends and a mailing address -- and you might find getting support here easier than from a Japanese e-tailer or buying directly from a manufacturer there.  Korin is one of the three.  There's a Korin in France, which might or might not make things easier for you. 

Korin NY has a "resident master sharpener" (who's actuallly pretty good), and you can arrange to have him open your knife as part of the sale.  I don't know about Epicurean Edge, and I don't think Chef's Knives to Go does, but you can also arrange to have the knife make a stop at a good sharpener, like Dave at Japanese Knive Sharpening, on its way to you.  Let me warn you, it won't be cheap.

All but two of the knives I'm going to recommend are "kasumi" or "hon-kasumi."  That is, they're a hard, carbon steel hagane (the alloy which forms the edge), laminated to a softer carbon steel or cast iron jigane. 

An alternative to honkasumi is honyaki.  Honyaki literally means "true forged," and are made with a single piece of steel, differentially heat treated.  As a practical matter real honyaki knives are very difficult to make and a lot of knives crack or twist beyond saving during the manufacture.  The process is expensive because it's prone to so many failures, and honyaki knives are (over)priced accordingly.  In truth, honyaki knives bring a lot of problems with them, and are more prestige than useful.

That leaves us with "monosteel" which are non-laminated knives made in more or less the same way western knives are made, and three layer laminated knives with the hagane sandwiched between a layer of jigane on each side; variously called san-mai, warikomi, or honwarikomi.  The distinction in terms may or may not have meaning.  But enough already.

Most of the knives I'm going to recommend have haganes made from one of two HItachi steels, shiroko (white #2), and aoko (blue #2).  The primary benefit to shiroko is that it can be made very, very, stupid sharp.  Aoko (Blue #2) wears harder and is a bit more corrosion resistant.  A lot of people consider aoko to be "superior" to shiroko, but really they're just a little (a very little) different.  Shiroko knives tend to run a little less money, everything else being equal. 

Just because life would be meaningless if you didn't know:  White and blue don't refer to the steels themselves, but to the paper the factory wraps them in before shipping.

If your choice doesn't come with a "saya," you should ask the retailer about getting one.  A saya (wooden sheath) is very useful protection unless you always keep your yanagi on a special rack.  The edge is so fragile, even a block is risky.

Oh, and btw, if you're BF is left-handed we need to rethink.

Anyway, in alphabetical order:

Keijiro Doi:

High quality aoko knife.  Doi knives are always beautiful, this one does it with a subtly beautiful hand polish.  Made under the Doi name, supposedly (at least partly) by the national treasure's own elderly hands.


Well made, high quality aoko yanagi.  Very expensive, a skosh over $500 even with the 5% discount you'll get, but considering it's aoko competition, it's a relative bargain.  Very nice, but I don't think the aoko premium is worth it.

Masamoto KK:

Value leader.  As good, or nearly as good as the Masamoto KS.  The basic difference is that the KK has less hand work, and that the work is not restricted to "the most experienced" guys in the hamono.  Or at least that's what Masamoto says.  I think the KS is slightly better finished, but the KK is astoundingly good and -- by yanagi standards -- cheap. 

Don't let the low price fool you.

Masamoto KS:

Masamoto is the standard by which other Japanese knives are measured.  It's not the fanciest, not made with the most expensive alloy, not a lot of things; and not really the best in any single category.  But taken as a whole, Masamotos are ... well... Masamotos.  The KS is one of their top, pro oriented knives.  Very hand made, without ornament, very pure.  Masamoto says, made by their best, most experienced workers. 

Fantastic knife, and not THAT much more than the KK.

Sakai Takayuki (Mr. Doi):

Great engraved dragon, but there's more to the knife than that.  It's a wonderful performer as well.  Made by Doi for the Sakai Takayuki hamono. 

If you and the BF were Japanese, and you wanted to make a really big deal out of buying him a sashimi hocho, this, the other Doi, and the KS would be the three you'd anguish between.

Suisun Inox Honyaki:

One of the best stainless yanagis, but still stainless.  Not that it's a bad knife, but if you can put up with carbon's needines, carbon's sharpening edge characteristics trump.  Not an actual honyaki, but a "monosteel."  A lot of people really want stainless, and I mention it mostly in case someone else is reading the thread. 

If my praise seems faint, that's only because it is. 


With an edge sharpened on both sides, it's not truly a yanagi, but something of a suji/yanagi hybrid.  It's actually a three-layer "warikomi" ("thrust between") knife with the aoko hagane thrust between soft iron jigane on each side.  It's wonderfully thin, nice and stiff, and not quite the sharpening challenge a true yanagi is for western sharpeners.  It's a got an interesting country style "urochi" finish, too. 

Takedas engender a lot of love.  Not my cup of tea, but you guys might like it.

Yoshikane (Suminagashi)

Suminagashi translates as "ink on water," and means the knife has a wavy, "Damascus" look pattern on the jigane.  The hagane for this knife is actually V2C, a wonderful alloy from Takeda.  Great knife in every respects, as good as a Masamoto KS, KA or a Doi, but it's made by someone less known with a less traditional steel.  I loves me some V2C.  It sharpens as eaily and gets as sharp as Hitachi white 2, and holds the edge like blue 2 with equal corrosion resistance; but more durable than either. 

At the edge of your budget.

Bottom Line:

All of these knives are extremely good, and will all perform about the same.  You've got to be feeling overwhelmed so not so much a bottom line as enough choices for now.  Let me know what you think about these.  If nothing floats your boat there are a few others. 

Personally I'd go for the KK or the Doi with the dragon.  At least my inner Japanese would.  As it happens I'm left handed and if I were to buy a yanagi, that would change everything.  And, truly I prefer a suji for its versatility, durability, and relative thrift even though a suji is more flexible and can't be made quite as sharp; and therefore suffers as a sashimi hocho.  Not by much, though. 

None of that is meant to lead you towards the same decisions. 

Seems to me you're doing pretty good with your choices so far.  Just sayin' is all. 

Let's talk more,

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Joined Jul 17, 2010

You'll be gald to know I have been busy looking up all those knives! Thank you so much for all the suggestions....

Before I started this post I was particularly leaning towards the Masamoto, as you can imagine when you don't really know anything you always seem to go for the one that keeps coming up the most, or I have that terrible habit of assuming the most expensive is going to be the best! For some reason though, the dragon Doi knife seems to keep playing around in my head. I think this one has the most appeal for me, as it is still being made by the man himself, which just seems to make it that extra bit special. I read the following article on him, and just fell in love with the idea that this old guy is still working away making each one individually!...

Am just going to do some research now on the possibility of having it opened before it is delivered to me, I have a couple of months yet so luckily no rush.

Thank you again so much for all your advice, I am so glad you suggested this one, it just feels kind of right for some reason....

Speak soon :)

Joined Oct 9, 2008

I may be too late on this, but I have a very small amount of additional information to add to BDL's wonderful explications.

1. I would advise, in the strongest possible terms, that your BF purchase -- or you purchase for him -- a very high-grit polishing stone. Naniwa SuperStone 10k is an excellent choice in every way, but there are others. Your BF sounds like the kind of nut who's going to take the trouble to treat his knife right. So what he should do is this: every evening after he has used the knife (which won't be every day, I assume), he should gently polish the main bevel of the knife, then run it on the back, dead flat, just a stroke or two. That's it. If he does it every single time, and I mean every single time, and he tries to be gentle and even about it, he will in time be consistently producing the kind of terrifying edge a yanagiba requires. If the knife has been competently opened in the first place -- which BDL has already discussed a bit -- this daily touch-up on the polishing stone is perfectly sufficient. It is also an amazingly gratifying way to learn the fundamentals of freehand sharpening a single-beveled knife, quite a different matter from sharpening a Western-style double-beveled knife.

2. You may want to get him a copy of Nozaki Hiromitsu's book Japanese Kitchen Knives. It gives a lot of information, with pictures, on how to handle and maintain a knife like this.

3. I personally would vote for the Masamoto KK. It simply doesn't get better than this at a reasonable price. But BDL's information is more comprehensive and you can trust him thoroughly.

4. Last but not least: be very, very sure that your BF understands what this knife is and is not for. Do NOT use it on a piece of fish that has bone in it, EVER. I would advise against using it to portion roasts and such as BDL suggests unless and until the BF (a) knows his way around this knife, i.e. is confident using it, and (b) has a range of sharpening stones to deal with any damage. These things are more delicate than you'd think. They are made for cutting raw, boneless fish. Period. This is an extreme specialist in the knife world -- don't forget it.
Joined Jul 17, 2010
Hi Chris,

No, you are not too late, and thank you very much for your addition!

After all the discussions I've had about this I've decided to get him a sharpening/polishing stone, and since the Naniwa SS 10K has been recommended twice now, I'll guess it will be that one...

You just about read my mind regarding the book idea, thank you for the suggestion :) Will be adding it to the shopping list....

If anyone has any sharpening info they want to add in here please feel free, I'll be printing all the information everyone has given off for him when I give him the present!

If you're still reading this post BDL (and for anyone else who may find the info useful!), I spoke to Chefs Knives to Go about having the knife sharpened before sending it to me and they use a guy called Kenneth Schwartz. They will send it free of charge to him, and then he will post it directly once the jobs done.

Thank you again!

Joined Oct 9, 2008
Naniwa SuperStone 10k --- an excellent stone, at a good price. A few small words of advice about its use. First of all, let it soak about 5-10 minutes, completely submerged in cold or room-temperature tap water. I find that a wrung-out bar towel or the like, folded in half, makes a good base to sit on the counter with the stone, on its stand, on top. This prevents skidding. Dump the water off the top of the stone, but don't blot it --- you want it wet but not puddling. Grind gently, a lot of times, smooth and even. You should see some bluish-white mud forming as you do this, which is an extremely good thing. If you get a black slick that becomes sort of sticky and tough, the stone isn't soaked enough. Be very careful about how hard you press, because an SS10k is a very soft stone, and if you press hard and grind rapidly, you can skid the knife and gouge the stone. Everything else you will learn, and better, from Nozaki; what's specific to the SS10k is how soft it is and the crucial importance of the mud.

Ken Schwartz --- I think for your purposes, Ken is an excellent choice. There is some debate about whether his methods are or are not precisely ideal, but he will produce a dead-flat bevel, which is absolutely crucial for a new single-bevel sharpener like your boyfriend. Some old hands swear by a slightly non-flat bevel, but not all of them, or even most. Ken will do a good job, and he's very honest.

You've got one lucky boyfriend!
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Naniwa SS 10K is a great choice for a finishing stone, and as a single finishing stone is at the top of the list.  The caveat with the SS is that it gouges easily and can cause some damage; but if your BF has the experience to hold a consistent, shallow angle -- not a problem.   You can do  a slightly better finish by paring the Naniwa SS 10K with a Kitayama.  Depending on which you start with, the finish will look amazingly different -- but either way the performance will be incredible. 

As finishing stones, both the Kitayama and Naniwa SS work much better when preceded by a medium-fine or fine stone like a Takenoko.  Although if you're pairing the Kitayama and SS, you might do better to have a slightly less fine medium-fine like a Naniwa SS 3K, Chosera 3K (what I use), or a Suehiro 

If we need to talk about choices other than the Naniwa SS and/or Kitayama, we can. 

By now, I assume you're feeling that there's too much nuance in stone choices to be a go-between.  If there are sharpening issues once the knife is in hand, get your BF to post here or at Fred's Cutlery Forum and we'll get him sorted.

Ken Schwartz is someone I know pretty well from other internet knife and sharpening forums.  I like and respect him and have heard wonderful things about his work; but he would not be my first choice for any yanagi, especially for something like the Doi.  

That would be Dave Martell at Japanese Knife Sharpening.  Dave has a lot of experience with chisel-edged knives in general, yanagis in particular; insanely valuable yanagis even more in particular; gets a lot of feedback from high-end sushi men; and is very sensitives to particular knives and their uses. 

Sensitivity might not be something you'd associate with sharpening -- just trust me.  Another benefit of having Dave do it, is that the bevel will be established so well, your BF won't have to do much more than just "click it in" (sharpening term) to do most of the maintenance.  I'm not sure you can say that about Ken's bevels or not, but I do know that I'm not fond of Chosera (kind of Naniwa stone) finishes on yanagis.  That said, Ken would be one of my top recommendations -- just not THE top for a yanagi.

Of course there are practical issues as well.  If you do decide to have the knife opened professionally, contact Dave and find out what he'd charge to do the knife and send it on -- and going with him only if the difference is not too significant.    

Dave and Ken do not get along well at all so all this is pretty funny if you've got a nasty sense of humor.

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