Secrets of Japanese knives


Japanese knives differ fundamentally from European knives in production technology and as a result, in quality. Creating blades in the Land of the Rising Sun can safely considered true art. Let’s talk about secrets of Japanese knives.

The Japanese samurais’ great skills also transmitted to their weapons. The blades and swords of the knights of the country of the Rising Sun were easily able to cut a sheet of paper flying in the air. History is gone but weapons have become more compact and practical, turning into a knife who cut up the sushi, cut down the tree, cook the food and use it for household purposes. And yes, a few Japanese knives made it to the list of the most expensive knives in the world.

Japanese knives specificities

Japanese knives specificities

Determining the types of Japanese knives is quite difficult: it’s like counting the stars in the winter sky. The full list of Japanese-made kitchen knives has nearly 200 species. Moreover, there are actually no universal knives: Japanese culture implies accuracy and special attention to details.

The main difference between Japanese incisors and their European counterparts is one-sidedness. For users who are accustomed to bilateral slicing, this feature can become an inconvenience, but getting used to it, everyone will appreciate the subtlety and beauty of cutting with it.

Honyaki, Kasumi and others

There are two main types of traditional knives in Japan:

  • Honyaki – «true forged» (本 焼)
  • Kasumi – «fog» (霞)

The type of knife is determined by the forging method and the material used in the manufacturing process.

Honyaki knives

Honyaki knives are top quality products. They are forged exclusively from one material.

Their manufacture process uses high-carbon steel called Hagane. It can be either Siro-Hagane (“white steel”) or Ao-Hagane (it is also known as “aogami” – “blue steel”).

Forging of such knives is based on traditional techniques – heat treatment and water tempering are indispensable processes. The difficult and lengthy production of these knives requires a highly skilled artisan and extensive experience.

The blades of the Japanese knives are very solid that allows them preserving sharpness for long. But on the other hand, such knives are fragile and difficult to sharpen. Such kind of products are not manufactured for the mass market and their price is high. The main consumers of such knives are professional chefs.

Kasumi knives

Kasumi is made of two materials by combining soft iron – Jigane – with a small amount of high-carbon steel. Solid high-carbon steel is located on the cutting edge of the knife, and milder one forms its basis.

For this reason, some Japanese people call Kasumi “avase” that literally means “unite.”

Kasumi knives are cheaper than Honyaki and are easier to use and sharpen.

Hongasumi knives

Knives made according to the Kasumi method, but from blue (“aogami”) or white steel (“shirogami”) are called Hongasumi.

Damascus knives

Multilayer knives with beautiful wavy patterns on the blade. They are made of high carbon steel with a surface of several layers of soft iron (Jigane), chained together. These knives are also called Hasso-uti (Hasso means “eight layers”).

Knife selection: criteria and types

The choice of a Japanese knife starts from the moment you determine application. Their entire classification starts from this. The first category is the Gyuto knife, which could be considered an analogue of the western Chef one. However, the history of creating this type of cutter goes back to the moment Western elements appeared in Japanese cuisine, which required the adaptation of kitchen accessories for the cooking process.

It is important to remember that the Gyuto knife is a tool for professionals. It requires skills and abilities to use.

There are also three types of knives for various food: Nakiri – a knife for cutting vegetables, Deba – for fish and Usuba – for cutting meat. But the most interesting one comes from the combined technology of Nakiri and Gyuto – the Santoku cutter. The latter is a universal option today. It can‘t be considered a true Japanese knife, since it appeared in the first half of the 20th century due to the need to combine a variety of functions in the cutters.

Santoku is the main Japanese multi-purpose knife for home use. It is quite convenient and simple, with high quality and thinness of slicing. These types of cutters can be of various sizes and made of different types of steel. However, most often they use Damascus steel, considered one of the most durable. When choosing Santoku, pay special attention to such models.

Shapes of traditional Japanese knives

There are many different shapes of traditional Japanese knives, particularly fish knives, since fish is the basis of Japanese cuisine. Japanese cooks usually use three or four different knives, each for a particular task. In different parts of Japan, the same knife may have a different name.

Knife shapeDescription
Yanagiba – Kansai style (origin – Osaka/Kyoto). Long carving knife with a thin blade for working with fish (slicing fillet for sashimi).
Takohiki – Kanto style (origin – Tokyo). Yanagiba version. The square tip of the blade is designed for cutting hard foods like octopus (Tako). This knife is most popular in the province of Kanto.
 Fuguhiki – also a Yanagiba version. The blade is narrower and thinner, designed for extremely thin cuts such as puffer or Japanese flounder.
Deba – heavy robust knife with a thick butt. It is necessary for cutting and filleting fish, as well as for cutting meat without bones. “Deba” has a huge number of versions with different blade lengths.
Ai-Deba or Mioroshi – a thinner and lighter version of the Deba knife. Good for medium sized fish with soft bones. Ai stands for “both”; is equally suitable for both cutting and fillet.
Usuba – Azumagata – vegetable knife with a very thin square blade. Usuba means “thin cutting edge”. This knife is used to cut vegetables into thin Katsuramuki plates.
Usuba – Kamagata – this knife shape is characteristic of Kansai province. It has a rounded tip.
Shapes of traditional Japanese knives

Secrets of Japanese knives production

The forging and sharpening of Japanese knives is a closed process with the secrets passed down from generation to generation. Such production most often becomes a family business, and there are blades dated 800-900 years in the collections of these families.

Connections between manufacturers and suppliers are closed and intricate but the quality is always high. Moreover, the blade is stamped with the name of the distributor but not the direct manufacturer. The mark on the Japanese knives is put directly on the cutter.

The production process is divided into stages involving two types of artisans – blacksmiths and polishers, and the art of the latter is the secret to the thinness and uniqueness of Japanese knives.

Three components of the quality of such knives are: durability, grace of cutting and excellent sharpening. But the most important difference is the low content of harmful elements in the alloys for cutters, which makes them more environmentally friendly in comparison with European knives.

Knives of modern Japan. Models and brands

Two categories of knives are sold currently in Japan: Santoku – knives for home use and Yanagiba – professional knives. If you want to buy a knife for everyday use, choose Santoku. Small cuts and compact size are combined in petti-naifu cutters, but they are still used in professional kitchens.

Among the recommended brands of Japanese knives is Kyocera, which are distinguished by extremely high quality, and KAI and Masahiro, above which only handmade knives can be. The manufacturers of universal type and high quality knives are Kasumi, Masahiro and Hattori, who are in a lower price group than previous models. But they are perfect for home use.

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