Japanese Kitchen Knives – History, Process, Design, and Materials

Japanese Kitchen Knives – History, Process, Design, and Materials

Looking for your first Japanese knife?  You landed on the right guide!

Just want to jump in and check out some good starter Japanese knives? Check out this collection!

The breadth of options when you just begin looking can be overwhelming.  Don't worry, our job is to help educate and make that choice more straightforward.  Choosing the best Japanese knife for your situation will be a fun process!

Japanese Knife Making History

The strength of Japanese kitchen knives begins with the sword making history of the country.  Many regions have over a 1000 years of sword making history.  Much of the uniqueness of Japanese swords, and subsequently knives, is the high-quality steel in Japan.  Yasugi steel is carbon steel that can be processed down to high purity high carbon steel such as Shirogami (White steel) or Aogami (Blue steel).

Sakai Knife Making Process

In Sakai, Osaka, the knife making process was refined over the course of 600 years and experts in each area of the knife making focus on their specific area, blacksmith, sharpener, polisher, and handle installer.  So rather than one knife maker starting and finishing a knife, in Sakai, a blacksmith forges the blade, then the sharpener specializes in refining and finishing the shaping and bevel. 

Sakai Takayuki Master Blacksmith Doi san

Once the sharpener has completed their work, it is then moved on to the polisher who finishes the blade.  For some knives, like the high-end sushi knife, Honyaki, the polishing process to get it to a mirror finish can require 60+ steps. From the polisher, it moves to the handle installer. 

Japanese Kitchen Knife - Honyaki sushi knife

Japanese Kitchen Knife Design

Japanese kitchen knives come in both western style handles, with the tang (metal) going all the way through the handle to the butt, and also the traditional Japanese style which has a partial tang and is either oval or octagonal.  The different types of handles change the balance and feel of the knife in the user’s hand so can have a dramatic impact.

If you are just starting out, we generally recommend a more western style knife, both in the blade design and handle.  These blades are double bevel, which means that the edge is sharpened on both sides creating a V (see Santoku pictured below).  This is compared to the traditional Japanese knives which are single bevel and look like レ (see Honyaki pictured above). A single bevel knife only pushes food away from one side as you slice.  These single bevel knives take some getting used to so if you’re looking for something new to add to your collection could be up your alley.


Moving on you will want to check out the differences between bevel styles!

Next Article: Single Bevel Knives vs Double Bevel Knives!

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