Some of the most popular types of knives in the world are Japanese kitchen knives, especially if you are looking for the very best that will last the course and slice with ease.
They are produced with high quality materials and stay sharp after years of use. There are different types of Japanese knives that are used in different cutlery purposes and hopefully you will get a better understanding of just why they are so popular with both professional & amateur cooks on the planet.
The reason I am writing about Japanese chefs knives set, is because my wife was a Japanese speaking tour guide and later on a translator for a large Japanese NGO called JICA.
She made many friends and I became really interested in Japanese and Asian culture and seeing as I am a bit of research geek, I thought I would write about what are arguably the best kitchen knives in the world!
Types of High End Japanese Chefs Knives
There is a wide range of different types of Japanese knife styles that have a rich history and are all beautifully produced.
The class is based on the method and material used in producing the knives.
Traditional Japanese knife-forging methods have two classes, namely the honyaki and kasumi.
Honyaki are made from one material and are true forged knives.
The most common type of honyaki knives are blue steel and white steel.
Kasumi knives are made of two materials, namely the high carbon steel also known as “hagane” and a soft iron also called “jigane”.
These two materials are forged together.
Kasumi knives are easier to maintain than the honyaki.
Essentially, they are all fantastic, and some of the best japanese knives in the world are detailed below with information about how they are used and what their function is.
AL MAR GYUTO KITCHEN KNIFE
See Also: Check out The Kitchen Guy's Knife Set Review
Western Vs Japanese Knives
The fundamental distinction between Western style knives Vs Japanese style knives; is the idea that the Western knife is honed on both sides of their edge. They therefore have what is known as a symmetrical bevel.
However, professional Japanese chef knives are used much in the same way as their Western counterparts, just for different styles of cooking.
What are the different types used for?
- Udon kiri for making udon
- Soba kiri for making soba
- Unagisaki hocho or the Japanese eel knife
- Usuba bocho or the professional vegetable knife
- Deba bocho or the kitchen knife for fish
- Gyuto that is similar to western chef’s knife
- Honesuke or boning knife
- Nakiri bocho or the standard vegetable knife
- Maguro bocho are the very long knifes for making tuna fillet
- Sashimi bocho or the sashimi slicer
- Yanagi ba are 210-300 mm in length to slice sashimi
- Santoku that means “three virtues”. It is used to cut fish, meat, and vegetables. It has a western style with double-level blades.
Let's go deeper into the Best Japanese Knives Types
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What Is The Best Steel For A Knife
Nowadays high carbon steel is all the rage and is more preferred by professional chefs over stainless steel, for several reasons:
- Carbon steel stays sharper and “hold its edge” for longer than a stainless steel blade
- Despite being much harder then stainless; carbon steel is actually easier to sharpen
However carbon steel does have some downsides when compared with a stainless steel blade, most notably that as a result of its increased hardness; it is also much more brittle.
This forces you to look after your blade more and can be thought of as a good thing, especially if you are really serious about cooking.
So what has this got to do with Japanese kitchen knives?
Well, according to a professor of metallurgical history from MIT, the carbon content of Japanese blades has been steadily increasing over the centuries as well as other base metals:
- 1940s—Carbon (edge) 1.02%, Carbon (body) 1.02%, Manganese 0.37%, Silicon 0.18%, Phosphorus 0.015%, Copper 0.21%
- 1800s—Carbon (edge) 0.62%%, Carbon (body) 0.1%, Manganese 0.01%, Silicon 0.07%, Phosphorus 0.046%, Copper 0.01%
- 1700s—Carbon (edge) 0.69%, Carbon (body) 0.43%, Manganese 0.005%, Silicon 0.02%, Phosphorus 0.075%, Copper 0.01%
- 1500s—Carbon (edge) 0.5%, Carbon (body) 0.5%, Manganese 0.005%, Silicon 0.04%, Phosphorus 0.034%, Copper 0.01%
This means that the hardness and therefore sharpness, has also increased over the same amount of time, giving us much sharper blades that hold their edge for longer – this is a good thing any way you look at it!
History and Production
What actually makes a Japanese kitchen knife so special?
Legend goes that the foundations of the incredibly skilled knife making began as early as the 5th century AD, when the ancient megalithic tombs, or kofun, were built.
The process required not only a skill that was far in advance of other nations of the time; but also incredibly advanced tools which were also manufactured by other skilled workmen.
As a result of its skill in making the famous Katana or Samurai swords and the difficulty with the manufacturing process; Sakai kept its position as the premier knife making city.
The late 16th century saw a pivot away from traditional sword making, to general purpose knives, in part to do with the new Western trade with Japan.
The introduction of tobacco from the Portuguese, created a brand new need for for very high quality knives to cut the tobacco crop cleanly…more difficult than you might expect.
Sakai was the go to place to make these new tobacco knives as a result of their well known craftsmanship and they became known all over Japan for their sharpness and longevity.
Needless to say, this skill became in demand around the rest of the world as a result of the increasing speed with which world trade was being conducted.
During the Meiji Restoration in the late 1860’s, Japan began to modernize and become a much more significant power in the world.
The efforts to modernize Japan were great and unfortunately, (depending on how you look at it), many of its old traditions were replaced with newer ways of doing things.
As a result of this, as well as the decreasing demand for swords in general, the knife makers had to turn towards other, more profitable ventures…such as cooking knives!
How are they made?
Traditional Japanese knife making involves several steps carried out by different craftsmen, all requiring great skills. Generally speaking, there are 3 main steps which include:
Smith forging (Hizukuri)
The metal is heated an hammered to its shape by way of a pedal powered hammering machine.
The befit of controlling his machine by foot is that the craftsman can vary the speed of the blows and can also get a more precise shape, right at the beginning of the process.
This process also includes the tempering and quenching methods that give the blades their unique hardness.
the temperatures can reach upwards of 2,000°C where the blade is then heated until around 900°C and hammered which will bond the metals together.
Sharpening and honing (Tazuke or Togi)
The blade gets it sharp edge.
When the rough blade has its overall shape, the craftsman will give it to the next man in the process, a togishi or polisher.
This craftsman’s job it is to refine the shape of the blade and make it look beautiful. This process takes a lot of time, and can last anywhere up to several weeks for the highest quality knife blades.
It is not unusual for the polishing process to take longer than the actual crafting; a well done polish massively improving the beauty of the blade
There is also a converse to this whereby a bad polish will ruin the days of hard work. For example, an inexperienced polisher can ruin a blade by hurting its angles and/ or wearing down too much steel.
The blade is attached to a haft, or a handle, usually made from magnolia wood.
The makers might then mark the handles with their seal and for the really expensive ones; give the buyer to have their name or symbol engraved on the blade itself!