Judith is a fairy in the world of writing: she manages to turn any topic (far not only a kitchen-related) into an entertaining text that is so easy and educating to read. Fond of gardening, reading, and cooking, of course.
Emily has over 10 years of professional experience using, testing and comparing kitchen appliances. Her knowledge helps to easily and naturally solve everyday problems. She is also the owner of the lifestyle blog emilyreviews.com
Last updated: July 16, 2021
If you are looking to add to your food preparation arsenal, a Japanese knife may be the tool that you are looking for. Of course, high-quality steel used is a significant reason why chefs choose to include these knives in their kitchens.
Our team, of course, had a field day reviewing about 30 of these excellent knives. Out of the 30 options, our favorite was the Shun Cutlery Premier 7-inch Santoku Knife. It is relatively lightweight despite incorporating multiple high-quality steel layers and including a Pakkawood handle. With all these features, the other 11 products on our list still give this tool a run for its money. As such, you need to consider them as potential purchases as well.
We as well used comprehensive criteria to judge how good each knife was. This includes the type of knife, blade length, handle, blade material, weight, and other features where present. All these features are essential in determining the ease of use and durability of said knives. Consequently, we created a table ranking the 12 best Japanese knives then covered them in more detail by providing the product reviews in another section of the write-up. Lastly, we have included a buying guide to help you choose which options would work for you.
If you choose the Shun Cutlery Premier 7-inch Santoku Knife, you have two size options to choose from. You, of course, know if you are comfortable with a shorter or a longer blade, and that will help you choose between the 5.5” and 7” knives. Nevertheless, the long knife is more expensive by about 15 dollars.
You can also opt for the option that comes with a sharpener or the one with a custom engraved finish. Consequently, you should expect to part with more of your money should you choose either of the last two options.
The shun blade boasts of 34-layer VG-MAX steel, which should assure you that this tool is quite durable. Nevertheless, the manufacturer advises that you use softwood cutting boards if you want the tool to last long.
Another highlight of the device is the walnut-colored PakkaWood handle. This, alongside the hammered tsuchime finish on the blade, serves to give this tool an aesthetic not found in other knives. After all, there is no reason the knife shouldn’t look good in your kitchen or your hands as you use it.
Also, you will be surprised by how lightweight this tool is. With the wood and steel used, you would expect the knife to be more substantial. However, the lighter body is always welcome, as it means less fatigue on the part of the chef.
Another good idea is to invest in Shun Combination Honing Steel as this will help you with a lot of your maintenance needs.
What do we love it for?
Aesthetically pleasing handle and finish
Sharp 16° blade
Two size options
Two size options available
What were we disappointed with?
The knife may chip on glass and granite chopping boards
Also, you may need the honing steel from the manufacturer if you hope to keep the tool in tip-top working condition
At a cost of $270 for the 6” option, this is definitely the most expensive knife to feature on the list. It does, however, come with lots of value that should make it worthwhile. Of course, size options are a significant consideration since people come in different sizes, and the same can be said about their hands as well.
As such, the 6”, 8” and 9” should give you enough options to choose from. Also, as you can see mentioned above, this is a Gyuto type knife. Consequently, it has a much sharper tip than the Santoku of the editor’s choice. This makes it more ideal for cutting meat.
Also, the handle is made of Karelian birch gives the editor’s choice a run for its money. Where the blade is concerned, you have SG2 micro-carbide powder steel, which goes to show they used high-quality materials here as well.
The blade, as well, has a relatively beautiful finish. Also, the fact that this tool is handcrafted may as well make this tool more appealing to some. One downside is that it weighs almost twice the weight of its predecessor on the list. However, if you don’t mind that you should find using the tool quite easy.
What are our favorite features?
Suitable for cutting meat
High quality and durable steel used in the construction of the tool
The Yoshihiro VG-10 Japanese Chef’s Knife is another high-quality Gyuto knife to feature on our list. It comes with a magnolia knife sheath so you can keep the blade protected when you are not using it.
At 6.2 oz, the knife is moderately lightweight and will thus not be too strenuous to use. If you look at this blade in comparison to that of the Shun Cutlery Premier 7-inch Santoku Knife, you will notice that the hammered finish is quite similar. This gives the impression that the tool is handcrafted, and you would be right to assume so.
Consequently, where aesthetics are concerned, this tool receives a thumbs up. This, of course, is further enhanced by the rosewood handle, which features an octagonal shape.
The fact that it has red mahogany bolsters may make this option an even more attractive purchase. Of course, pricing will vary from blade to blade, depending on the size. As such, the 7” option is the cheapest at 170 dollars if the tool is purchased from Amazon.
Pricing goes up and maxes out with the 9.5” blade at about 210 dollars. Also, the 46-layer VG-10 Damascus stainless steel holds its own where durability is concerned.
Why is it special?
Has a balanced feel
Good looking blade and handle
Comes with a knife sheath
What are the flaws?
If you don’t keep the knife dry after use or sharpening it is likely to rust
Another tool that you should be very impressed with is the Miyabi 34313-273 Fusion Morimoto Edition Chef’s Knife. Similar to the Yoshihiro VG-10 Japanese Chef’s Knife, it uses VG-10 steel in its construction. Given that it is ice-hardened to Rockwell 60, it should perform well in a durability test.
Also, the manufacturer seems rather proud of the fact that this knife is hand-honed. Add that to the 9.5-12° edge, and you should have yourself a very sharp tool. As such, you should always take care not to cut yourself while using this knife.
Another characteristic of the Gyuto knife is the plastic handle. Nonetheless, it has been enhanced using glass beads and includes three rivets. As such, it is unlikely that the handle will let you down. Also, the grip is quite robust; hence you should be comfortable holding the tool for long durations of time.
Why are we impressed?
Solid VG-10 steel construction
Hand-honed for best results
What negatives must you be aware of?
Some users have complained about the design of the handle
The DALSTRONG 7-inch Santoku Knife is a one-size only knife as you might have surmised from the name. As such, if you feel like a 7” blade is not ideal, this is not the knife for you.
However, if you are looking for reasons to buy this tool, there are quite a few. The 8-12° blade, for instance, should prove quite suitable for cutting anything you put in front of the knife.
Nevertheless, this is a Santoku knife. As such, you will be quite impressed with how it performs with most cutting applications. Also, durability is something to write home about. This, of course, is due to the 66 layers of high carbon steel that are used to make the tool. The fact that the handle also features a full tang design may also add to the longevity of the tool.
You as well shouldn’t be worried about rust since the manufacturer has taken measures to prevent rusting. Also, the handle isn’t the most pleasing to look at, but it is dependable and comfortable to hold.
One thing the manufacturer uses to get an edge over the competition is to add a lifetime warranty. At the moment, the product costs about 119 dollars if you order it from Amazon. Most people would consider this a bargain.
What are our favorite features?
Durable blade and fiberglass resin handle
What could be better?
You only have the 7” size option
The fact that it gets dull quickly means you’ll need to do a lot of maintenance
If your preference is long knives, the Enso Large Chef’s Knife may be what you need. As you can see, there are only two size options with 8” being the smaller one.
The tool is quite sharp with a 12° cutting edge and should be able to make cutting meat a piece of cake. Most of the knife is made from 37-layer Damascus stainless steel. Also, potential users will like the fact that it rates a solid 61 on the Rockwell hardness meter.
Also, the double-beveled handle means that the grip will be stable and reliable for some time to come. If you are still looking for more reasons to buy this knife, you will find that the lifetime warranty is quite compelling.
Another thing to note and appreciate is the hammered finish. Of course, this makes your knife more aesthetically appealing as well.
Why did it make our list?
The hammered finish is attractive
Has a Rockwell hardness of 61 hence is relatively hard and durable
Has a lifetime warranty
What is not ideal about it?
Some users are not impressed by the hammered finish
Another one of the best Japanese Santoku knives features in the form of the Zelite Infinity Santoku Knife. This is as well one of the more affordable options since you can get a small 4” option for about 60 dollars as at the time of this review. Of course, there is no rule against picking out a more extended, more expensive option as well.
Also, the blades vary in design and function. Yours is only to pick one for the job at hand. As such, there is a serrated option, Nakiri knife, and even a boning knife.
The fact that it has a money-back guarantee and a lifetime warranty is cause for applause. Also, the blade construction may serve to make quite a case on why you should buy this tool.
What are our favorite features?
Durable, sharp blades
Multiple size options to choose from
What could be better?
You may have to sharpen it on arrival so you can make full use of the knife
Another tool that takes up a spot among the best Japanese chef knives is the Global 8-inch Chef’s Knife. As such, professionals should have a field day with this tool in the kitchen. As the name implies, only the 8” blade is available where this knife is concerned.
One reason you should buy this knife over most other options is that it is dishwasher safe. As such, it is less challenging to clean and maintain than some of its counterparts on the list.
It as well comes with a stainless steel handle. This adds a unique element to the tool as well as makes sure the handle shows similar levels of durability to the blade.
Also, the molybdenum/vanadium stainless steel blade is unique as well. The lifetime warranty should as well make it easier to pick between this tool and another with seemingly similar features.
Why is it special?
Durable steel handle
What are the flaws?
Only one size option available
The knife handle may be too small for people with large hands
Another long knife option presents itself in the form of the Yoshihiro Inox Sujihiki Japanese Chef Knife. As such, you only have the 9.5” and the 10.6” options to work with. If you find these sufficient, there is no reason not to get the knife.
The handle is made of pakkawood, and while it is comfortable, you are likely to notice it features plastic composition. As such, the best way to describe the handle is minimalistic. Nevertheless, it scores highly on the reliability meter.
Also, the Japanese chef knife looks very well made with a consistent outlook throughout the blade and handle. Nonetheless, it is handcrafted, giving the impression that the makers pay great attention to detail.
It is also stain-resistant, and that should give you peace of mind as you store it in your kitchen. After all, you wouldn’t want the more than 100 dollars you spent on the knife to go to waste. Also, the steel components used to make the blade are reliable as well.
Why is it special?
What are the flaws?
There are no small blade options available
If you continuously use the knife such as in a commercial setting you will need to sharpen it often
The Yoshihiro Nakiri Vegetable Knife provides quite a good option for cutting vegetables. However, it probably won’t do as good a job when you pit it against meats. Nevertheless, this blade is only 6.5” long.
Among the praiseworthy features of the device is the mahogany wood handle. You, of course, want it to be comfortable to handle all while looking good, and it does deliver on these two fronts.
Also, it features a full tang design. As such, the fact that the metal from the blade end extends into the handle may make it harder to damage even with rigorous use.
Another thing to note is the VG-10 steel used in making the blade. You have no doubt noticed that this is the same material used in some of the other options above. Among them is the Yoshihiro VG-10 Japanese Chef’s Knife.
However, there is a difference in the number of layers used. Given that you are supposed to use this tool with vegetables and herbs, you should try and stay true to that guideline. That way, you will be able to keep the knife for a lot longer.
If what you are in the market for is a Japanese Paring knife, you can choose to take on the Shun Classic 2 Piece Starter Knife Set as your purchase. Also, if you are keen, you will probably have noticed that this knife is from the same manufacturer as the editor’s choice.
As it stands, it is foolhardy to expect similar levels of performance. However, some similarities are to be expected between the two offerings. The pakkawood handle is, of course, one of them. Nevertheless, the editor’s choice takes the cake for aesthetics in this area.
This tool is as well remarkably lightweight, coming in at 1.38 lbs. Another positive includes the double-beveled blade where usability is concerned. Add to that the woodgrain pattern and lifetime warranty, and you have a serious contender where your purchase is concerned.
What are its best features?
Good looking woodgrain pattern
What could be improved?
The tool is quite pricey as compared to most other options
Japanese ceramic knives are not all that common. However, you have exceptions, such as the Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Revolution Series Utility Knife. This knife is meant for home use and is priced as such.
It should, therefore, be no surprise that you can get it for less than 25 dollars. The blade length is as well fixed at 4.5” with no option of a bigger or smaller knife. Nonetheless, a lot of people will still find this size sufficient for their needs.
You should also make it a point to note any restrictions the manufacturer might want to impose on the knife. Consequently, you are advised not to use it on hard or frozen foods.
If you find yourself ignoring these instructions, the shelf life of the tool is expected to be quite low. This is, of course, because ceramic blades are not known for their durability.
Nonetheless, you still get tremendous value for this inexpensive purchase.
What stands out?
Available in a variety of colors
What cons did we manage to find?
Not ideal for commercial applications
Things to Consider
A person who has used multiple Japanese kitchen knives may not need a buying guide. They should know which knives work best and which ones are better left on vendor sites. However, if you are only just discovering them paying attention to the buying guide below may prove invaluable. After all, the cost of owning one can go even above the $200 mark, and you don’t want to be wasting your money.
Types of Japanese kitchen knives
We considered the type of Japanese kitchen knife while making this list. Also, if you look at the product reviews above, you will see that we made it a point to mention where each option falls. As such, it makes sense for you also to know the different types of knives and how they affect use. They are thus listed and explained in detail below. Nevertheless, majority of the types of kitchen knives mentioned below have no examples in the list above.
What sets it apart from these competitors is, of course, the thinner blade. Of course, for this to be viable harder steel also needs to be used to prevent breakages. They also have a double-bevel design.
Another positive is that they tend to do well while cutting meat since they were initially designed for that purpose.
Another standard multipurpose Japanese knife is the Santoku variation. Its design is primarily based on the Nakiri knife, which specializes in vegetable cutting. However, the Nakiri knife’s limitations were not carried into the Santoku. Consequently, this tool can cut vegetables, fish, and meat.
Another popular knife in Japanese culture is the Bunka that features multiple functionalities. It often has a wide profile but a thin blade. This as well makes it a contender for multipurpose kitchen use.
Also, a flat back on the blade is somewhat common with Bunka knives. However, it doesn’t seem to feature on our list; hence we can’t provide you with any examples. Nevertheless a quick google search should reveal plenty of images that show you the design of a Bunka knife.
Nakiri (Vegetable knife)
If you are not new to Japanese kitchen knives, you will be able to spot a Nakiri from a mile away. It has a rectangular profile where its thin blade is concerned. You are as well advised against taking this tool to a professional setting as it won’t last long.
Also, it should only be used to cut vegetables and herbs. You as well find the length of most of these tools to range from 165-180mm.
Petty (Paring/Utility knife)
The Japanese Paring knife is often designed like the Gyuto but with a smaller body. Consequently, it can do a lot of the same tasks but is rarely used for them due to the small size of the blade.
Nonetheless, you can decide to use it for some tasks where the Gyuto would seem like overkill. An example is peeling and removing certain aspects of various fruits as well as decorating. Here a maximum length of 150mm is to be expected.
Yanagiba are what you should call Japanese sushi knives. They, of course, are designed with this use in mind. As such, you will find them spotting a long thin blade that measures between 240-360mm. Also, their original use scenario on creation was to cut thin fish slices.
Deba Knives come with a Japanese handle. Also, they can be quite thick, measuring even up to 9mm. Where length is concerned a minimum of 165mm is to be expected.
With regards to their primary functions, if you use them to fillet chicken and fish, you wouldn’t be wrong. However, if you do try to use them to cut bones, whether chicken or fish, you are going to end up chipping the blade. This is despite the heavy set build that looks like it can take on any cutting task.
A cleaver is heavyset, has a rectangular form to the blade and is quite useful in taking on hard cutting tasks. Consequently, if you find that you need to cut through bones or some other hard looking food, this is the go-to tool.
This blade is quite similar to the Nakiri in build and function. As such, it should be quite ideal for cutting those vegetables you stocked in your refrigerator. The Usuba as well has a chisel ground blade and always comes with a Japanese handle.
Also, there are slight variations in the tip of the blade where some have semicircular tips while the rest have rectangular ones.
Features to think about when choosing a kitchen knife
The features of the knife have as well played a crucial role in determining how we lined up the above products. By reading the sections below, you should also come to understand why the products are positioned the way they are and the reasons for their ratings.
Materials and steel type
The materials that make up the knife will often define the tasks that the tool can take on as well as how long it lasts. This could also have profound impacts on the pricing as well.
On the other hand, tools like the Shun Cutlery Premier 7-inch Santoku Knife are expected to last long because of their steel construction. Their high-quality handles are as well part of the reason why the tools are so long-lasting.
As such, if you are looking to make a one-off purchase that you can use for a long time, always pick out the highest quality component materials.
This is often where you need to pick and choose between a double-beveled and single-beveled blade type. Admittedly these may be entirely new terms to some of you. As such we endeavored to explain them below.
A knife blade is formed by grinding the edges so that a sharp point is left. With double-beveled blades, there is grinding on both sides of the knife. The editor’s choice is as well one of the tools that has a double-beveled blade.
In contrast, a single-beveled blade is one in which only one side of the blade is ground to make the knife sharp.
An example of a western-style handle is seen in the Yoshihiro Inox Sujihiki Japanese Chef Knife. The three rivets, as seen in this tool, connect the knife and the handle. Another characteristic of these handles is that they are polished to give them a sheen.
Japanese handles, on the other hand, wood is often the key ingredient. You will see that a hole is bored into the wood, and a mallet used to push the metal components of the knife in. It is also very rare for handles to come off despite not being attached to the metal like the western options.
Most wise chefs tend to edge towards lighter Japanese Knives such as the Yoshihiro VG-10 Japanese Chef’s Knife. This is because their long working hours often involve the continued use of the knives. As such, they are not looking for a blade that will act as a hindrance to their cooking efforts by being heavy.
Of course, safety is a huge issue where knives are concerned. Nevertheless, you still want the blade sharp, and as such, the manufacturer has to cater to safety in other ways. An example is making sure that the handles stay intact. After all, the blade flying off the handles can be quite disastrous.
The Global 8-inch Chef’s Knife has a lifetime warranty and is also dishwasher safe. If you are looking for features that would make your purchase more worthwhile, these are two excellent examples. Nevertheless, the extra features differ from knife to knife. Therefore you would do yourself a favor by deciding which additional features you want first before going to market.
There is no conclusive evidence that either the Japanese or German knives are better than their counterpart. However, most people do have their preferences and biases, which they build after using some of the tools on offer.
As such, you would do well to test out both German and Japanese options to see which one works for you. After that, you should be able to make a conclusive argument on why you prefer one to the other.
While there may be a couple of knives that resonate well with professional cooks, it is essential to remember that they won’t work for everybody. As such, the more important question to ask is whether a knife is suited to your use scenarios or not. If you can answer this question by looking at the features, chances are that you will be able to pick out the right knife even before testing it out.
Having finished our review, we have a few Jpanese knives that fit into our wish lists as well. The first is the Shun Cutlery Premier 7-inch Santoku Knife. Among the highlights are solid construction, and the manufacturer as well didn’t slack on the aesthetics. This can be seen even in the handle, and as such, possibly purchasing this knife seems like a good idea.
Next up, the Miyabi Birchwood SG2 Chef’s Knife also makes up a good case for why it deserves a place in the top picks. The construction and layers included are two reasons why this tool is so good. Nevertheless, this requires quite a lot of money to purchase, especially in comparison to other options.
The Yoshihiro VG-10 Japanese Chef’s Knife is also an excellent option and not just because of the sheath. Nevertheless, you often only get one choice. You can as well do a little exercise where you choose at least three options from the list above.
Consequently, even if you miss out on one or are unsatisfied with your purchase, you still have two other options. All the best as you order your knife from Amazon.