Japanese Kitchen Knives

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Japanese Kitchen Knives is, I feel a worthy and relevant subject to include as a post here at Ethnic Foods R Us. Obviously, our main focus is on ethnic foods worldwide, and their preparation methods and instructions. Whatever ethnic foods you are going to prepare, however, you will do best with the use of fine cookware and fine cutlery. Japanese kitchen knives, as well as the Japanese Samurai Kitchen Swords are, without a doubt, the best of the best when it comes to fine cutlery.

Japanese Kitchen Knives

(Photo Attributed to Author: Olaf Simons)

Japanese Kitchen Knives are made with three different cutting edge profiles.

As you can see in the graphic image below …

… the blade’s edge may be angled either on both sides (as in example #1), or just on one side (example #2), which is the standard angle for right-handed chefs, or the other, left side (example #3), which is made for left-handed users.

Japanese Kitchen Knives

(Image Attributed to Author: Chris 73/Wikimedia Commons)

It is the type of metals used and the method of forging these fine blades that separates Japanese kitchen knives apart from, and above, all other cutlery. They are made in much the same, millennia-old, traditional way that the fierce warrior samurai class has always had their swords hand-crafted.

In centuries past, Japanese kitchen knives were produced using the same carbon steel as the traditional Japanese samurai swords. However, the method of forging was a bit different. More on current forging methods below. Nowadays stainless steel is often used for Japanese kitchen knives, Suminagashi laminated blade construction (more on this also below) is used in more expensive blades to add corrosion resistance while maintaining strength and durability.

There are two traditional types of Japanese knife forging methods: Kasumi, and Honyaki. The difference between the two is predicated on the material used and the method of forging.

Japanese Kitchen Knives

Kasumi Knives (Photo Attributed to Author: willem!)

Kasumi knives are made using two materials: high-carbon, blue or white steel (called “hagane”), as well as a soft iron (“jigane”) are forged together. Kasumi knives, while offering a cutting edge equal in excellence to the Honyaki knives, have what many consider as an added benefit of being more “forgiving”. Forgiving in the sense that they are felt to be easier to maintain and resharpen.

Honyaki knives are considered as being in the class of “true-forged” knives. They are crafted from just one material. The entire blade is composed of a high-grade blue or white steel that is classified as top-notch knife-specific steel.

Japanese Kitchen Knives

Honyaki Knives (Photo Attributed to Author: OLfanPL)

Kirenaga is a Japanese term that means “duration of sharpness”. Between the Honyaki class and Kasumi class, the Honyaki knives have superior Kirenaga, but again, they require more effort and skill when they do need to be maintained and sharpened.

There is another class of Japanese kitchen knives that are technically in the Kasumi class. These are knives made of

layers of high-grade steel. They are meticulously forged, layering and folding the steels together in exquisite fashions. These high-end knives are commonly known as the Damascus, or, in Japanese, Suminagashi knives, and they have kirenaga that is considered to be equal to the superb level of the Honyaki knives. Thus, although you pay a hefty price (one knife can cost a thousand dollars!) you get the “best of both worlds” – long lasting cutting edge sharpness, better corrosion resistance, and easier maintenance.

Japanese Kitchen Knives

(Layered Steel Damascus Knife)

Here is a short, but very good video showing a Japanese Master Blacksmith forging a kitchen knife, in the Honyaki method.

Whether using Honyaki, Kasumi, or Damascus knives, you will have to acquire some skill when it comes to maintaining and sharpening your Japanese kitchen knives. The following is an excellent video that will tutor you on how to this. This chef is starting with a 1000 grit wet-stone, so the video does not cover removing dings from the blade’s edge – which requires a rougher grit, usually 250 to 400. But the technique he is teaching is spot on for whatever grit you are using or level of sharpness you are trying to achieve.

I hope you have enjoyed this short article on Japanese kitchen knives. If you would like to have some in your kitchen, you can purchase them on our online store – just click here.

You will also need top quality water sharpening stones, and to obtain those, click here. It is recommended that you have at least 3 different grits of stones: 250 to 400 grit for rough shaping the edge and removing dings, 1000 to 2000 grit for intermediate sharpening, and 4000 to 6000 grit for final sharpening and polishing. I myself use 5 stones: 250, 800, 2000, 4000, and 6000 grits.

Before you click off into the Blue Nowhere, please share with us … do you have experience using Japanese kitchen knives? How do you find them to work with and maintain? If no experience, what did the think of and learn with this article, and would you now consider trying some in your kitchen?

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14 thoughts on “Japanese Kitchen Knives

  1. Amazing cutlery, for sure! And with edges that sharp, you’d best know how to handle them safely. They’re very expensive, but this article has my interest piqued enough to buy at least one, and the sharpening stones … should be fun!

    • Bob, they are expensive, and yes you do have to learn how to handle them safely. You also have to become a darn good sharpener. But trust me, if you make the effort, you won’t look back – you will want a full set eventually.

  2. Hey Marvin:

    Thank you for this lovely post. Since the Light of My Life and I enjoy playing in the kitchen, having good knives and knowing how to care for them is an essential bit of knowledge.

    The Japanese knives especially make me feel like I could be a Teppanyaki chef. Hee! My results are not quite so beautiful, but they sure do taste good! (Doing Bruce Lee noises while slicing and dicing does seem to help….]

    • Nelta, thanks for the comment, and I love your sense of humor, lol. Totally agree, having the best knives makes for the best kitchen cutting experience!

  3. Those are some serious kitchen hardware but looking how they are made you can see why they are a quality item and therefor a bit more expensive. Really good knives are always expensive but they will last. I bought a set of Sabatier knives about 15 years ago and they are still going (though I need to give them a sharpen) whereas someone gave me a set of ceramic knives last year (cheap ones) and I have already nicked the blades so they are useless.

    • Evie you are absolutely right. You get what you pay for. And those Sabatier knives are a good choice, I am also familiar with them.

  4. I never knew how nice Japanese knifes were. I didn’t know there were so many different types of knives they make. The one that interested me the most was the Damascus knifes. I looked more into them and they are made in a really cool way and the finished product looks awesome.

    • Hi Destin, and thanks for the comment. I also find the Damascus knives to be the most fascinating. PRICEY, but incredibly beautiful and great to work with.

  5. I’ve known about the fine quality of Japanese blades ever since I bought a set of Japanese chisels back when I made a living as a carpenter. Those chisels out-performed any other chisel I ever worked with – hands down, and bar none!

    So when I took up cooking as a hobby, I naturally went with Japanese kitchen knives. Sure they cost a lot, but they are so superior they are well worth it. And they last forever, so my set will become a family heirloom to be handed down for generations to come.

    Well done post, Old Silly!

    • Thanks, Mark! I also appreciate your sharing your considerable experience with Japanese blades. I also made a living as a carpenter, and once I tried those Japanese chisels, I couldn’t using anything else, either.

  6. This was a very entertaining and informing post! I’m sold, lol. I looked them up on your store, they are quite expensive – even the lower priced ones. But if they are really THAT good, well ….. I think I will get off the dime and buy at least one to try it out. Thanks a lot for this article, Marvin!

    • Margo, you are most welcome. Yes, they are pricey, but as the old saying goes – “You get what you pay for” – please do get and try one, and come back and share with us your experience using it, okay?

  7. Great article! I have owned and used only one Japanese kitchen knife so far. It is more than 50 years old, my father handed it down to me, and it is still just as good and sharp as if brand new. He also taught me the basics of sharpening it, but that video helped me understand how to improve my skills. Thanks a bunch! And yes, I would like to own several of them, in different styles. Japanese kitchen knives are definitely the best, by far. None of my other knives can hold a candle to the one I have, in terms of how sharp it can get and how easily it slices and chops.

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