Jan 12, 2023

CULTUREJapanese Knives for Almost Every Occasion and Purpose

Japanese knives are cutlery evolved. Descended from the same techniques that formed samurai swords in ages past, the variety and functionality in Japanese knives is astounding, and their artisan level of quality is consistent across all blades.

Jan 12, 2023

If you can only choose one Japanese knife: Go for the gyuto

Interested in Japanese knives but don’t want to add a whole new knife rack to your kitchen? As a venerable Japanese equivalent to a jack-of-all-trades chef’s knife, the gyuto does it all – originally named for the task of dissecting beef (gyu in Japanese).

From carving up touch cuts of meat to precise fileting of fish or just dicing up veggies, a high quality Japanese gyuto knife will cover all your bases in the kitchen. While these blades are thinner than a Western chef’s knife and suit the precision needed for proper Japanese cooking, you’ll want to be wary of animal bones as they may damage the blade.

Make sushi at home with your yanagiba

Yanagiba are exquisite blades and exceptionally long, while maintaining a distinct thinness. They’re primarily used by sushi chefs to both filet fish and perfectly portion the cuts for both sushi and sashimi.

The size, depth and angle of a cut affect the flavor of sashimi, and a yanagiba – named after the yanagi willow tree – is the tool that allows for the most intricate preparation of raw fish. Professional chefs may keep several yanagiba on hand, with blade sizes differing by mere millimeters, to make sure they have the exact appropriate tool for all fish and seafood at hand.

Slice veggies like a pro with an usuba

Usuba knives have thin, short rectangular blades that allow anyone who practices enough to make culinary art out of their vegetables. Neatly translated to “thin blade” and reflecting the simplicity that Japanese cuisine celebrates, they allow for extreme precision and detail in preparation that lets both the natural flavors and aesthetic qualities of vegetables shine on the plate. 

With the usuba’s thin blade, cut vegetables without cracking or breaking them. Beyond creating beautifully cut carrots and butterflying eggplants, usuba knives are also great vegetable peelers and shavers, whether you want to peel a potato or make paper-thin strips out of a daikon radish.

Slice through sinew and remove silverskin with a sujihiki

Sujihiki knives are made for meat, specifically the tricky task of removing silverskin. They have also taken on the role of meat separation and fileting fish in the kitchen. Not entirely dissimilar from the yanagiba above, daily users will find these blades comparatively easier to handle. Both sides of the blade edge are sharp, and in general they are easier to sharpen, making them a more manageable option than the yanagiba for a home kitchen.

Sujihiki blades slice through even tough cuts of meat like butter when properly maintained. For anyone who wants something ferocious and perhaps more fine-tuned than a gyuto, but still useful for many applications, the sujihiki could become your best new culinary tool.

Additional information on even more specific Japanese knives

Besides the four styles of knives mentioned above, many other Japanese knives exist for specific purposes. The following is a small selection of what you might be able to find: 

  • Garasuki – A large, triangular knife used for deboning meat
  • Hankotsu – A curved blade for slicing meat
  • Honesuki – A short, triangular knife used for deboning poultry and fish
  • Menkiri – An oddly shaped, hefty noodle cleaver
  • Nakiri – A vegetable knife similar to the usuba
  • Reito – A serrated knife made for frozen foods
  • Takohiki – A long rectangular blade for cutting octopus
  • Unagisaki hocho – A short, sturdy and pointy tipped blade for fileting eel