Japanese kitchen knives are made with sharpness in mind. They're usually a bit thinner than their western counterparts, and they're made of metal that holds a sharper edge better.
Our Top 3 Picks For The Best Japanese Knives
Because of this, they also tend to be more fragile since the metal can be more brittle and the smaller cross section makes them easier to break.
However, if you want the absolute sharpest knife to use in your kitchen, a Japanese knife is usually the best choice.
In this guide we search for and discuss the best Japanese knives through our reviews and point out features to take in to consideration when deciding on purchasing a new Japanese knife.
Japanese Chef Knives - The Kitchen Workhorse
Chef's knives are long and versatile. They can be used for almost every task in the kitchen, whether it's chopping, slicing, mincing, or disjointing.
Because of this, they're a perfect starting place when upgrading your kitchen knives.
Our Top Picks
ZELITE INFINITY Chef's Knife
- 67-layer VG 10 steel can hold a 12 degree edge
- Damascus pattern
- Full tang
Yoshihiro Damascus Gyuto
- 3-layer VG 10 steel with a HRC of 60
- Damascus blade and mahogany handle
- 100% handcrafted
- Full tang
Okami Professional Gyutou Chef's Knife
- 67-Layer VG-10 steel can sharpen to 8 degrees / side
- Half tang
Before we compare these knives, check out this video of Alton Brown explaining knife techniques and uses. He demonstrates with Shun knives, but the information is applicable to any Japanese knife.
Japanese Chef Knife Comparison
All of our picks are made of Japanese steel with a very high hardness factor. This allows them to be sharpened to sub-15 degree angles with a bit of practice.
Manufacturers all give slightly different numbers for how sharp their knives can get, but all of these should be very similar for normal home use. 15 degrees is already significantly sharper than your traditional European chef's knife.
While the Yoshihiro and ZELITE are functionally very similar full tang knives, the Okami has a half tang. This means that the metal part of the knife stops about halfway down the handle.
In a full tang knife, the metal extends to the very bottom of the handle. This affects the feel and balance of your knife.
Many chefs prefer the heft of a full tang since it has more metal in the handle which makes the knife heavier and has a balance point farther from the tip.
Both the Yoshihiro and the ZELITE have a beautiful Damascus pattern forged into the blades.
The Okami knife might have a bit of striping, but it won't have the extravagant whirls and shapes of the other two. None of these patterns will wash off since they're part of the knife itself.
Japanese Vegetable Knife - Nakiri
If you find yourself doing a lot of chopping, consider looking at a dedicated vegetable cleaver.
Called "Nakiri bocho" in Japanese, these cleavers are very thin, with a straighter blade edge to let you make more contact with the cutting board without tilting your knife.
Because they're so thin, these knives can get very sharp. While you don't want to use them to cut animal bones, they'll make short work of most vegetables.
Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Nakiri
- High carbon, stain resistant German x50 Cr Mo V15 Steel
- Full tang, forged construction
- No-slip Santoprene handle for prolonged use
This isn't technically a true Japanese knife because it's a Nakiri style blade made from European steel.
This allows it to combine all of the advantages of the Nakiri knife (thinner knives get sharper; flat knives are great for chopping) with the benefits of European steel (a bit less fragile) to create a stellar all-purpose cleaver.
It might not sharpen all the way down to 12 degrees, but you'll still get a knife that will chop through vegetables (and the occasional bit of meat) with ease.
Mercer offers a limited lifetime warranty as well as a more complete one-year warranty.
Japanese Knife Sets - The Full Package
If you'd like to go all out and upgrade all of your knives at once, a knife set is the way to go. These sets come with a chef's knife and assortment of other knives for various kitchen tasks such as paring, boning, chopping and slicing bread.
They also usually come with an elegant knife block or display rack, allowing you to keep your kitchen tidy while showing off your knives.
Our Top Pick: Ginsu Chikara Series Cutlery Set
Most forged, full-tang sets of the best Japanese kitchen knives are much more expensive, and many competitors don't offer amenities like steak knives and shears with their sets.
- Forged stainless Japanese style knives
- Full tang
- Heat resistant resin handles
- Lifetime Limited Warranty
12 Piece Set Includes
- 8" Chef's Knife
- 7" Santoku Knife
- 5" Utility Knife
- 5" Serrated Utility Knife
- 3.5" Paring Knife
- Kitchen Shears
- Honing Rod
- 4 x 5" Steak Knives
- Bamboo Block
It's possible to buy a nicer set of knives than this Ginsu block, but it's hard to beat the price. This isn't to say that this Ginsu set is bad.
In fact, it's quite the opposite. While the chef's knife isn't as pretty or sharp as the Yoshihiro we mentioned above, it's still an excellent knife made from high carbon Japanese steel and able to hold a very respectable edge. The same applies to all of the other knives in the set.
Japanese Steak Knives At Your Table
Having a fancy chef's knife is great for you, but your guests don't get to use it.
If you want to spice up your table, a set of Japanese steak knives can ensure that your family, housemates and guests all get a taste of the sharpness of Japanese knife design.
These sets vary from simple, inexpensive sets to handmade, artisan forged collections.
Our Top Picks
Ginsu Chikara Signature Series
- Fully Forged
- Resin Handles
- Full Tang
- 4.5" knives
Shun Classic Steak-Knife Set
- 33 layer stainless for Damascus look
- Pakkawood handle
- Authentic Japanese forging
- 4.75" knives
Expensive Vs Budget Comparison
The biggest difference between these sets is cost, and there's a big difference. The Shun set features elegant wooden handles, Damascus striping, and is forged by authentic Japanese artisans. The Ginsu set is not and is several times cheaper.
Honestly, both of these sets are more than adequate at the table. The Shun set looks nicer, the branding is sure to impress more discerning guests, and it's sharp enough to shave with out of the box.
SEE ALSO: Best Knife Brands
When it comes to actually cutting steak, the Ginsu set is more than adequate (especially if you sharpen them every once in while).
Which set you choose will depend on what your goals are: are you looking to blow your guests away, or do you just want to offer them a set of extra sharp steak knives?
Japanese Bread Knives
A serrated knife is the most ideal knife to cut bread with because it saws rather than slice which will put pressure and squash the bread.
Since normal Japanese knives have smooth edges for easy sharpening, this means you'll want a dedicated bread knife.
Japanese bread knives aren't too different from western ones, but they follow the general trend of being a bit thinner and sharper.
Kai Wasabi Bread Knife
- Daido 1k6 high-carbon stainless steel
- Japanese style single sided blade
- Serrated edge
Kai's offering is rather unique in its one-sided blade. Because it's only sharpened on one edge, food sticks less which means that it can slide through a loaf of bread like butter, if you'll excuse the tired expression.
Its high-carbon stainless is perfect for retaining an edge without regular sharpening, which is ideal, because serrated blades are a pain to sharpen at home.
Japanese Butcher Knives
If you want the absolute sharpest in chopping implements, Japanese butcher knives may be for you.
While you'll want to avoid bones and hard cutting surfaces like granite, these bad boys get crazy sharp.
The shape of these knives mirrors their western counterparts - they're rectangular, designed to make full contact with your cutting surface at the bottom of a chop.
ZHEN Light Slicer Chopping Chef Butcher Knife
- Incredibly sharp 15 degree blade angle
- Subtle Damascus pattern
- 67-Layer VG-10 Japanese Steel, with HRC 60-62
- Pakkawood handle
The jury is out with regards to the semantics of this knife. A true butcher knife would be able to cut bone, but the ZHEN suggests that this knife is too sharp and delicate for such a gruesome task.
Nevertheless, it remains an excellent addition to any kitchen, as long as you stick to meat, vegetables and fruit.
The reason for this restriction is apparent when you handle the knife. It's rather thin, with an extremely sharp 15 degree edge right out of the box. This enables you to cut the most difficult and finicky vegetables easier.
The handle of this knife is shaped to allow you to crush garlic, should you so choose. Despite this (or perhaps because of this), the knife should feel balanced in your hand.
In terms of safety, a sharp knife is a safer knife since less pressure is needed to use it. This gives you more control in the event of a slip. With Japanese knives, we’re always reminded of their sharpness.
For those who take pride in their knives or are simply looking for a better option than a standard knife you find at department stores, a Japanese knife may be a good option for you.
And of course there are options for those who wish to invest in an expensive set and options for those who are on a budget.
In this guide we’ve covered both ends of the spectrum across various types of knives that should help you in decide on the best Japanese knives for you and your kitchen.
Did you enjoy this guide? Let us know in the comments and feel free to share your experiences with Japanese knives.