If you want the absolute sharpest knife to use in your kitchen, a Japanese knife is usually the best choice.
Japanese kitchen knives are crafted with sharpness in mind, usually a bit thinner than your best kitchen knives from the West, and they’re made of metal that holds a sharper edge.
However, they also tend to be more fragile since the metal can be more brittle and the smaller cross-section makes them easier to break.
In this buying guide, we look at some of the best Japanese knives available. Our reviews point out features to take into consideration to help you decide on the best Japanese knife for your needs.
If we had to choose to buy just one Japanese knife, it would be the Okami Knives CHEF KNIFE.
It’s a great all-rounder, and unless you are an avid fisherman or hunter in need of a specialized blade, will easily handle all your kitchen tasks.
The Okami chef’s knife is made to last; it’s well-balanced, light but solid, and so comfortable to use that you could chop for hours without skipping a beat. Not only that, it comes at a manageable price.
It should be noted that not all “Japanese knives” are made in Japan. In fact, many knives available in Western markets are made in other countries such as Taiwan, Germany, and China, but all use Japanese steel for their construction.
Best Japanese Chef Knives
Chef’s knives are long and versatile. They can be used for almost every kitchen task, whether it’s chopping, slicing, mincing, or disjointing.
Because of this, they are a perfect starting point when upgrading your ceramic kitchen knives.
All 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.
For example, the ZELITE INFINITY Chef’s Knife has an impressive 12-degree razor edge finish on each side of the blade and the cutting edge has been mirror polished. That beautifully sharp blade should go the distance too, with the super hard steel designed for enduring edge retention.
Not to mention the attractive pattern on the blade, which isn’t just there to look pretty, it helps minimize food sticking to the blade – making for super smooth slicing action.
1. ZELITE INFINITY Chef’s Knife
Manufacturers all give slightly different numbers for how sharp their knives can get, but all these should be very similar for normal home use. 15-degrees is already significantly sharper than your traditional European chef’s knife. This knife is even sharper, with a 12-degree angle on each side.
The ZELITE knife is nothing short of gorgeous, in design alone – that tsunami rose Damascus design along the blade will make you feel like a super pro chef, even if you’re just starting out.
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.
ZELITE is designed with your comfort in mind; the handle is rounded and the tapered bolster is quite a unique design, providing a super comfortable gripping experience and excellent balance.
The beauty of this model is that it mixes the strong Japanese steel and exquisite sharpness of a Japanese chef’s knife with the sturdiness and strength of a Western-style knife.
2. Yoshihiro Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife
Yoshihiro VG10 16 Layers Hammered Damascus Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife 8.25 in (Western style Mahogany Handle)
Many chefs prefer the heft of a full tang – featured in this knife – 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 – this is stylish and practical, reducing the chances of food sticking to the blade as you slice, dice and chop.
Unlike some knives, the Yoshihiro is handcrafted in Japan.
The Okami knife might have a bit of striping, but it doesn’t have the extravagant whirls and shapes of the other two.
3. Okami Knives CHEF KNIFE (Japanese Damascus Stainless Steel)
Okami Knives CHEF KNIFE 8′ Japanese Damascus Stainless Steel, High Carbon Sharp Kitchen Cutlery, Light & Ergonomic Gyuto
The Okami chef’s knife has an attractive pakkawood handle, giving it a more natural quality as opposed to the other two chef’s knives listed here. It also comes with an edge guard, plastic cover and specialized cleaning cloth.
All three models have similar hardness ratings of around 60 on the Rockwell scale, which means the stronger metal can be crafted to be thinner and sharper – the Okami has an acute edge of around 12-15 degrees per side.
As mentioned, the major difference between the Okami chef’s knife and the other two listed is that it has a half tang.
The benefits and disadvantages of full vs half tang are hotly debated – full tang knives can be a little stronger and add to the balance of your knife but will be a bit heavier. A half tang may be less likely to corrode over time and be a little less pricey.
Best Japanese Butcher Knife
If you want the absolute sharpest in chopping implements, Japanese butcher knives may be for you. Though you will want to avoid bones and hard cutting surfaces like granite – these bad boys get crazy sharp.
The shape of these knives mirrors their Chinese and Western counterparts. They’re rectangular, designed to make full contact with your cutting surface at the bottom of a chop.
The jury is out with regards to the semantics of the ZHEN butcher knife. A true butcher knife would be able to cut bone, but ZHEN themselves recommend that you avoid chopping bones, suggesting that this knife is too sharp and delicate for such a gruesome task.
4. ZHEN Chef Butcher Knife
Despite the fact it won’t slice through bone, the ZHEN Japanese chef knife 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 more easily.
It’s well-balanced – when chopping and slicing you truly feel as if the knife does all the work for you.
The pakkawood handle is decent looking, and is shaped to allow you to crush garlic or ginger, should you so choose. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the knife should feel balanced in your hand.
Best Japanese Vegetable Cleaver
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.
The Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Nakiri Vegetable knife isn’t technically a true Japanese knife because it’s a Nakiri style blade made from European steel.
5. Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Nakiri Vegetable Knife
This allows it to combine all 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.
Best Japanese Bread Knife
A serrated knife is an ideal knife to cut bread with because it saws rather than slices – sawing will put pressure and squash the bread. A properly cut loaf of bread tends to keep fresher longer.
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.
6. Kai Wasabi Black Bread Knife
Kai’s bread knife is rather unique in that it is a one-sided blade.
Because it’s only sharpened on one edge, food sticks less which means 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.
Although it’s said to be dishwasher safe, as with all high-quality knives, it’s far better to give it a gentle hand wash.
The black handle itself has a style which we like – not only does it look sleek and modern, it is crafted from a unique polypropylene bamboo powder mix material and injected with an antibacterial compound to add to the safety and cleanliness of your cooking environment.
This knife is super high quality without the super high price tag, you can’t ask for much more than that.
Best Japanese Knife Set
If you’d like to go all out and upgrade all your knives at once, a knife set is the way to go.
These sets come with a chef’s knife and an 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 Ginsu Gourmet Chikara pick has a gorgeous bamboo block that will imbue your kitchen with a bit of extra class.
7. Ginsu Gourmet Chikara Series Forged Japanese Steel Knife
Most forged, full-tang sets of the best Japanese kitchen knives are much more expensive, and many competitors don’t offer extras like steak knives and shears with their sets.
It’s possible to buy a nicer set of knives than this Ginsu 12-piece block, but this isn’t to say that this 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 the other knives in the set.
This set comes with a honing rod which should be used regularly to maintain that great razor-edge. If you whip over the blades with the rod at least a few times a week, you’ll only need to sharpen them maybe once a year.
Best Japanese Steak Knives
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.
You may be used to using steak knives with a serrated blade edge, but with Japanese steel, they’re so sharp that it’s not necessary.
These sets vary from simple, inexpensive sets to handmade artisan forged collections. However, the biggest difference between steak knife sets, in our opinion, is cost.
The Shun steak knife set features elegant wooden handles, Damascus striping, and is forged by authentic Japanese artisans. The Ginsu set is not.
Honestly, both sets are more than adequate at the table. The Shun set looks nicer, the knife branding is sure to impress more discerning guests, and it’s sharp enough to shave with out of the box.
8. Shun Shima 4-Piece Steak Knife Set
The Shun Shima steak knife set is so good looking that you may actually let out a slow whistle when you open the box. Seriously, if knives could be described as sexy, this set fits the bill.
The mirror polish helps to keep them stain and rust free – as well as giving you the chance to check for bits of food stuck in your teeth after you effortlessly slice and eat your delicious steak.
They have a full tang and 16-degree edge, and the ergonomic handle design gives a great grip for getting through even the most overcooked rib-eye.
You may notice that these knives are quite lightweight and rather flexible – however, the right amount of flexibility is a desired quality in a steak knife
The 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?
9. Ginsu Gourmet Chikara Series Forged 4-Piece Steak Knives Set
When it comes to actually cutting steak, the Ginsu set is more than adequate (especially if you sharpen them every once in while).
The price is right, but even at a higher price tag, they’d still be considered a good buy for the money.
The Ginsu steak knives are razor sharp, comfortable to hold, and although not quite as attractive as the Shun set, they are still a nice-looking implement.
A common niggle with this set is the high carbon content of the stainless steel, giving the blade a tendency to stain if not dried properly – but if taken care of, hand washed and dried immediately, it shouldn’t be a problem.
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 – they’re ready to slice the hairs off your arms straight out of the box.
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.
Just check out the gorgeous Damascus patterns on the blades of our chef’s knife top picks – particularly the magnificent ZELITE Infinity Chef’s Knife – and you’ll understand what we mean – many people prefer to display knives like these on a magnetic holder instead of hiding their beauty in a knife block.
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.
If money is no issue, consider in investing in a premium set of steak knives like the Shun Shima 4-Piece Steak Knife Set – you’ll definitely impress your guests at any dinner party.
For those on a budget, the sharpness and efficiency of the more wallet-friendly knives will still make your life in the kitchen easier. If you decide to go for the Ginsu Gourmet Chikara Series Forged Japanese Steel Knife Set, you’ll find yourself looking for an excuse to head into the kitchen and chop something.
Did you enjoy this guide? Let us know in the comments with your favorite Japanese knife and experiences.