Japanese Kitchen Knives

Japanese Kitchen Knives

As for the western knives, there are different types of oriental and especially Japanese knives. Many are the result of the food traditions of those places, others of hybrids born of contact with the western world in modern times.


Before analyzing the most common blades, let's see what are the materials and the salient features of this kind of tool.

The construction, for example, is a hollow shaft. The typical handle, called WA, is in fact made up of a wooden cylinder (with a circular cross-section, typically, but there are also hexagonal, D-shaped, drop-shaped, etc ...) in which it is interlocked (but in some cases glued). tang of the blade. This type of construction is generally cheaper than fulltang, more elaborate to make, and moves the knife's center of gravity forward as it is light.

The materials used to make it range from wood (acacia, in general, but there are other more valuable essences) to plastics on economic industrial lines. There is usually a collar in more or less noble materials (plastics or resin, but also woods, bones or horns) which helps to avoid the escape of the tang or the crackle of the handle at the junction point.

Increasingly, however, there are knives with Western grips in Japanese production.

For steels, the variety is greater than the western ones. Although in fact the use of stainless steel for hygienic and maintenance needs is more and more present, many producers (semi-artisanal species) still use coals of various kinds. This is because the Japanese knife is above all devoted to pure cut and (given the typical diet of those countries) not suitable for use on bones or hard materials.

For Inox, we have many well-known names for enthusiasts:

    Vg10: typical Japanese stainless steel in both mono-steel and damask. Very widespread and appreciated

    Silver (or Ginsan): another steel very present, as a composition is similar to Sandvik 19c27

    ZDP189: present on a few high-end production, hardened high and with a very high wear. Pay low resilience, so use carefully with thin wires and hard materials.

    SG2 or R2: also diffused, a steel from powders with high wear and high hardness.

    Aus 8 and Aus 6: well-known steels with good resistance to oxidation

For the coal industry, it is almost always low-alloy (often from Hitachi Steel), often in combination with a sanmai construction (with either soft iron or non-hardened stainless steel) or damask.

The most common are:

    Blue Steel (or Aogami): exists in three theologies based on the percentages of carbon and alligators. # 1, # 2 and Aogami Super

    White Steel (or Shirogami): also existing in two types, always based on the elements that compose it. # 1 and # 2


The use of SanMai with soft iron serves to give greater resilience to the blades (generally the core is hardened high, over 62-64HRC). I also believe that carbon migration to iron creates a gradient where carbon concentrations fall from the center outwards. This should make it easier to sharpen and increase the toughness of the blade overall.

Several companies are then specialized in the production of ceramic blades, such as Kryocera. These blades have the advantage of keeping the wire much longer than ordinary steels, but on the other hand they are extremely fragile (they can easily chip if used badly) and almost impossible to re-sharpen at home.

With regard to production processes, industrial blades are generally hot-pressed. But there is a strong handicraft component, with hand-forged blades even if with industrial systems from different small companies.

An aspect to highlight is the finishing of many blades, even of lines not really cheap. In fact, often the knives are not finished in an accurate way and a typical processing, called Kurouchi, consists in painting the blades with a black coating similar to the black of forge. This serves both to protect the knife from oxidation, and to allow food not to stick to the blade, but also to give that "craft" look to the final product.

The main types of blades, we include:

Nakiri: vegetable knife with symmetrical sharpening. Generally high blade, from 15cm to 16.5 cm (but there are also larger sizes), bevels with very small corners and closed flush. There are two types, East and West, one with a curved thread and one with a straight thread. Both with pointed nose and final curve.

Usuba: vegetable knife similar to nakiri but with chisel sharpening.

Santoku: or the three virtues. Hybrid knife born from the fusion between the West and the East. Used both for meat, fish and vegetables. Generally more robust and with greater angles than the nakiri. Typical measures from 15 cm to 19 cm.

Yanagiba: typical sushi knife to create slices without discontinuity, with clean cuts and POLISHES. Chisel-shaped wire with concave side and typical lengths over 21cm.

Petty: knife born as the Gyuto on Western influence. Utility or paring with typical measures from 10 cm to 15 cm, usually has greater thicknesses in proportion to the length compared to the Gyuto.

Gyuto: the equivalent of the Western Chef, conjugated in Japanese sauce. Therefore greater propensity to pure cut of meat or fish, advanced balancing given the construction Wa and in general not huge thicknesses. Typical lengths from 19 cm to 24 cm.

Chukabocho: Chinese-derived female scrub. Very different from our cleavers, it generally has considerable widths and reduced thicknesses, with a very thin thread. This allows to make cuts (usually on vegetables, but also to chop other foods) very easily using almost only the weight of the knife.

Deba: Typical knife for the preparation / cleaning of the fish It exists in various sizes, for the various phases, but generally varies between 18 and 24 cm. It has a chisel edge and considerable thicknesses, so you can cut (even choppando) fins, bones and even large fish muscles.

Funayuki: a sort of shorter Gyuto if with a double thread, others more like a Deba if with a single thread. In the second case in general it is a tool designed for processing fish, but in the former it is more versatile and used in cooking for meat and vegetables.

Ko-Bocho: Ko in Japanese means small, and is therefore a small knife used to cut garlic, shallot, other vegetables and fillets of small fish

Sabaki: Very similar to the Petty, but with a smaller blade height, then more towards a small Gyuto than a small Deba, suitable for removing the meat from the bones, is the Japanese boning knife

Sujihiki: Very similar to the Yanagiba in size and use, it can however have the wire on both bevels as well as chisel.

The above are safe the most common types of knives but also the most useful in western kitchens. In addition to those listed, there are many others, some hybridized or derived from these, others exclusive of a producer, others so specialized to be used for a single type of food or animal.

Article written by my friend Carmine De Domenico with some of my small reviews.

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