After thorough testing by our team of experts, the Shun Cutlery Premier 8-Inch Chef’s Knife is our top pick. The layered steel blade is ideal for everyday slicing and chopping, while the handle design is both comfortable and attractive. For beginners, the Zelite Infinity 7-Inch Santoku Knife offers high quality that's easier on the wallet.
While Japanese-made knives can be found in familiar Western shapes and styles, there are also many uniquely Japanese styles that can be useful in the kitchen. Japanese knives have a reputation for high quality, and some can be very expensive. Typically, Japanese knives are either made from carbon steel or stainless steel, and they all tend to be fairly lightweight.
We tested a variety of options from several reputable brands in our test kitchen so you can find the right knife to fit your specific slicing, dicing, and chopping needs. To provide even more insight, we also conducted home tests while paying special attention to design, size, performance, value, and ease of cleaning,
These are the best Japanese knives available, according to our tests.
Best Overall: Shun Cutlery Premier 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
Beautiful layered Damascus steel blade
Very comfortable to hold
May be too heavy for some
Shun is known for high-quality, well-balanced, and well-designed knives, and this chef’s knife is no exception. It has an 8-inch blade that’s the perfect length for all-around cutting, slicing, chopping, and dicing, while the handle is designed for a comfortable and almost effortless grip. The blade is made from layered Damascus steel with a hammered finish that gives it a stunning look when in use or hanging on your knife rack.
The hammered finish isn’t all about looks, though. Like the more common Granton edge, the hollows in the uneven surface help keep food from sticking to the blade as you cut. While this knife is dishwasher safe, it’s recommended that you hand-wash it, along with all of your other quality knives.
Our lab testers appreciated the knife's smooth and accurate cutting with little to no pressure, as well as the handle's glossy wood finish that's similar to a European-style piece. The handle also felt well-crafted in the hand with a large curved grip for comfort. Due to the heavier weight distribution in the handle, however, the knife might be too heavy for some users.
Price at time of publish: $200
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 8 inches | Handle Material: Pakkawood | Weight: 7.76 ounces | Sheath Included: No
"This is solid knife that would last a lifetime with proper care and handling."
Best for Beginners: Zelite Infinity Alpha-Royal Series Santoku Knife 7 Inch
Attractive 66-layer blade
Performed well on typical kitchen tasks
Might be heavy for some cooks
Blade is more curved than a traditional Santoku
Santoku knives are becoming more common in American kitchens, yet they still seem a bit more special than standard chef’s knives. This santoku has a gently curved blade that should be familiar to cooks who are comfortable with the rocking motion of American blades, while the tip, Granton edge, and Damascus pattern make it unique.
This is made from imported Japanese steel with 16 layers of metal that create the pattern. The handle has a shape that makes it easy to hold, no matter how much cutting you have to do, and it’s triple-riveted for durability. The knife has a full tang that provides great balance and a tapered bolster for a proper grip.
Our tester is particularly pleased with how well this santoku knife lives up to its description of being a general-purpose blade. She is able to slice easily through salads, herbs, greens, tomatoes, and even nuts, which, she says, "stayed neatly in place so I didn’t have to pick them off the counter."
Price at time of publish: $95
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 7 inches | Handle Material: Garolite and steel | Weight: 9.9 ounces | Sheath Included: No
"The knife sliced easily through my herbs and greens, then made nearly see-through slices from radishes." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Best Design: Dalstrong Shogun Series X 6-Inch Nakiri Knife
Well-balanced and comfortable to hold
Very little pressure needed to use
Not very sharp out of the box
Nakiri knives are shaped for chopping vegetables since the entire length of the straight blade hits the cutting board at once, with no need to rock or pull the knife to slice all the way through the food. It’s also great for chopping herbs and for slicing, as well. The thick blade makes it easy to gather up food for transferring into a pan, while the bolster is shaped for a proper hand-hold.
Our reviewer particularly liked the width of the blade, noting that it gave plenty of space for knuckle clearance and enough room to safely push down while cutting vegetables. However, the heaviness of the knife may fatigue hands faster. Likewise, the knife struggled a bit with heftier vegetables like butternut squash due to its thickness. The 6-inch blade is Japanese AUS-10V steel that is nitrogen cooled for excellent durability, and it’s professionally honed for a perfect edge. When kitchen work is done, this comes with a custom sheath for safe and easy storage. Plus, it comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Price at time of publish: $130
Blade Material: Japanese AUS-10V Super Steel | Blade Length: 6 inches | Handle Material: G10 Garolite | Weight: 10.3 ounces | Sheath Included: Yes
"The knife was easy to sharpen, held its sharpness for a while, and worked well for home use." — Renu Dhar, Product Tester
Best for Vegetables: Yoshihiro 16 Layer Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife
Beautiful and well-made
Real Damascus steel
No blade cover
This knife shape may not seem as familiar as chef’s knives or slicers, but it’s known in Japan as a nakiri knife and is used for cutting vegetables. This one has 16 layers of steel over a core metal, with a hammered surface that looks stunning and helps keep foods from sticking to the blade as you work.
Unlike chef’s knives, this has a flat cutting edge, which means the entire length of the blade can make contact with the cutting surface at the same time. Because of that, it’s easier to cut all the way through vegetables without leaving them attached to each other where the cut wasn’t finished.
While this is handmade in Japan and each is a one-of-a-kind creation, the handle is Western-style and made from beautiful mahogany, so it will feel familiar and comfortable. This should be hand-washed and dried, particularly if it’s used with acidic ingredients.
Our reviewer praised this knife for its comfortable grip, balance, and sharpness, though they recognized that sharpening it took some skill. Regardless, the knife was incredibly sharp right out of the box and stayed sharp throughout the testing process, whether it was slicing through thin-skinned produce or denser foods.
Price at time of publish: $150
Blade Material: VG-10 Stain Resistant Steel | Blade Length: 6.5 inches | Handle Material: Mahogany | Weight: 6.6 ounces | Sheath Included: No
"The sharpness of this knife is outstanding. It glides through hefty vegetables and cuts super clean with thin slices, making cutting very enjoyable." — Renu Dhar, Product Tester
Best Santoku: New West Knifeworks 7-Inch Teton Edge Santoku
Feels sturdy and comfortable to hold
May be too long for people with smaller hands
Designed to celebrate the spirit of Jackson Hole where the company is based, the Teton Edge Santoku uses an etched outline of the Teton Mountain Range to help it slice smoothly through all types of food without sticking. This 7-inch knife by New Knife Works features a high-carbon, alloy steel blade that combines extreme sharpness, stain resistance, and toughness. The handles are made of aerospace-grade, fiberglass epoxy that comes in eight different color palettes from classic black to less traditional, bright tones. New Knife Works also offers a lifetime guarantee for this model and includes a leather sheath for the blade.
In our testing lab, the knife performed extremely clean cuts, especially when it came to larger produce like sweet potatoes. The width of the blade made it easy to feel like a pro and the functionality never wavered. Our testers did note that the knife may be better suited for people with larger hands since the handle is on the longer side. Although this piece is on the pricier side, the overall value is completely worth it for those looking to improve their collection or find a professional-quality, do-it-all knife.
Price at time of publish: $389
Blade Material: S35VN super high carbon "Powder Metal" steel | Blade Length: 7 inches | Handle Material: G10 Garolite | Weight: 6.2 ounces | Sheath Included: No
"Visually, it is a beautiful knife to look at. I think it is a very well-designed knife both aesthetically and functionally. The design is in no way intimidating, and I can see it being a friend to both new home cooks all the way up to very experienced professionals."
Best Budget: Orblue Chef Knife 8-Inch High Carbon
Very sharp out of the box
Cuts meat and produce smoothly and accurately
Handle may become loose over time
Japanese knives don’t have to be expensive, as this 8-inch chef knife from Orblue proves. It’s made using high-carbon stainless steel with a shiny finish and a sharp double-bevel edge that helps keep food from sticking to the blade. It is well-balanced, easy to hold, and looks attractive enough to display proudly.
The ergonomic handle has a wood grain appearance that's smooth and heavy, providing a comfortable grip while cutting and chopping. Our tester liked how the height and weight of the handle helped create clean slices with ease. Likewise, the handle isn't too long, which makes for more control. Don't let the low price fool you, as this knife is completely sharp right out of the box.
Price at time of publish: $23
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 8 inches | Handle Material: Wood | Weight: 6 ounces | Sheath Included: No
"I love the high handle for easy chopping. It's a good weight, easy to hold, and not too long so it's easy to control when chopping and cutting."
Best Set: Shun Classic 6-Piece Slim Knife Block Set
Very sharp, durable blades
Knives are easy to hold
Both block and knives are beautifully designed
Even if countertop space is limited, you’ll be able to find space for this narrow knife block and its contents. These knives—from the renowned Shun Cutlery—include three very useful styles: a 3 1/2 inch paring knife, a 7-inch santoku knife, and an 8-inch chef’s knife. A 9-inch honing steel, pair of kitchen shears, and knife block complete the set. The block has eight slots for knives, so you’ll have plenty of space to store new knives as you add to your collection over time.
The knives are handmade in Japan using 34 layers of Damascus stainless steel cladding on each side over the knife’s core material. The handle is pakka wood, which is moisture-resistant. These knives should be hand-washed and dried immediately.
Customers give this set points for its extremely sharp knives, saying they can cut through all kinds of foods, from turkey to tomatoes, with little resistance. While pricey, several reviewers say it's worth the cost.
Price at time of publish: $450
Blade Material: Damascus Stainless Steel | Blade Length: 3.5-inch paring knife, 7-inch Santoku knife, 8-inch chef's knife, 9-inch kitchen shears | Handle Material: PakkaWood | Weight: 8.88 pounds | Block Included: Yes
The Shun Cutlery Premier 8-Inch Chef’s Knife takes the top spot on our list because of its combination of beauty, balance, and versatility. Plus, its handle is designed to provide comfort and ease during use. If you're new to using Japanese knives, try the Zelite Infinity 7-Inch Santoku Knife. It features an attractive 66-layer blade and is excellent at general kitchen tasks.
How We Tested
We tested a total of 26 top-rated Japanese knife brands in our dedicated Lab side by side, looking at features like design, size, weight, and value. Likewise, our testers also designed a variety of tests to determine which Japanese knives performed the best in a range of categories. These included slicing sheets of paper to confirm level of sharpness right out of the box, thinly slicing tomatoes, mincing chives, dicing onions, and chopping raw sweet potatoes. We also sent several knives to expert testers at home for additional insights.
What to Look for When Buying Japanese Knives
By Sara Tane
The size of your knife is crucial to whatever you’re cutting. Longer blades have less control, but they allow you to cut larger items. Keep in mind you’ll need adequate storage for whatever size knife you buy, so if it’s too big for a drawer or knife block, you may need to reconsider. When it comes to the size of your knife, it's mostly a matter of personal preference, so try out chopping with a few different-sized knives if you can to determine what you like. Even though all Japanese knives are fairly light, larger knives will, of course, be heavier.
The look and aesthetic of Japanese knives can vary greatly between brands and models. The handle can be made in a variety of different woods, whereas the “collar” of the handle is usually made of a more dense material like Pakkawood to protect the softer wood of the handle. The handle can be carved in a variety of different shapes, and which one you choose ultimately comes down to what feels best in your hand. The blades can be long and flat or short and curved. Santoku, or multipurpose knives, have tiny indentations along the side of the blade. All of these design features factor into a knife's performance, though it’s nice to have a knife you don’t mind looking at, as well.
A Japanese knife starts around $30 and can run as high as $700, so considering the price before purchasing is definitely worthwhile. When it comes to buying a nice knife for your kitchen, consider how much you'll use it. It may be a bit of an investment, but if it’s something you’ll use often and will last a long time, it may be worthwhile. The more expensive knives are typically made from pricier materials, but the design is very similar across the board. If aesthetic is a priority, you might need to dole a bit more than if you just want the most basic version.
The materials used to make the blade steel of Japanese knives are one of two categories: carbon steel or stainless steel. Most Japanese knives are carbon steel, which is made by adding carbon to steel made from iron ore. Japanese steel usually has higher carbon content than European knives, and it also contains tungsten and cobalt, which improve the hardness of the blade. Stainless steel is similar to carbon steel; however, chrome is added. This helps prevent the material from rusting, making it a great option for durability.
Types of Japanese Knives
Gyuto (Chef's Knife)
What sets a Japanese chef’s knife apart from a classic German knife is the size and weight of the blade. A gyuto is much lighter, has a thinner blade, and features a higher-degree angle than a European chef’s knife, and it can do it all—chop veggies, meat, and fish. The blade is double-bevel (meaning there are inclines on both sides of the blade), and it typically has a flat heel, which makes for even and consistent chopping. Out of all the Japanese knives, this is the closest to a German knife.
Santoku (Multipurpose Knife)
Like gyuto knives, santokus also have a wide range of uses. They are typically slightly smaller than gyuto knives with wide, flat blades and slightly rounded tips, and they have small indentations along the side of the blade. Because of their blade shape and size, these knives are not ideal for piercing or rocking. This means it’s harder to initiate a slice by stabbing it with the tip of the knife because it’s so big. Without the curved belly, this knife does not lend itself to any rocking motions. The long, straight blade is ideal for long cutting strokes, and after you chop something, it’s easy to carefully transfer the chopped food on the large, wide blade.
Nakiri (Vegetable Knife)
This type of knife boasts a rectangular, thin blade designed for precise cutting and julienning vegetables. Nakiri translates to "knife for cutting greens," so it’s a great type of blade if you are chopping lots of herbs. The knife can offer a Japanese or a European handle, which comes down to feel and preference. The usual length of the knife ranges from 165 to 180 millimeters, and it's always double-bevel.
A paring knife is simply a smaller version of the gyuto, and it is used for all sorts of delicate, precise tasks where a larger knife would be unwieldy—hulling stems, peeling skin, trimming tops, and slicing garlic. Not only is it much safer, but it’s much easier to use this kind of knife instead of a full-size chef’s knife. Its typical length is between 120 and 150 millimeters.
Perhaps the most well-known Japanese knife brand, Shun is respected within the world of Japanese knives. As far as pricing, its knives fall in the mid-range. A 6-inch chef’s knife runs between $80 and $150. The knives are well-designed and have a sleek, clean finish.
A new brand, Misen is known for its affordable pricing and wide range of colors. The aesthetic of the handle is much more reminiscent of a European knife, yet the long sturdy blade rings true to Japanese design.
At such a low price point, you’d think these knives might not be up to par with competitors, but that’s not the case. Kessaku knives are sturdy, sharp, durable, and produce consistent results. If you want to try out a Japanese knife without breaking the bank, this is a great brand to check out.
This higher-end brand is known for well-made, beautifully designed knives that offer one-of-a-kind features and a gorgeous, finished handle.
Caring for your knife requires a couple of minutes of maintenance each day. Always hand-wash in warm, soapy water and ensure it is completely dry after washing (water can lead to rusting the blade). It is never a good idea to put a sharp blade in the dishwasher because it can be dulled severely by other objects. Always use a soft sponge on your blade and avoid anything scratchy or abrasive, such as a chain scrubber or a scouring sponge. They can scratch and permanently damage the blade.
Where you store your knives is also important. Avoid keeping unprotected knives in a drawer, which can dull the blades from gradual wear and tear. Put a plastic guard over the blade to protect it inside a busy drawer or use wall-mounted magnetic strips for safe and easy storage.
The surface you’re using your knife on will also determine how sharp your blade will stay. Knives are best used on wood, plastic, or rubber cutting boards. Never use your blade on glass, granite, marble, or ceramics. It might be convenient for you to quickly slice a lemon on the counter or cut something on your dinner plate, but just one slice can severely damage the blade. The hardness of these materials can dull a blade almost instantly.
Aside from this general, day-to-day maintenance, there’s also knife sharpening, which is a completely different animal. Honing simply aligns and straightens the blade, whereas sharpening actually trims the blade to create a fresh, sharp edge. Depending on how frequently you use your knives, you should sharpen (or have them professionally sharpened) every six to 12 months.
Knife Block or Magnetic Strip
As mentioned above, knife storage is crucial to protecting your blade and extending the lifetime of your blade’s sharp edge. Knife blocks and magnetic strips are great ways to not only organize knives but also protect their blades. The difference between the two simply comes down to personal preference. If you’d like to store knives in a more showy, open way, a magnetic strip is a fun addition to the backsplash of your kitchen.
If you only have space to store your knives in a drawer, it’s essential to keep them in blade guards. These also come in handy if you take your knives camping or on a trip.
If you want to keep your knives in their best day-to-day condition, having a honing steel on hand is a great way to maintain the straightness and proper alignment of your blade. While it cannot fix any chips or dullness (that requires you to sharpen your knives), it will keep the blade straight, which is important for precise and efficient chopping.
How are Japanese knives made?
Japanese knives are the product of harmony between the skill of forging, sharpening, and attaching the blade to the handle. It all starts by heating a single piece of steel, and after it is red-hot, it is stretched and then hammered until thin. Then it is cut into the desired length. The process of heating and hammering out is repeated until the blade reaches the desired thickness.
After the knives reach the desired thickness, they are cut into shapes using grinders and buffers. The shape forming has various stages for different parts of the knife. For example, creating the “Urasuki,” the mild concave on the backside of a single bevel knife, is done by hammering with an anvil. The surface is further polished using a grinder. And finally, after the forging is done, the knives are sent to the sanding belts where the rough edges are smoothed out.
To control the knife’s hardness, the knives are run through a controlled process of heating in a kiln at a high temperature and rapidly cooled in water. This process is followed by tempering the blade to a specific temperature and time to increase the durability of the steel and make it less brittle.
Then the knives are taken through various sharpening processes from flat to fine and finally buffing and polishing. The final step is attaching the handles, which are made by specialist artisans.
How do you sharpen Japanese knives?
To keep your Japanese knives sharp and in top form all the time, they will require periodic sharpening. You can either send them in to be sharpened by a professional or do it yourself. Both single and double bevel knives can be sharpened at home, ideally before they have had a chance to dull completely. This way you can make sure you always have a sharp knife at your disposal.
To sharpen Japanese knives at home, it is worth it to invest in some good quality sharpening stones/Whetstones. Before sharpening, prepare the Whetstone by soaking it in water, or if you are using a splash-and-go stone like the Naniwa Chosera or the Shapton, splash some water on it.
It is safer to stabilize the whetstone on an anti-slip base, if it came with one, or on a damp kitchen towel. Be mindful of the angle—and hold the knife at a correct angle on the stone. The bevel of the knife should be flat on the stone. It is important to maintain a correct angle that is roughly between 15 to 17 degrees. Guide the edge of the knife back and forth across the whetstone four or five times and check for burr. Work from the tip to the base using circular motions or simply go back and forth dividing your knife in sections, moving from one section to the other, and checking your work as you go. To check for sharpness run your thumb perpendicular (never parallel) to the edge of the knife. If you feel the burr across the edge the knife has started to sharpen on that side. If your knife is double-beveled, repeat on the other side.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie writes roundups and reviews kitchen products for The Spruce Eats. She's also a recipe writer and cookbook author, so she knows the importance of a good knife when chopping, slicing, and dicing in the kitchen. Plus, she personally tested one of the products on this list. Her advice for picking out your ideal knife? Go with one that feels comfortable in your hand.
Renu Dhar, a personal chef and instructor, tested six Japanese knives side by side in order to update this roundup.