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, so it's important to know what to look for while choosing one.
Typically, Japanese knives are either made from carbon steel or stainless steel, and they all tend to be fairly lightweight. Japanese knife blades are also usually single-beveled and thinner than European knife blades, making them hold a sharp edge for a longer period of time and suited for both left and right-handed use. Most of them are made from harder steel and hand-forged using knifemaking techniques that have spanned centuries.
We tested a variety of options from several reputable brands in our test kitchen so you can find the best Japanese knives 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.
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, whether it's in use or hanging on your knife rack.
The hammered finish isn’t all about aesthetics, 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.
During testing, we 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
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. We 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: $12
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 8 inches | Handle Material: Wood | Weight: 6 ounces | Sheath Included: No
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.
We praised this knife for its comfortable grip, balance, and sharpness, though 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. It also cut super clean with thin slices, making cutting very enjoyable.
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
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.
The Santoku 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. We did note that the knife may be better suited for people with larger hands since the handle is on the longer side, however. Visually, it is also a beautiful knife to look at, making it well-designed both aesthetically and functionally. 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
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.
We loved the convenient width of this 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. It was also easy to sharpen and held its sharpness for a while. 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
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.
We were particularly pleased with how well this santoku knife lives up to its description of being a general-purpose blade. Throughout testing, we were able to slice easily through salads, herbs, radishes, greens, tomatoes, and even nuts, which stayed neatly in place without rolling off the cutting board onto the counter.
Price at time of publish: $89
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 7 inches | Handle Material: Garolite and steel | Weight: 9.9 ounces | Sheath Included: No
Ginsu Gourmet Chikara Series 8 Piece Set
Included knife block is lightweight
Knives are super sharp
Handles don't have much grip
If you are stocking up a new kitchen or just getting started cooking from home, knife block sets are a great way to grab all the essentials in one place (often for a bargain). This one from Ginsu Gourmet includes a chef's knife, Santoku knife, utility knife, serrated utility knife, paring knife, honing rod, kitchen shears, and a bamboo knife block to keep everything organized. The blades are made of hard stainless steel and the lightweight handles feature a round shape paired with a hefty bolster.
During testing, we appreciated all of these knives for their extreme sharpness—though the Santoku knife particularly stole the show because of its balance. The paring knife and chef's knife also impressed us, easily completing tasks like hulling strawberries, dicing onions, and slicing tomatoes. Even though the rounded handles didn't feature an especially ergonomic design, the modified heels made the pinch grip feel very comfortable and secure. In terms of performance and quality of construction, this set is also very fairly priced.
Price at time of publish: $108
Blade Material: Stainless Steel | Blade Length: 8-inch chef's knife, 7-inch Santoku knife, 5-inch utility knife, 5-inch serrated utility knife, 3.5-inch paring knife, honing rod, kitchen shears | Handle Material: Resin | Weight: 7 pounds | Block Included: Yes
JIKKO Mille-feuille VG-10 Gold Stainless Steel Nakiri Vegetable Knife
Handcrafted mahogany wood handles
Comfortable to hold
Easy to maneuver
Difficult to store
A Japanese Nakiri knife is designed for chopping, dicing, and slicing vegetables. A good one will have a straight, super-sharp blade that can tackle a range of produce, from tiny pieces of garlic to larger veggies like sweet potatoes.
This Nakiri is hammered with 16 layers of Damascus steel and a durable Granton edge to help keep food from sticking to the blade and resist stains. The knife is finished with handcrafted mahogany wood handles for a truly stunning piece. We were extremely impressed with this knife's performance during testing. It produced delicate slices of soft tomatoes and cut smoothly through sweet potatoes and shallots. There was also a light curvature at the end of the blade, which allowed for beautiful little dices, and a really nice balance on the knife overall.
Price at time of publish: $173
Blade Material: VG-10 stainless steel | Blade Length: 6 inches | Handle Material: Mahogany wood | Sheath Included: No
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.
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.
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.