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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 rounded up a variety of options from several reputable brands so you can find the right knife to fit your specific slicing, dicing, and chopping needs.
Here, the best Japanese knives for your kitchen.
Best Overall: Shun Cutlery Premier 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
Beautiful layered Damascus steel blade
Very comfortable to hold
May be prone to chipping
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.
Customers love that this knife is both beautiful and versatile. Many also say it's comfortable, light to hold, and very sharp—though a couple of reviewers say that the blade is prone to chipping.
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."
"The knife sliced easily through my herbs and greens, then made nearly see-through slices from radishes." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
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.
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 extra-wide blade makes it easy to gather up food for transferring into a pan, while the bolster is shaped for a proper hand-hold.
Reviewers particularly like the comfortable grip: The handle is made to tuck neatly into the palm for comfortable cutting—no matter how many carrots are going into the pot. The handle is both elegant and durable, made from military-grade G-10 Garolite. 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.
Best for Vegetables: Yoshihiro VG-10 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.
Customers praise this knife for both how beautifully it's crafted and how sharp it is, with many adding that its good balance and comfortable grip make prep work easy.
Best Santoku: Misen Santoku Knife
Feels sturdy and comfortable to hold
Lighter than a typical chef's knife
The Misen company got its start with a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over a million dollars for a chef’s knife. It's since expanded its offerings to include more knife designs as well as cookware. This santoku has the same Misen aesthetic as the original knife, but in the popular santoku shape that’s a great alternative to a chef’s knife. It’s made from AUS-10 steel that is Misen’s balance between sharpness and durability, and it’s easy to resharpen when needed.
The sloped bolster encourages a proper pinch grip, which is great for new cooks, and the 7 1/2-inch blade is great for all kinds of chopping and slicing tasks. This knife is available with a blue, black, or gray handle. It should be hand-washed.
Most reviewers rave about this knife's sharpness, how good it feels to hold, and how balanced it is, though a few say they wish it were a bit heavier.
The Shun Cutlery Premier 8-Inch Chef’s Knife (view at Amazon) 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.
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.
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.