The 8 Best Japanese Knives of 2020

Find a specialized blade for your kitchen

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Our Top Picks
"Layered steel blade is perfect for slicing, chopping, and more."
"The handle has a shape that makes it easy to hold and it’s durable."
"This affordable knife is easy to hold and looks attractive."
"This set of three knives plus a vegetable peeler is a great bargain."
"Includes three useful styles and a narrow knife block."
"The 6-inch blade is Japanese AUS-10V steel that is nitrogen cooled for excellent durability."
"The hammered surface keep foods from sticking to the blade."
"The popular Santoku shape is a great alternative to a chef’s knife."

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. We rounded up some of the best Japanese knives from the top brands to fit your specific slicing, dicing, and chopping needs.

Best Overall: Shun Cutlery Premier 8” Chef’s Knife

What We Like
  • Beautiful layered Damascus steel blade

  • Very comfortable to hold

  • Versatile

What We Don't Like
  • 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 helps keep food from sticking to the blade as you cut. While this knife is dishwasher safe, it’s recommended that you handwash 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

Very Good
What We Like
  • Attractive 66-layer blade

  • Performed well on typical kitchen tasks

  • Gift-worthy packaging

What We Don't Like
  • 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 Budget: Kessaku Samurai Series Santoku Knife 7 Inch

What We Like
  • Very sharp out of the box

  • Ergonomic grip

  • Well-balanced

  • Cuts meat and produce smoothly and accurately

What We Don't Like
  • Damascus design is lasered on

Japanese knives don’t have to be expensive, as this Santoku proves. It’s made in Japan using high-carbon stainless steel with a shiny finish and a Granton edge that helps keep food from sticking to the blade. It’s resistant to corrosion, easy to hold, and it looks attractive enough to display proudly.

The handle is made from pakka wood with a seamless finish and a full tang for great balance. The knife comes in a box with a magnetic closure that can be used for storage. A cleaning cloth is included for polishing the blade.

Several reviewers, particularly those who work in a kitchen, praise how sharp this Santoku is right out of the box. They also like its ergonomic grip and how well balanced it is, with more than a few customers saying it slices through meat "like butter."

Best Ceramic: Vos Ceramic Knife Set

What We Like
  • Very sharp

  • Lightweight and easy to hold

  • Cuts through hard foods easily

What We Don't Like
  • Some say ceramic blades are brittle

Ceramic knives are super-sharp, and they can hold that edge for a long time before they need sharpening, so they’re great for making thin, precise slices. Many reviewers rave about what a bargain this set of three knives plus vegetable peeler is, particularly those who like the idea of ceramic knives but don't want to make a major investment.

The set also includes sheaths for the three knives, so they can be stored safely in a drawer without worrying about breakage or accidental cuts when retrieving a knife. The knives come in three sizes with 3-inch, 4-inch, and 6-inch blades for paring and utility use. These are rust-proof and stain-proof, so cleaning is easy with little more needed than a rinse in water. Customers also say the knives are very sharp and can cut through hard foods with relative ease, though a few of them also warn that the blades are prone to breaking if accidentally dropped.

Best Set: Shun Classic 6-Piece Slim Knife Block Set

What We Like
  • Very sharp, durable blades

  • Knives are easy to hold

  • Both block and knives are beautifully designed

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

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, a pair of kitchen shears, and a 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

What We Like
  • Well-balanced and comfortable to hold

  • Very little pressure needed to use

  • Lifetime guarantee

What We Don't Like
  • 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. 

Reviewer 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

What We Like
  • Beautiful and well-made

  • Razor-sharp blade

  • Comfortable handle

  • Real Damascus steel

What We Don't Like
  • 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 hand made 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

What We Like
  • Very sharp

  • Well-balanced

  • Feels sturdy and comfortable to hold

What We Don't Like
  • 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.

Final Verdict

The Shun Cutlery Premier 8” 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” Santoku Knife. It features an attractive 66-layer blade and is excellent at general kitchen tasks.

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Donna Currie writes roundups and reviews kitchen products for The Spruce Eats. She's also is 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.

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