Japanese knives are coveted for their beautiful and detailed design, as well as the cuts they produce. Their blades are typically thin and delicate, and prone to breaking if you don't take care of them properly — not ideal for the clumsy chef. They allow for thin, precise cuts and beautiful presentation; the ones you’d find in a five-star sushi restaurant.
Vincent Lau, the sole knife sharpener at Korin,
a Japanese knife store in lower Manhattan, says the reason Japanese
knives have become so popular around the world is for the very reason
they're integral in Japanese cuisine: To enhance and preserve the
ingredients, and accentuate the flavor of the dish.
In the Just Cooking Institute Kitchen Appliances and Technologies Lab, we have a century-long history of testing kitchen essentials including bread knives, chef's knives, electric knives, butcher knives, and more. We test how well each knife cuts and retains an edge after chopping through a variety of foods, from hard carrots to medium firm cheeses that are known to stick, and delicate herbs that bruise easy like parsley. We test soft foods that are easy to squish like ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and, onions that are hard to cut into even pieces with a dull knife. We also test on raw chicken and cooked meat because your knife should be able to do it all. In addition to performance, we also consider the comfort of the handle and grip. Below, chosen from a combination of testing and pro picks, our favorite Japanese knives:
- Best Overall Japanese Knife: Shun Classic 8
- Best Value Japanese Knife: Global 8 inch, 20 cm Chef’s Knife
- Longest-Lasting Japanese Knife: Miyabi 34373-203 Chef’s Knife
- Sturdiest Japanese Knife: KUMA 8-inch Chef Knife
- Most Ergonomic Japanese Knife: Shun Premier 8
- Best Japanese Knife for Cutting Vegetables: Mac MTH-80 Professional Hollow Edge Chef's Knife
- Easiest Japanese Knife to Sharpen: Misono Molybdenum Gyutou 8.2
Are Japanese knives better than German knives?
Japanese knives are generally lighter and sharper than their German counterparts. Since they're thinner, they're a little more prone to the tip breaking or the blade chipping, so Japanese knives tend to need more maintenance. Their thin, light construction makes Japanese knives great for fine, delicate tasks, like cutting vegetables or slicing fish. “Sushi is a prime example,” says Lau. “You don’t cook it, so the freshness of the ingredients and how you prep it, is how you distinguish a great sushi chef and a mediocre one.”
German knives, meanwhile, are often heavy and bulky, but also more sturdy with thicker blades that require sharpening more for good edge retention.. German knives are good for more heavy duty tasks, like breaking down chicken. Ultimately, which knife is better is based on need and preference.
What is the best Japanese knife?
The best Japanese knife is the knife that works best for you. When shopping for knives, Lau first asks his customers what they’ll be using their knives for. Professional chefs and home cooks typically have different needs: Professional chefs tend to use their knives upwards of 40 hours of week, while home chefs typically use them for about twenty minutes a day to prep dinner.
With that in mind, he recommends heavy-duty blades that have better edge retention to professional chefs, like the Korin Special Orange Handle knives. Lau adds that “yanagis” are popular amongst Japanese sushi chefs. They’re traditional Japanese slicers that feature a single edge blade. Unlike Western style Japanese knives that have a double edge, single edge knives can achieve a super sharp cutting edge, perfect for the most clean cuts.
For home chefs, Lau recommends a kitchen knife that’s easy to sharpen because “a knife you can’t sharpen is just a useless piece of metal,” he says. Inox Honyaki knives from the Suisin brand are a great pick. Aside from ease of sharpening, Lau recommends holding the knife to see what feels right for you. The shape of the handle and heft of the knife are factors to consider.
A good knife feels solid and sturdy in your hand. It encourages a good grip and rests securely in your palm. It has a good weight that's light enough for slicing vegetables and heavy enough for meat. The Shun Classic 8-inch Chef Knife embodies all of these details. It has a PakkaWood handle and a very sharp edge. The blade is made out of Shun's proprietary VG-MAX steel and covered in Damascus steel. It's designed for precise cuts and the ultimate edge retention, which we can vouch for after using ours for years without sharpening.
You'll notice how Global knives differ from other brands the moment you pick one up: They're constructed from a single piece of stainless steel, which makes the blade noticeably thinner. The bottom of the 8-inch Chef's Knife's blade seems proportionally wider than other Japanese knives with a thinner bolster (the part of the knife where the blade meets the handle), and while the bottom of the blade almost seems unfinished with it's very sharp edge, it's good for hacking through meat. The dimpled handle offers slip-proof control and, fun fact: It's filled with sand for added balanced weight. (No, you can't hear or feel the sand moving around when you cut.)
In a world filled with dark wood or stainless steel handles, Masur Birch handles stand out. Not only is this Miyabi knife gorgeous, but it feels great in the hand — the wood handle is soft and smooth. The light, marbled color complements the steel blade that features a stunning floral damask pattern. The high quality blade features a powder steel core surrounded by 100 layers of two different steels, which ultimately preserves edge retention.
The KUMA 8-inch Chef's Knife's thin blade makes it great for cutting vegetables or slicing through delicate cuts of meat. It's made of 67 layers of high carbon steel, which makes it strong and chip-resistant. The handle is slightly beveled and feels very strong and sturdy in the hand. It also features a full tang (the blade runs through the handle) and good balance. KUMA knives are hand-finished to ensure sharp edges right out of the box.
For a more controlled grip, try Shun's Premier 8-inch Chef's Knife. It features a contoured, PakkaWood handle that's a bit thicker than the classic and rests easy in your palm. It also has a thinner blade that makes it lighter to use and handle. The hammered finish is hard to stop admiring and helps food release easily when cutting. This is the knife to reach for when you're ready for an upgrade that you plan on having forever, and it makes a beautiful gift.
Online reviewers rave about how lightweight and sharp this knife is. It has a thin blade and dimples toward the edge to help glide through sticky foods, like potatoes. The Mac MTH-80 makes cutting vegetables easy and enjoyable. Hand washing and drying immediately is recommended, as it is for almost all knives, to help prevent rusting of the high-carbon, aluminum alloy blade.
Korin's best-selling knife is great for beginners. It's lightweight, with a composite wood handle and thin blade, perfect for precise cuts. While the Inox Steel Gyotou is easy to sharpen, its blend of chromium and molybdenum provide long-lasting edge retention.