Discover the traditional Japanese nakiri vegetable knife and what makes it a must-have in the kitchen.

Nakiri is a Japanese knife designed specifically for cutting vegetables and greens. It is one of the oldest and most commonly used kitchen knives in Japan. The name Nakiri or Nakiri bōchō translates to “leaf cutter”.

one of the oldest

The history of the Nakiri knife

During the Edo period (1603—1868), the Sakai region—one of the three great knife manufacturing regions in Japan—produced two distinct knife shapes that established themselves as the main kitchen tools in Japanese kitchens nationwide.

These two knives were the deba and the nakiri, which together handled the main components of traditional Japanese cuisine—fish and vegetables—up until the 19th century.

At that time, influence from the West shifted the focus of the Japanese from task-specific knives towards all-purpose knives such as the santoku (note: the san in santoku means “three”, referring to meat, fish, and vegetables).

Up until that point, the idea of using the same knife to cut both vegetables and animal protein was not common in Japan. Blades were designed with a certain purpose in mind and crafted to excel at very specific tasks.

Although all-purpose knives quickly gained popularity, the use of knives specialized for a single task has remained popular and spread worldwide. The nakiri vegetable knife has therefore been a crucial tool in Japanese kitchens for centuries and continues to gain popularity all across the globe.

Why is a Nakiri knife better for vegetables?

As the name suggests, the nakiri knife is a Japanese knife optimized for vegetable preparation. 

Because its cutting edge is mostly straight with no curve in the belly (with some variation depending on length and blacksmith), this makes the nakiri vegetable knife ideal for performing a downward cutting motion on the cutting board.

Additionally, the entire length of the cutting edge is in use at once, ensuring an easy and clean cut. 

The nakiri blade is broad and squared-off at the spine, and does not have a pointed tip but rather a rounded one. 

Because the blade is quite wide, this offers the added advantage of knuckle clearance for the user—the blade slides nicely by the knuckles of the hand holding the ingredients, enabling one to stack the ingredients higher, as well as ensuring safety when cutting.

It is also very thin and flat, designed to prevent the cut ingredient from bruising or breaking. This results in a perfect, glass-like smooth surface every time—even when cutting harder ingredients such as carrots.

This quality of the blade is vital, because bruising affects the flavor of the ingredients; the more damage cells take, the more enzymes that oxidize are released, which can change the flavor.

When it comes to Japanese cuisine, the cutting is already a part of the cooking process and not just its preliminary step.


Japanese culinary tradition revolves around the use of fresh, seasonal produce, referred to as "shun".

Japanese knives are designed for maximum precision and sharpness in order to minimize the damage to the cell membranes of the ingredients. This prolongs the food's beauty and flavor because the ingredients retain their juices, color, and distinctive qualities. 

It is this focus on freshness that has shaped the approach to Japanese knife design; for the Japanese, a knife is truly sharp when it does the least damage to the cell membranes of the ingredients.

In stark contrast, the West sees knife sharpness as requiring minimum force to cut. When it comes to Western knives, gravity does most of the cutting, and precision and cell membrane preservation are diminished.

What else is a Nakiri knife used for?

Although it was designed with vegetables and herbs in mind, the nakiri can also be used on soft ingredients such as tofu, fruit, and even boneless meat (although it is too small for large cuts).

For meat, the use of a gyuto, slicer or another meat knife would be a better choice, though, as they were designed specifically for this purpose.

Choosing the right tool for the job minimizes the chances for blade damage and chipping, and creates a better cutting experience overall.

What is a Nakiri not used for and why

- Katsuramuki

Although the basic shape of a nakiri vegetable knife is the same as that of the usuba knife, the nakiri is not intended for rotary cutting of hard root vegetables (a cutting method known as katsuramuki) because the nakiri blade always has a double bevel grind.

- Very hard ingredients

Due to its thinness, the nakiri is not optimal for cutting very hard vegetables such as pumpkins, as it is more prone to breakage if handled roughly. Such use requires a lot of skill and care and is not for everyone. For this kind of work, which also includes cutting bones, frozen food, and other heavy-duty work, we recommend a cleaver or similar sturdy knife that was designed specifically for these types of tasks.

- In-hand work

The nakiri is also not suitable as a replacement for a paring knife. If you are looking for a small knife that is great for in-hand use, such as peeling potatoes and coring apples, then a petty knife is what you need.

- Bread

Another important thing to note is that Japanese knives should never be used to cut bread. The main reason is that the thin, sharp edges of Japanese knives are not suitable for slicing through crust, because this can put stress on the fine edge of the knife, causing it to chip or become damaged. The thin blades are also not suited for sawing through the softer inside of the bread without squashing it.

The only exception to this rule is the Japanese bread knife pankiri, designed specifically for cutting bread. These knives have a serrated edge, similar to Western-style bread knives, which makes them better suited for slicing through crusty bread without taking damage.


When assessing whether something can be cut with a Japanese knife, a good rule of thumb is to not cut anything that you wouldn’t choose to bite with your own teeth, such as the hard pits of fruit, frozen produce, and crustacean shells.

This will help you avoid most instances of chipping and blade damage.

optimized for cutting vegetables

The shape and size of the Nakiri knife

A nakiri vegetable knife typically measures between 165 and 180 mm (6.5 to 7 inches) in length, although other sizes can be found on the market.

There is some shape and size variation in nakiri knives, depending on the region:

- The Kanto style nakiri typically has a shorter handle than other types, and the heel of the blade is rounded.

- The Western Japan style nakiri typically has a pointy, squared heel.

- The Kyoto-style nakiri has a slightly curved blade tip.

The nakiri does not feature a sharp tip but instead has a square head that continues into a straight belly. Its straight cutting edge with no curve makes it ideal for push-chopping (vertical slicing of the ingredients) as opposed to using a rocking motion to slice.

This has two advantages:

- Firstly, the straight belly and the use of a push-chopping motion prevents the blade of the knife from twisting on the cutting board, which could lead to damage.

- Secondly, it ensures that the entire flat surface touches the cutting board at the same time, which makes use of the complete length in every stroke. This means that you get perfect slices that fully separate and avoid the “veggie harmonica” that we sometimes get when using a curved knife to cut veg.

The double-bevel Nakiri

The nakiri knife blade always has a double-bevel grind. This makes it easier to use than its single-bevel cousin usuba—during use, double-bevel knives slide downwards towards the cutting board without swerving to the side. This results in fluid, even cuts.

Double-bevel blades are also much easier to maintain, as they are much easier to sharpen than single-bevel blades. Some speculate that this characteristic is the main reason that nakiri knives have gained so much popularity among the Japanese, making them one of the most ubiquitous knives in Japanese home kitchens.

What is the difference between Nakiri and Usuba?

The nakiri and the usuba have the same basic shape and are both characterized by their flat edge which encourages a downward chopping motion. However, there are a few differences between the usuba and nakiri in terms of design, purpose, and functionality. 


The usuba was developed at a later time than nakiri. During the Edo period, rice fermentation became obsolete when a sudden abundance of rice vinegar made from sake lees replaced it. New dishes—such as vinegar-soaked rice with nigiri fish—became popular, and this shift was accompanied by new knives, including the sturdier but thin-edged usuba, the single-bevel of which allowed for more sophisticated cutting motions, such as slicing into sheets (katsuramuki) or intricate decorative cuts.

The tip

The nakiri has a squared tip that tends to be slightly rounded

The usuba has some variation in the tip shape, depending on the region it originates from: 

- The Kanto style usuba has a square tip.

- The kamagata usuba has a more rounded head that ends in a pointy tip, which makes it great for small, delicate cuts. 

- Another version of the usuba is the Mukimono which has a sharp tip that visually resembles a k-tip, also known as the kiritsuke tip.


One main difference between nakiri and usuba is that nakiri is always double-bevel, whereas the usuba typically has a single-bevel grind. As such, the blade of the usuba has a flat edge on one side and a concave shape on the other.

Unlike the usuba, the nakiri is not intended for the rotary cutting of tough and sturdy root vegetables, a method of cutting known as katsuramuki, which requires a single-bevel knife or turning slicer.

The nakiri has a double bevel, meaning it is sharpened on both sides of the blade. It has a straight, squared-off edge, making it more versatile for various cutting techniques, but not katsuramuki.


Both knives are meant for vegetable preparation, however, the usuba is often used for decorative cuts and garnishes, whereas the nakiri’s double bevel quality makes it more versatile and easy to use in domestic kitchens, whether it is for chopping, slicing, or dicing of vegetables.

Skill level

Due to its single-bevel quality, the usuba is considered a more advanced-level knife, as it requires more skill and experience to use as well as resharpen. Traditionally, the usuba is used by skilled chefs of Japanese cuisine.

Due to it being double-bevel, the nakiri is more user-friendly in terms of use as well as sharpening and is thus the best choice for the majority of users.

Which steel to choose when buying a nakiri knife

When it comes to steel, the available nakiri knives can match any taste.

There are three main categories of steel used in the manufacture of kitchen knives, namely carbon steel, stainless steel, and powder steel, and each of them has its unique advantages, so the choice of steel boils down to individual taste (and diligence in their maintenance).

As far as the manner in which softer steel (jigane) surrounds the harder core steel (hagane), also known as lamination, is concerned, nakiri knives are typically forged with a three-layer blade (san-mai) or single-steel blade (monosteel).


Nakiri knives made of carbon steel are very popular among Japanese chefs. Their high carbon content allows them to reach a high hardness level, yet makes them very easy to resharpen.

Nakiri vegetable knives made from this type of steel are not a good choice as a first Japanese knife, as they require diligent maintenance, otherwise they can rust easily.

If cared for properly, with use these knives develop a patina—a natural protective layer on carbon steel that protects the blade from further oxidation, which makes such knives easier to maintain long-term.

stainless steel

If you are buying your first nakiri, your best option is to choose either stainless steel or powder steel, as both steel types have great corrosion resistance.

When it comes to stainless steel, the most popular choice is VG-10 steel, which boasts great abrasion resistance and thus long-lasting, smooth sharpness.

The high chromium content of the steel gives the blade a protective film on the surface of the steel, which prevents contact between iron and water or oxygen.

This quality makes stainless steel knives especially popular in the high-paced environment of professional kitchens.

powder steel

If you’re not on a budget, a nakiri made of powder steel is your best choice.

Knives made from powder steel are rare, as they are difficult and expensive to produce, so only the best blacksmiths with the knowledge, experience, and eye for detail can make them.

If made correctly, these knives are the crème de la crème of what kitchen knives have to offer.

Knives made from this type of steel have good corrosion resistance and at the same time boast incredibly high hardness (up to 67 HRC!) and toughness, so their ability to stay sharp long-term is much better than in the case of other traditional steels.

Do keep in mind that even corrosion-resistant steel needs to be wiped and dried after use, which is especially crucial in the case of nakiri knives that are often used to cut vegetables and fruit which is highly acidic (for example tomatoes, onions, etc.).

For more information on different types of steel used to manufacture Japanese knives, see our article Steel: The Heart of Japanese Knives.


Depending on the manner in which the softer steel (jigane) surrounds the harder core (hagane), we get different lamination that has a striking, unique appearance.

San-mai damascus, a common lamination technique for double-bevel knives, is a popular choice when it comes to nakiri knives. 

It is a pinnacle of bladesmithing and involves cladding the harder steel core with five or more (always an odd number) layers of softer steel in a laminated san-mai style. Known as suminagashi, the end result resembles marbling on paper. 

While the distinctive damascus pattern does not play a functional role, the multiple layers enhance the aesthetic value of the knife and make it unique. Blacksmiths use this technique to showcase both their technical skill and artistic creativity.

How do you sharpen a Nakiri knife?

When it comes to Japanese knives, it is best to have them sharpened by a professional who specializes in Japanese knives specifically. If, however, you want to sharpen your nakiri at home, we recommend the following:

When sharpening a nakiri specifically, due to its straight cutting edge, you must be careful not to leave any low spots in the blade profile, otherwise the cutting edge will become uneven and lead to a worse cutting experience. In these low spots, the knife will not come into contact with the cutting board and as a result the cut will not be clean, making the blade less effective as a cutting tool.

Use quality whetstones with the correct grit. If you are just starting your sharpening journey, we strongly advise you to also use a sharpening angle guide clip, so that you get a more even result. 

For a basic sharpening, you will need at least two different grit sizes—a medium stone, which can remove enough material, and a fine stone used to polish the knife and create a smooth cutting surface. 

For vegetable knives, a slightly higher grit combination of 1000 and 3000 is recommended, since it smooths the edge nicely, yet still leaves a lot of bite for cutting vegetables. 

If you are repairing damaged and chipped blades and broken tips, you will also require a very coarse grit of 220-400. For more information on specific grits and sharpening, we recommend checking out our Sharpening stones and other accessories article.



- Never use a pull-through sharpener

Pull-through sharpeners are too aggressive and leave permanent damage on the cutting edge, and can potentially even distort the fine geometry of the blade.

- Never use electric sharpeners

They remove material too quickly and can leave permanent damage on the blade. The grinding wheels in these sharpeners can even give off enough heat to affect the temper of the blade.

- If using a honing rod, be very careful

Whereas you can use honing rods on Japanese knives that have harder steel, this can pose a risk. If you’re just starting out, ceramic honing rods are generally a better choice than diamond honing rods, mainly because diamond honing rods require a bit more skill and tenderness, as they are more abrasive. Incorrect application can lead to chipping or micro-fractures in the blade. So unless you consider yourself quite skilled, a ceramic honing rod is your best bet if you do not want to invest in quality whetstones. Regular steel honing rods are not recommended because they are ineffective and damage the cutting edge significantly.

Frequently Asked Questions

The short answer is yes, you can! However, it is only recommended for boneless meat, otherwise it is prone to damage. You will also find it too small for handling large cuts of meat, so using a gyuto (Japanese Chef’s knife), slicer (sujihiki), or other knife meant for meat is recommended. In the case of chopping bones, a sturdy cleaver is your best bet. To find the right knife for your intended use, see our article Types of Japanese Kitchen Knives.

Due to its thinness and hardness, it is not advisable to use a nakiri vegetable knife for any heavy-duty work, as it can quickly damage the blade. For such tasks, we recommend using a sturdy cleaver or similar specialized knife. Unless you’re a pro, then take your chances ;).

If you prepare greens often and would like to have a tool that was designed specifically for this, then the nakiri is a great choice for you. However, if you are looking for a knife that is more of an all-rounder, then a santoku or bunka are a better choice. Similarly, if you are looking for a paring knife for in-hand work such as peeling and coring, a petty knife is the best choice, because it was designed specifically for these types of cutting tasks. To find the right knife for your intended use, see article Types of Japanese Kitchen Knives.