Japanese kitchen knives have developed from simple, heavy blades (similar to Deba), which come in many well-thought-out forms used for precisely determined tasks. The great classic trio are Deba, Usuba and Yanagiba, which are especially useful for traditional Japanese cuisine.
We start our list with knives that are mainly used for Western-type cuisine, and continue with more task-specific knives. Different types of knives are displayed in the below photo.
Japanese version of a Western-style main kitchen knife (chef's knife). The major difference between a Japanese multi-purpose knife and its European version, a French or a German knife, is in a thinner blade. Japanese version is usually made of harder steel and is double-bevel. There are Gyuto knives with European and with Japanese handle, the latter are known as wa-gyuto. Gyuto knives were originally designed for cutting larger pieces of beef, which is where their name came from – it literally means “a cow sword”. The dimensions of Gyuto knives range between 150-390mm, but the most frequent ones are between 210-270mm long. The thickness of the blade is usually between 1.5-5mm.
Multi-purpose Japanese knife, it literally means a 'knife of three virtues' – it is used for vegetables, fish and meat. Santoku is also known as santuko in some parts of Europe. Its full name is santoku-bocho or bukabocho. The knife can have a Japanese or a European handle. The usual length ranges between 165-180mm, and it is almost always double-bevel.
With its typical functionality, the Bunka Bano-Bocho design is intended for versatile use in Western cuisine. It has a flexible profile that is wide enough at the handle, a gently designed belly of the blade suitable for making either long or short cuts, a flat back side of the blade, and a thin tip for precise work with food.
Due to its multi-purpose functionalities, especially in our Western cuisine, Bunka blade type was selected when we were designing our very first Japanese knife. We named the knife ZDP-189 Bunka and we're proud to say it is our bestselling knife, receiving great feedback from both professional chefs and home cooks.
NAKIRI: A rectangular thin blade designed for cutting vegetables, similar to Usuba, only much thinner and mostly intended for home use. Nakiri translates as knife for cutting greens. The knife can have a Japanese or a European handle. The usual length ranges between 165-180mm and it is almost always double-bevel.
USUBA: A rectangular thin blade designed for cutting vegetables. Compared to Nakiri, Usuba is chisel ground and has a classic Japanese handle. Azumagata usuba or Kakugata usuba (“kaku” means “square”) are longer Japanese names for a classic Japanese knife for cutting vegetables. Usuba knives are different in the form of the tip of the blade, which can be rectangular or semicircular. Kamagata usuba has a semicircular tip of the blade and it originates in the Kansai region. To sum up, Usuba knives vary according to their tips, which are useful for cutting different kinds of vegetables.
Petty knife, sometimes also referred as paring or utility, is a smaller version of the Gyuto (Chef's knife), and is used for all sorts of delicate tasks where a larger knife would be unwieldy. Petty knives are used for peeling, paring, decorating, cutting out cores of apple quarters, removing eyes from potatoes, etc. It is a knife that should be in everyone's kitchen. Its usual length is between 120-150mm.
Traditional Japanese knife with a long and thin blade, which was originally used for cutting thin slices of raw fish - yes, sushi! 😃 Nowadays it can also be used for cutting large pieces of meat (especially for steaks) due to its long, thin blade. Typical Yanagiba knives are between 240-360mm long and, according to some chefs, can be used for different kitchen tasks which require precision. Some of the distinguishing features of Yanagiba knives are a Japanese handle and a chisel ground blade with an extremely small angle. The expression “yanagiba” in Japan means “a willow”, as the blade of the knife resembles a willow leaf.
Some similar blades include:
- Takobiki, which is used to prepare sashimi in areas surrounding Tokyo,
- Fugubiki is a thinner, flatter version of Yanagiba used for preparing Fugu fish - the deadly blowfish, a specialty in Japan that can only be prepared in a certain way to be eatable.
A heavy, classic Japanese knife for rougher tasks. It was originally designed for cutting and filleting fish and chicken. Deba knives are usually 165-210mm long and up to 9mm thick. They are chisel ground and usually have a Japanese handle. Although Deba knives certainly look like they could cut through the fish/meat bones, we shouldn't use them for that as the blade is still sensitive for chipping. For cutting bones a Cleaver is your best tool.
There are several kinds of Deba knives:
- Hon-deba is the real deba, the thickest and the heaviest version of deba,
- Ko-deba is a smaller deba, suitable for small fish,
- Kanisaki-deba is a special deba, used for cutting crabs and in particular lobsters,
- Yo-deba is a deba with a European handle,
- Miroshi-deba is used for filleting fish (“miroshi” in Japanese means “filleting”, these kinds of deba knives are thinner and longer).
Cleaver represents a Chinese version of the main kitchen knife. Its thin, sharp blade was originally designed for cutting vegetables, but it can be used for any cooking tasks. Cleaver is called chukabocho in Japanese.
MEAT CLEAVERA meat cleaver is a large knife that varies in its shape but usually resembles a rectangular-bladed hatchet. It's not a common tool in a traditional Japanese kitchen, but in the Western world it is largely used as a kitchen or butcher knife and mostly intended for splitting up large pieces of soft bones and chopping through thick pieces of meat. The resilience of withstanding repeated blows directly into thick meat, dense cartilage, bone, and the cutting board below is accomplished by using a softer, tougher steel and a thicker blade because a harder steel or thinner blade might fracture or buckle under hard use.
Parts of Japanese kitchen knife
There are many parts of Japanese kitchen knife, and everyone has its own, guess what, Japanese name! Very useful for those Japanese trivia nights, or for serious chefs who don't mess around.
Still not sure what type of Japanese knife is for you? We prepared a quick, 5-steps quiz that will help you choose a perfect knife based on your cooking skills and type of food you prepare most often. Click here to take the quiz now.
Questions? Care to share your experience with Japanese knives with us? Chat with us (lower right corner) or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.