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Buying a Japanese knife for yourself or for friends can be a daunting task. Choosing the right type of metal, single or double-edged blade, and among the dozen types of knives may seem overwhelming at first glance. However, putting in the time to pick the right one is worth the effort. With proper knowledge and care, you will be able to choose the right tool that fits your needs and hopefully keep it in your kitchen for decades to come.

Let’s dive in and help you select the right tool that suits you best.

Knives layout at Food implements Takegami
Knives at Food Implemens Takegami

Single edged or double edged?

One may argue that what makes Japanese knives so special is their single edge. From the yanagi to the deba, most traditional blades used by Japanese chefs possess this characteristic for a good reason. It limits friction when cutting, as the motion of the blade is naturally pushed towards one side of the knife. In contrast, double-edged knives do not have a « spontaneous » slicing motion, as the cut could be pushed either way. This unique property has pros and cons but is highly adapted to Japanese cooking, especially for raw fish preparations.

A western chef or amateur using a single-edged knife for the first time will likely find it very awkward initially, as it requires the user to readjust the cutting angle to cut « straight. » Single-edged knives are not suitable for high-speed, high-volume cutting preparations or larger size products. You can forget about slicing your Sunday roast with a Japanese knife, as the tool itself will work against you, resulting in a slice that is the proper thickness at the top and three times the thickness at the bottom.

However, Japanese knives shine when it comes to fish preparation. One must understand that eating meat is a relatively new phenomenon in the country, as the Japanese avoided eating meat for more than 12 centuries. The cooking tools were made to suit the cooking culture, which mainly revolved around fish and vegetables. A yanagi knife will excel at sashimi preparation once you get the hang of it, and a deba knife will make filleting effortless if you put in the work.

In conclusion, if you are serious about Japanese cooking, I suggest trying your hand at a single-edged knife. Whether you are a professional or an amateur, it is a useful cooking skill to have, and the effort you put in will definitely be worth it.

Stainless-steel vs Carbon-steel

Now, let’s discuss the never-ending debate of stainless steel versus carbon steel. Once again, this comes down to personal preferences and usage. Personally, I have always used carbon steel knives wherever I worked, but on countless occasions (you should never borrow another chef’s knife), I have borrowed my colleagues’ stainless steel knives for specific tasks, which I will detail further down.

I have found that stainless steel knives are widely used among Western chefs, whereas traditional Japanese cuisine cooks often go for the carbon steel option. Let me explain why.

Carbon steel

Carbon steel is harder than its stainless steel counterpart, which means it retains its edge longer. You will find yourself needing to sharpen a carbon steel knife less frequently than a stainless steel blade. A sharp knife is essential for Japanese cooking, as it heavily revolves around raw fish. Cutting sashimi with a dull knife is a nightmare and an insult to the product.

That is why carbon steel is renowned in Japanese restaurants, as it saves chefs considerable sharpening time and has been the traditional steel used since the time when forgers crafted katanas.
The hardness of the steel makes carbon steel knives prone to chipping, which is why cutting frozen foods or engaging in butchering tasks is not recommended. A general rule of thumb is to avoid cutting anything hard with carbon steel knives.

Another characteristic of carbon steel is its susceptibility to oxidation. If left wet for an extended period, a carbon steel knife will stain and rust. That’s why you will often see Japanese chefs working with a towel on their cutting board and wiping off any remaining moisture and food residues from the blade after each preparation and especially after cleaning.

While carbon steel knives require higher maintenance, I believe the effort is worth it. It’s also important to avoid cutting citruses with carbon steel knives as they can stain the blade and the product. In such cases, I would recommend using a stainless steel knife like the ones used by my colleagues.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel knives, on the other hand, require less maintenance and are more suitable for Western cuisine due to their resistance to oxidation and softer metal, which makes them less prone to chipping.
The blade itself tends to be slightly thicker than its carbon steel counterpart, but the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference.

I find stainless steel knives more suited for cutting meat and in high-paced, high-volume kitchens where there may not be enough time to wipe the knife after each preparation (although it is still important for sanitary reasons). Additionally, stainless steel knives can be easily sharpened with a sharpening steel right before cooking, saving you a lot of time in the short term. However, sharpening steels can be detrimental to carbon steel knives as they may chip the blade. It’s worth noting that stainless steel knives are generally more expensive, but purchasing a knife should be considered a long-term investment.

In conclusion, there are no wrong choices, but it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each metal to ensure that you get the right tool for the right job.

Master Hirose sharpening a yanagi

Japanese handle vs Western handle

Another important choice to make is the type of handle. Both wa (Japanese) and yo (Western) handles have their unique aesthetic and practical characteristics, and it ultimately comes down to personal preference. As a general suggestion, I recommend a wa handle if you are more inclined towards Japanese food, and a yo handle if you prefer Western cuisine.

Japanese knife handles are traditionally made out of magnolia wood for its durability and textured grip. In addition to providing a pleasing aesthetic, magnolia wood handles are lighter than their Western counterparts, which tilts the balance of the knife towards the tip of the blade. I have found that this weight distribution helps with slicing soft products such as fish or vegetables, making it more suitable for Japanese cuisine.
Another unique attribute of wooden handles is that over time, with regular use, the wood subtly molds itself to fit your hand, creating a custom and comfortable feel. Knife craftsmen often say that « the work and care you put into your knife will be given back tenfold, » which reflects the Japanese philosophy. Japanese handles come in many different shapes, each with its unique characteristics, allowing for further customization.

Yo handles, on the other hand, are heavier and have a centered balance, making them ideal for chopping or heavy meat preparation, such as cutting large pieces of meat. One potential drawback of lighter knives is that they require the user to exert extra strength to compensate for the lack of natural weight.
As your knife skills improve, you will learn to utilize the natural weight of the blade. That’s where a heavier knife becomes useful for prolonged periods of heavy work. Unless you spend significant time in your kitchen engaged in such tasks, the choice of handle may not make a noticeable difference.

As a general recommendation, I suggest opting for a Japanese handle for its appealing appearance and comfortable feel, unless you are a professional chef working in a Western restaurant. In such cases, the weight and balance of a yo knife will prove to be advantageous.

Petty knife, bamboo wood chopstick and the Food implements Takegami shop card on a magnolia wood cutting board
Petty knife and bamboo chopstick from Food implements Takegami.

Question is, which knife?

All-purpose, western style knives.

The hardest question of all. Most knife shops will guide you straight to the santoku section, explaining that this type of knife was specifically designed to cater to Western use. Santoku means « three virtues, » referring to its versatility in handling fish, vegetables, and meats compared to traditional knives.

While santoku knives are very user-friendly due to their relatively light weight, I find them ill-adapted for long cuts because their blades are larger and shorter compared to gyuto knives, for instance. The larger the blade, the more friction it creates on the product.

For example, if you try to cut a thin slice of tuna, it could stick to the width of the blade and be pulled downwards while cutting, potentially breaking the slice before you finish. On the other hand, the mostly straight blade with a slight curvature towards the tip makes it an ideal tool for « tap-chopping. »

If you opt for a santoku, I suggest a 200mm blade. It may seem a little long at first, but trust me, it will come in handy if you work with larger-sized products.

My go-to knife and a favorite among professionals. You will find the blade of a gyuto to be more curved than that of a santoku and also heavier. It is the ideal tool for « rock-chopping, » filleting, and preparations that require precise cuts. The thinner tip of the knife makes « tip-slicing » easier.

I also find it easier to cut raw fish with a gyuto due to its smaller blade width, making it a truly versatile tool. Carving a chicken, for instance, is a breeze with a gyuto. The added weight and curvature make slicing through cartilage relatively easy with the base of the blade, while the tip can be used for more precise work, such as cutting out tendons and veins.

If you choose to buy a gyuto, I suggest opting for a blade length of at least 240 mm, though many chefs prefer to use 270 mm or longer knives.

Single purpose, Japanese style knives.

The tool of choice for filleting. This single-edged knife may be tricky to master, but it delivers incomparable results once you get used to it. The blade is very thick, and you will find it surprisingly heavy compared to Western knives. What makes this knife truly unique is its single-edged property, which helps preserve the quality of your fillets and ensures you get as much meat as possible out of your fish. It is one of the first knives a Japanese chef learns to use.

During the filleting process, the curved part of the blade is « stuck » against the fish’s central bone, and while cutting the fillets, the knife’s shape « pushes » the meat upwards, separating it from the bone. This decreases friction on the meat, ensures the blade stays in place, and prevents it from cutting through your beautiful fillets. Once mastered, a deba will deliver amazing results, and your fillets will always look clean and plump.

Deba by Food Implement Takegami


The yanagi is the iconic sushi chef’s instrument, perfect for cutting raw fish. It allows the user to effortlessly slice through a piece of fish in one motion, resulting in beautiful and undamaged slices.

Due to its single-edged nature, this knife requires some practice, but if you are serious about your sashimi, it is a valuable addition to your arsenal. The secret is to learn the « pulling and slicing » technique, which minimizes friction on your products.

Thanks to the thinness of the blade, the cuts will slide right off the top, reducing manipulation time. This feature is particularly handy when cutting fattier products such as toro. The low melting point of the fish’s fat poses a challenge, as you want to avoid excessive handling. In this case, a yanagi is the most effective tool for the job, saving you time and preserving quality.

The thinness of the blade also helps when preparing delicate fish that are prone to breaking, like sardine, mackerel, or seabream fillets. A properly sharpened yanagi ensures a clean cut without exerting too much pressure on the flesh.

Apart from its practical use, I find the yanagi to be the most enjoyable knife to use, and I have always had a soft spot for its aesthetic appeal.

Food Implement Takegami, workshop space.


As many chefs and craftsmen will attest, a beautiful product will reward you as much as you invest in it. I consider it essential to learn the proper wet-stone sharpening technique if you are investing in a Japanese blade. With adequate care, a well-made knife can last for decades and truly become an integral part of your cooking.

It is crucial not to use western-style sharpeners for your Japanese knives, as they can chip the blade and over-sharpen the metal, resulting in excessive thinning. While Japanese knives are practical tools, they require careful handling and respect. Consider your investment in time and capital as you care for your knife, but I assure you that the effort will be well-rewarded.

In need of a sharpening class or a knife store?

MAKASETE offers sharpening classes for both professionals and amateurs, providing an opportunity to enhance your sharpening skills. This workshop is a collaboration with master Hirose, the owner of Food Implement Takegami, known for their expertise in this craft.

If you’re interested in purchasing a knife online, I recommend visiting their website. They likely offer a range of high-quality Japanese knives that will meet your needs.

Photography by Sagar Patel

Julien Doukhan

Founder of Makasete

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