Finding the Best Japanese Knife Set

Chef putting slices of fish in a bowl with his knife

Japanese knives are known for their excellent build, durability and sharpness. This isn’t surprising since the Japanese have long been perfecting the art of creating a great knife set. Hence it’s also no surprise that more and more chefs prefer to have high quality Japanese knives in their professional kitchens. 

Of course, not all knives are created equal. When trying to find the best Japanese knife set, you’ll have to take several factors into consideration.

What Makes a Good Japanese Knife?

  1. Weight

Traditional Japanese knives are beautifully light. For chefs who regard knives as an extension of their body, the light blade helps keep their hands relaxed. Since very little force is needed to use the blade, you won’t quickly tire out after a day of cutting and dicing food. A well-made knife can weigh as little as 5.5 ounces.

  1. Balance

Weight is not as important as the balance of the knife. Ideally, the length of the blade and the handle should have a balanced weight which makes for easy up and down motions while cutting. Note, though, that this “balance” is achieved only if you hold the knife correctly. Improper use will make the balanced build of the tool ineffective.

  1. Steel

A distinction between Japanese knives and Western knives would be the steel used to create the tool. Japanese knives are typically harder and would therefore give you a longer life span. The process to forge the steel blades allows Japanese knives to be far more durable than all other knives on the market. Japanese knives are typically handmade and go through rigorous quality checks before being made available on the market.

  1. Handle Shape

Japanese knives have a “wa” handle, which basically means that the blade doesn’t go all the way through. This should be compared with Western knives where the blade is embedded deep into the handle. Aesthetically, there might not be much of a difference. Once you hold the knife, however, you’ll instantly notice how the “wa” design is lighter because there’s very little steel combined with the wood.

  1. Length

The length of a good Japanese knife really comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer a medium-range knife with a length of 210 to 240 millimeters. However, there are those who swear by shorter knives like the Santoku Knife Series by Tojiro which measures just 170 mm. It’s really a matter of preference and what you prepare on a routine basis.

  1. Sharpening

The beauty of Japanese knives is that they come to you beautifully sharpened. What really separates these Japanese knives from Western knives is the fact that most of them are single-bevel. This means that only one side with the cutting edge is sharpened while the other remains dull. 

This requires additional expertise to use but also means you’ll be getting a sharper and finer cut. Some are already made with double-sided blades to match common Western blades. A good example of a single-bevel Japanese knife would be the Tojiro Traditional Narihira Sashimi knife

Are Japanese Knives Better Than Western Knives?

At the end of the day, it really comes down to preference. The best Japanese knife sets are preferred by professionals because of the incredible sharpness they get with a single-bevel steel blade. Combined with proper technique, you’ll find that Japanese knives can create fast and complicated cuts with very little effort on your part. 

Should You Get a Japanese Knife Set?

You can choose to buy a full set or just get one or two general-purpose knives, depending on how you would be using them in the kitchen. If you cook for pleasure instead of professionally, an 18-cm Nakiri Knife should take care of most of your kitchen needs. However, if you prefer to have all the necessary tools in close proximity, consider buying a full set. 

The Shun Executive Knife Kit is a popular choice because it has a Cook’s Knife, a Boning Knife, a Bread Knife, and a Paring Knife. You also get a sharpening whetstone with the set and a digital thermometer. Buy knives with special functions only if you see yourself performing these tasks often. Otherwise, a set will provide everything you’ll need! 

Final Thoughts

The best Japanese knife set is one that meets all of the requirements mentioned above plus your desired budget. Ready to buy your own?

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