When cooking is your hobby or profession, it’s natural to keep an eye on the best tools for the job—after all, our tools determine our limits. Japanese chef knives are one example of tools lauded for their craftsmanship and utility, but what is it exactly that makes them so expensive?
Authentic Japanese knives are so expensive because they are handmade and the artisans train for at least ten years before making one. In addition, each knife undergoes one hundred stages of production using traditional Japanese metalworking techniques.
In this article, I will explain why some chefs prefer Japanese knives, and why they’re worth their price. I’ll also list the top Japanese knife brands and where to buy them so you can try them out for yourself.
Do Chefs Prefer Japanese Knives?
With Japanese knives being so highly praised—especially on the internet—one would think they’re vastly popular with everyone who knows of them. However, this is not entirely true.
Most chefs don’t prefer Japanese knives, especially if they’re amateur chefs or if the knives are custom-made. Authentic, hand-made Japanese knives made by an artisan can cost upwards of $6,500 and take up to two and a half years to make.
Even cheap Japanese knives can come with several hundred dollar price tags. For this reason, they’re not practical for the average chef, or even for moderately successful ones.
However, like any expensive tool, the popularity of Japanese knives does rise with the success of their potential owners. Many world-renowned professional chefs own at least one set, whether they prefer them or not.
Some chefs like their Japanese knives more than their durable German counterparts. In this way, there is still a demand—just not from the average person who cooks in their kitchen at home.
But if you’re not a professional chef, don’t worry—nothing is stopping you from buying one if you have the money. You’ll still get just as much mileage out of them as a professional chef, so long as you don’t hammer them through a frozen chicken or leave them in dirty dishwater overnight.
Are Japanese Knives Worth It?
Japanese chef knives are worth the price, even though it makes them inaccessible to most people. Their rough surface means vegetables don’t stick to them, and their edges have a steep angle, making cutting food easier and quicker.
Their eye-popping fine cuts are great entertainment and are useful for plating. Lastly, they’re often a trophy or symbol of prestige and success as a professional chef.
Japanese metalworking dates back to the swords of Seki, Japan, during the samurai eras. It often involves folding steel over a softer iron core.
In knives, this order is reversed—iron over hard steel—to make their thin blades not only sharp, light, and accurate but also easy to cut with. This makes them useful for all kinds of tasks and more precise than other blades. While their durability is lower than that of German knives, the pros of a Japanese knife far outweigh the cons.
In addition, Japanese knives can have many types of useful and aesthetically-pleasing finishes.
- Some are called “kasumi,” or mist, for the acid etching on their blades.
- Others have damascus cladding—or folded metal alloy that looks like waves.
- Yet more have a “tsuchime”—or hammered—finish.
These flourishes make them an appealing addition to any well-kept kitchen.
Top Japanese Knife Brands
So, you want a Japanese knife to call your own. But which brands are the best? And which of their knives should you consider buying?
Well, several brands make Japanese knives—many of them operating out of Seki, the sword-making capital of Japan. The most notable are Miyabi, Yoshihiro, and Shun. Not only have they been crafting knives for decades, but all have a reputation for great craftsmanship and design.
The first highly-recommended Japanese knife brand on this list is Miyabi. Like other Japanese knife giants, their knives are made in Seki. However, they use a blend of Japanese and German techniques and are made from high-quality German metal.
While this means they aren’t strictly “traditional,” it also means they have the durability of German knives while retaining the razor-sharpness of Japanese ones. They’re known for their modern knives with beautiful wooden handles, although they also make ones with polymer handles.
- If you’re looking for an expensive set that can serve as a decorative piece as well as a tool, this Miyabi 7 Piece Knife Set will make a beautiful addition to your kitchen. Its blades are beautiful damascus steel and have metal-tipped wood handles.
- If you’re looking for a functional, mid-priced set in a modern style, this Miyabi Red Morimoto Edition is more affordable than other sets and, despite being slightly less hard than other knives, still has thin, hand-honed blades. In addition, their handles are polymer, making them easier to maintain.
Another highly-recommended brand is Yoshihiro. Their knives are truly hand-crafted, and if you’ve ever seen the handle of one, you’ll know they look the part.
Yoshihiro has been making knives for 100 years and endeavors to follow the Japanese culture of blended innovation and tradition to the letter. Not only are their knives as sharp and well-made as other brands, but they’re also affordable and come in modern styles.
- Commonly recommended for professionals and middle-line chefs alike, this Yoshihiro VG-10 Gyuto Knife is both modern-looking and blends eastern and western styles. It’s also affordable, especially compared to other knives, and is made to rock back and forth while cutting.
- This Yoshihiro Kasumi Sushi Knife Set contains some of the best knives for preparing fish and sushi. They have traditional, round wooden handles and can make the long, smooth strokes needed for cutting raw fish. In addition, they come with wooden sheathes, or “saya.”
Last on my list is the brand Shun, also out of Seki. Shun is an expensive brand due to its marketing outside of Japan, but its knives are hand-crafted and impressively designed with functionality in mind.
Their knives come in all the finishes I’ve mentioned in this article—damascus cladding, acid-etched, hammered, and shock-absorbing. They’re popular among foreigners and likely to turn heads when entertaining guests.
- This Shun Premier Knife Set has a shiny, hammered finish and polished Pakkawood handles. An expensive but stylish set, their blades are made of damascus steel. Their handles are contoured for control and to resist moisture. The set comes with a chef’s knife, a cutting knife, and a utility knife.
- This mid-priced Shun Sora Knife Set features sharply-cut polymer blend handles and an acid-etched stainless-steel blade. They are modern-looking, corrosion-resistant blades and are easy to maintain. The set comes with a chef’s knife, a cutting knife, and a utility knife.
- This Shun Seki Magoroku Chef’s Knife is inexpensive and has a traditional-style blonde Pakkawood Handle, as well as a keenly-honed, simple blade. In addition, this knife is moisture-resistant and durable, and its long blade has plenty of length for cutting.