A Guide to Japanese Knives

by Emi Noguchi

Japanese knives are renowned for how sharp they are, and though “sharpness” may seem like an all-too-obvious measure of a knife’s worth, it’s for good reason! Traditional Japanese knives allow their weilders impressive control. When a knife is sharp, it can cut quickly, cleanly, and precisely, whether it’s through daikon (giant white Japanese radish) or sashimi-grade tuna. But the sharpness of Japanese knives is not just about easy food prep or for cleaner presentation! Precision cuts mean less tugging and ripping, and that means less breakage of the cellular structure of a food. Using sharp Japanese knives actually changes the taste of your ingredients!

Japanese Knives

Bokksu has added some beautiful Japanese knives to our Boutique. All of them benefit from a long, long history of Japanese blacksmithing and swordsmanship. When many traditional Japanese practices (such as carrying swords) were outlawed, tradespeople applied their knowledge to other endeavors. Once upon a time, samurai wielded blades made by centuries-old sword-making technology. Today, you can literally purchase knives made by the very same swordsmiths.


Japanese Steel Knives

Japanese Knives and Their Edges

Unlike Western European knives, Japanese knives are “single-beveled,” sharpened on only one side. The double bevel edges of Western knives may make for easier sharpening, but they also create duller blades. This one detail—the single bevel (or angle)—is what allows for the microthin edges of Japanese knives.

Kanetsugu is the nearly 200-year-old renowned maker of Samurai swords and blades. Bokksu now stocks several of their ZUIUN knives, a 100-year anniversary collection of Japanese knives celebrating the marriage of traditional sword-making techniques and new technology. You can now experience the quality and beauty of these remarkable Japanese knives by shopping in Bokksu Boutique. There, you’ll find the Sujihiki Slicing and Carving Knife (240mm),Sujihiki Slicing and Carving Knife (240mm)

Utility Knife (150mm),

Utility Knife (150mm)

and two multipurpose knives: the Santoku Knife (180mm)

Santoku Knife (180mm)

and the Multipurpose Chef's Knife (210mm).

Multipurpose Chef's Knife (210mm)

With the exception of the carving knife, this collection highlights a unique blade: the hamaguri, or clam-shaped, blade. Originally used in the company’s production of swords, the hamaguri boasts a sharp cutting blade that slopes subtly towards the back of the knife, thus increasing durability and toughness.

Steel in the Production of Japanese Knives

For centuries, tamahagane (which takes up to three days to produce) was the bladesmith’s steel of choice. Today, Japanese knives are made of a range of steels and other metals, just one development in the craft’s long history of continually advancing technology. In the 1200s swordsmiths were already layering hard and soft types of steel to create sharp blades both tough and flexible, resistant to breakage. Damascus steel is used in all of the ZUIUN knives mentioned above. In fact, each knife contains 64 layers of it.

Some claim that the name “Damascus” comes from its city of origin in present-day Syria; it is, after all, produced in the Middle East and South Asia. Others believe it is derived from its distinctive, tide-like pattern: in Arabic, damas means water. Today “Damascus” is often used as an adjective to describe the beauty of a knife’s pattern, as opposed to its contents.

Because Japanese knives are made of many kinds of steel, they also benefit from the virtues of all their metals. Beneath 64 layers of Damascus steel, the knives in the ZUIUN collection each contain a carbon-heavy stainless-steel core. The Damascus Steel Santoku Kitchen Knife, on the otherhand, is actually made of 33 layers of rust-resistant VG-10 steel, a favorite in today’s super-sharp Japanese knives. VG-10, like the core of the ZUIUN knives, is stainless steel. In addition to being sharp, tough, and hard, any knife containing stainless steel is rust resistant and thus, long-lived.

Santoku and Other Virtuous Japanese Knives

You may have noticed that Bokksu sells several multi-use knives. Japanese knives have been adapted for chefs of all cuisines, but traditionally, they come in many shapes and materials, intended for very specific uses. We have two knives with specific special powers: the Sujihiki Slicing and Carving Knife and the ZUIUN Utility Knife. Sujihiki, or “slicer,” are long and narrow, designed to separate meat from bone, then slice it to your taste. Though it can be used in many applications, the ZUIUN Utility Knife is actually double-edged. Its ultra-precise cut is particularly well suiited for smaller tasks, slicing and dicing shallots, carrots, etc.

  Because of how expensive and coveted Japanese knives are, a large collection is impractical for the amateur cook. Enter, once more, the santoku bocho, or “three uses” knife, the perfect example of global cutlery. Santoku bocho can chop, dice, and slice 1.) meat, 2.) fish, and 3.) vegetables (among other unforeseen categories)! To cooks accustomed to making European-based cuisines, this versatility might seem a given. The Damascus Steel Santoku Kitchen Knife and ZUIUN Santoku Knife (180mm), however, are descended from generations of a “tool box” approach to Japanese knives. A chef born in Japan 200 years ago might have been familiar with a knife made to cut boned fish, for example, or with knives dedicated to vegetables and noodles. To this chef, well-versed in the world of many Japanese knives, these “multi-use” blades would likely be nothing short of a revelation.

By Emi Noguchi

Author Bio

Emi Noguchi is a fiction writer, blogger, and freelance writing instructor, and co-founder of MFA App Review. After studying standard Japanese at Columbia University, she picked up Kansai-ben while living in Osaka and some Awa-ben in her paternal hometown in Tokushima. Emi is a 2020 recipient of the John Weston Award and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. You can read her work in Essay Daily, The Spectacle, and Fairy Tale Review. Emi is currently writing a novel about diasporic illnesses, art-making, and traditional Japanese puppetry.