The Japanese are very particular with their knives and the way each knife cuts certain foods. They pay great attention to building knives for specific purposes and or for use with specific foods. Here we have compiled a guide to each of the Japanese knives and the purpose of each. This list does not cover every Japanese knife that has ever been made in Japan but is a good starting point.
Below is a list of the most common Japanese cooking knives and a picture of each to help you identify them. Of course there can be some regional and variations in knife shape and the name used for some of the knives.
The Chinese cleaver. Used worldwide for many varied but mostly heavy duty tasks like chopping through bones.
Often called just a Deba knife in the West. The Deba knife is typically a shortish stubbie thick knife that is mostly used to cut fish. Due to its heft it is also used to cut smaller bones of chicken and fish.
KO DEBA / AJIKIRI
The Japanese work “Ko” translates to small or short in English. Typically these little knives are 100 to 120mm long and are used to fillet smaller fish such as trout.
The Japanese Gyuto knife is the Western equivalent of a chef knife and the blade is shaped in a very similar way. This is a great allrounder in the kitchen and a great place to start when building out your knife collection.
In Japan this knife is typically used to butcher full beasts while they hang from the ceiling. They are short, study and tough and are designed to remove meat from bones.
A regional variation knife which looks like a cross between a Santoku knife, a butchers knife and a kiritsuke knife.
The Honesuki knife was designed exclusively for the breaking down and de boning of poultry. Typically this knife is 150mm - 180mm or 6 to 7 inches long.
Originally designed to prepare shellfish this single bevel and sometimes double bevel knife has as become a favorite knife for chefs to prepare garnish with.
Traditionally this knife was designed to prepare fresh, seasonal vegetables. The word usuba means “thin blade” and they have a flat blade and originated in the Tokyo area of Japan.
A small knife that was designed for decorative garnish preparation.
A mostly flat, double beveled bladed knife designed for vegetable preparation. The nakiri is thing and light, even though it does somewhat resemble a clever, it is not used for heavy duty chopping of bones ect.
SABA-SAKI / SABASAKI
Usually a single bevel knife that is around 105mm - 180mm long and is used to clean and fillet fish.
Designed to make udon and soba noodles with a big long flat blade on the bottom and front of the knife. These knives are usually about 240mm long.
SUJIHIKI / SUJIBIKI
These knives are made for making one stroke cuts in fish and meat and usually have double bevel blade. These are the knives mostly used by sushi chefs and are usually around 240mm long.
This knife originates from the Eastern areas of Japan and is used to slice large fish like Tuna and Salmon. A very sturdy and quite often expensive knife that can resemble a Samurai sword which tend to be between 270mm and 300mm long.
The Usuba Japanese knife is mainly used to cut and slice vegetables and fruit that will be served and eaten raw. The extremely sharp and thin blade reduces food cell damage which leaves the food less prone to discoloring and oxidization. A typical Usuba is about 210mm long.