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5 Crucial Reasons Why Japanese Knives Are the Best

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Japanese knives have a reputation for being the best kitchen knives available. This perception has resulted in Japanese knives becoming iconic symbols of what a knife should be. Why has this perception of Japanese knives arisen, and is it true that they are the best? 

Japanese knives are the best kitchen knives because of the quality of the steel and the generations of skill and knowledge used to create blades perfectly designed for their intended tasks. Japanese knives cost more than others, but they are worth the extra cost. 

Japanese knives have almost become a status symbol in kitchen knife ownership. What has led to these knives becoming sought after as the best kitchen knives? Are their reputation and the higher price for these knives warranted?

Why Are Japanese Knives the Best
Why Are Japanese Knives the Best?

If you are interested in checking out the best Japanese knives (made by Hayate Yoshihiro) we recommend and use, you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).

Why Are Japanese Knives Considered Top Of The Range?

Japanese knives are a range of kitchen knives crafted in Japan and designed for specific purposes in the kitchen.

There is no one-size-fits-all in Japanese knives; each knife is designed for specific tasks in the kitchen.

This purpose-crafted design means you need a range of Japanese knives to cover the tasks typically required in your kitchen. This characteristic of Japanese knives has its pros and cons, which we will also discuss.

Japanese society and culture are focused on perfection, quality, and standards, which comes through in many products that come out of Japan.

The quality workmanship, quality materials, and strategic design elements in Japanese knives are a reflection of Japanese culture.

TIP: If you are interested in buying a Japanese knife, we recommend these knives (Amazon links):

The Craftsmanship Behind Japanese Knives

The attention to detail, the material used, and the traditional methods used in creating Japanese knives have led to these knives having specific characteristics which boost their popularity. 

Historically, the Japanese people discovered and learned advanced metallurgy and metal crafting techniques that surpassed the abilities of metal workers anywhere else in the world.

The quality of the steel ore found in Japan, combined with the advanced metalworking knowledge of the people, resulted in Japanese steel and the knives and swords from Japan being far superior to those from any other country.

Japanese swords became legendary for their strength and sharpness, and the manufacturing techniques were followed in manufacturing the knives used for everyday life.

Many modern Japanese kitchen knives are made in the same traditional way, but other manufacturers have modernized the production process to keep up with the demand. 

Manufacturers that have modernized some processes still have a significant human factor in the production of knives. Still, modern forges, heating methods, and tools are used to achieve similar quality results to traditional handmade knives.  

We will examine some of the characteristics of Japanese knives that have made them the best kitchen knives you can buy!

TIP: Why are Japanese knives held in such high regard and often revered as the holy grail of knives in a kitchen? Find out the main reasons in the article below:
9 Reasons Why Japanese Knives Are Worth Their Price

The Characteristics of Japanese Knives

Why Are Japanese Knives Considered Top Of The Range?
Why Are Japanese Knives Considered Top Of The Range?

Several characteristics of Japanese knives make them stand out from the crowd and make them a consistently more popular choice over other kitchen knives.

Japanese knife designs have been developed over centuries to produce knives that are expertly crafted for superior performance in the tasks for which they are designed.

Japanese Knife Blade Material 

The high quality of Japanese high-carbon steel has contributed significantly to the success and popularity of these knives.

It does not matter how well the knives are crafted if the steel is of poor quality. In the case of Japanese knives, we have excellent steel combined with skilled craftsmanship to deliver a high-quality product.

Japan produces extremely high-quality high-carbon steel, stainless steel, and steel types called stainless high-carbon steel. Stainless high-carbon steel is modern, such as VG-10, with high-carbon and stainless steel characteristics.

The three main types of high-carbon steel that come out of Japan are as follows:

  • White steel. This is the lowest quality steel, which is still of a higher quality than most other high-carbon steel around the world. White steel is graded into versions 1, 2, and 3, with 1 having higher carbon content and 3 having the lowest carbon content.
  • Blue steel. Blue steel is of higher quality than White steel and has higher chromium and tungsten content, increasing edge retention and blade toughness. Blue steel comes in grades 1 and 2, with grade 1 being the higher-quality steel.
  • Super blue steel. Super blue steel is made from blue steel but has added molybdenum, vanadium, and higher carbon content. This steel gives a blade a tougher edge, but the steel is more brittle than Blue or White steel.

The high quality of the steel used in Japanese knives allows the blade to be hardened too much higher levels than western steel blades.

The Rockwell scale, or HRC, is the measure of steel hardness. Typical western steel blades can be hardened to 59 or 60 HRC, while Japanese steel blades can be hardened in the region of 65 HRC.

The harder the steel is, the thinner the blade can be, and the cutting edge can be sharpened much finer, producing a blade with a superior level of sharpness.

The hardness of Japanese steel comes at a price, which is a lowering of the level of flexibility of the steel. This means the blades are susceptible to cracking or chipping when subjected to impact, such as dropping the knife, or when the edge encounters a hard material, such as bone.

TIP: Most genuine Japanese knives are made with Japanese steel, which imparts specific characteristics to the blade. Check out the complete list of Japanese knife steels in the article below:
Japanese Knives Steel Types (Complete List with Explanation)

Geometry Of Japanese Knife Blades

The geometry of most traditional Japanese blades was a single bevel blade. This blade geometry is when one side of the blade is flat, and the other side has a bevel sloping towards the thin, sharp edge of the knife.

The flat side is not entirely flat but, in most cases, has a slight concave grind near the blade edge, which enhances the sharpness of the edge.

The flat side of the blade is generally on the left side of the knife because this orientation is made for right-handed knife users.

In traditional Japan, left-handed people were outcasts and often killed for their left-handed orientation. As a result, no single-bevel knives were made for left-handed people.

When the western world took an interest in Japanese knives after World War II, the Japanese knife makers began making knives in double-bevel and left-handed single-bevel designs. 

Double-bevel blades are where both sides of the knife blade are beveled or sloped symmetrically toward the knife’s thin cutting edge.

This change was to cater to the familiarity of most western people with double-bevel grind blades and knives for left-handed people who were not ostracized in the west.

Single-bevel blades are sharper than double-bevel blades but are more difficult to sharpen. Consequently, double-bevel grinds are the most popular blade geometry knives and have even been adopted by many Japanese people for additional convenience.

TIP: Do you know which Japanese kitchen knives are traditionally single-bevel knives, and how would you use and take care of these knives? Find out the answer in the article below:
Single Bevel Japanese Knife Types: Explanation & Usage

Hardness And Edge Retention Of Japanese Knives

I have briefly mentioned Japanese steel’s superior hardness compared to other countries’ steel, including western steel.

Japanese steel has always been high quality, even in the early days of ore extraction when methods were primitive. 

The following aspects affect edge retention in Japanese kitchen knives:

  • Ore extraction. Modern ore extraction and steel refinement methods have enhanced the quality of already superior steel from this region.
  • Steel quality. The quality of the steel means that steel has a much finer grain than other steels, which provides better structural support for the steel at a molecular level.
  • Fine-grained steel. The fine gain structure adds toughness to the steel, which allows the steel to be hardened and tempered to higher hardness levels than other steel.

The quality of the steel is the core reason for the superior quality of Japanese knives because the knives are sharper and hold their edge longer than other knives.

Hard steel can be made into thinner blades because the steel has less flexibility. A softer, more flexible steel made as thin as the blade of a Japanese knife would bend when the knife is used.

Hard thin blades can be ground to a much thinner, fine cutting edge, making for a sharper blade than softer steel. The rigidity of the steel provides support behind the thin, cutting edge, which extends the edge-holding capacity of the blade.

The longer edge-retention characteristic of the steel means your knife will need to be sharpened less frequently, extending the blade’s life. 

TIP: We have put together a guide to help you with some ideas on how to take good care of your Japanese knives; find out more in the article below:
How To Care For Japanese Knives: The Complete Guide

Japanese Kitchen Knife Balance And Handle Design 

One of the most frequent comments I hear when someone picks up a Japanese knife for the first time is regarding how light the knife is compared to other knives.

The steel on Japanese knives is thinner than on most other knives, significantly reducing the knife’s overall weight.

The lightness of the blade requires a correspondingly lightweight handle to achieve the right balance in the knife.

Japanese knives have two basic designs:

  • Wa-handle. This is the traditional “D” or octagonal-shaped handle with a hidden tang design.
  • Gohandle. This is a Japanese knife with a western or European-style handle on the knife. There are more commonly full tang knives with handle scales rather than single-piece handles. This style makes the knives more appealing to western users more comfortable with this handle style.

Traditional Japanese knives have a hidden tang handle design. This design is where the steel in the handle part of the knife, the tang,  tapers to a point, and the entire tang is embedded in the handle.

No part of the steel tang is visible through the handle, and the handle material is usually a single piece of material rather than handle scales on either side of the tang. A hidden tang handle reduces the weight of the handle and the knife.

The balance of a Japanese knife is different from that of a western knife. A western knife usually has a central balance point where the blade joins the handle. This means the handle and the blade are equally balanced, and the handle feels weightier than a Japanese knife.

A Japanese knife is typically blade-heavy, meaning the blade is heavier than the handle. This characteristic is created intentionally to make for easier knife use with less force required to push the blade through ingredients.

The sharp edge and the blade’s weight allow the knife to cut extremely effectively with little effort from the user. The blade seems to almost glide through the ingredients during the cut.

This characteristic is one of the main reasons that make it a pleasure to use Japanese knives and why people who have experienced using these knives will continue to do so.

TIP: The shape and feel of the handle of a knife can make or break your experience regarding using the knife in the kitchen. Check out the complete guide on how to replace a Japanese knife handle below:
7 Simple Steps: How To Replace A Japanese Knife Handle

Purpose-Focused Design Of Japanese Knives

We have mentioned that Japanese knives are built with a particular purpose in mind. This aspect of knife design has advantages and disadvantages.

The main advantage of purpose-built knives is that they are excellent when used for their intended purpose and perform better than any other knife for that task.

The corresponding downside is that it limits the versatility of the knife. If you use a Japanese knife for anything other than its intended purpose, you will likely damage it. Sometimes, the damage can be beyond repair, and the knife is ruined.

Another downside of purpose-built knives is that you need more than one knife to accomplish all the tasks in the kitchen. While this is not a problem for someone like me who believes you can never have too many knives, it may be an issue for others.

The focused purpose of Japanese knives means that you must understand what the knife is built to do in the kitchen before you buy it and realize it is unsuitable for your purposes.

TIP: How do you know which Japanese knife best suits a particular task? Check out the explanation for all Japanese knives in the article below:
All Japanese Knife Types Explained (Purpose, Usage & More)

Are Japanese Knives Suitable For Everyone?

Japanese knives are a pleasure to use, but they require more care and dedication as a knife owner.

They require more care in how you use, clean, store, and sharpen them. The cost of these knives is usually substantially more than equivalent western knives, which may be another barrier to ownership for some people.

I see it as comparing a Ferrari sports car to a Volkswagen Beetle. You get enhanced performance at the expense of higher maintenance and a higher purchase price. 

Is this trade-off worth it for owning a Japanese knife? I think it is worth it, but you probably won’t feel the same way if you are not a knife person!

TIP: If you are interested in buying a Japanese knife, we recommend these knives (Amazon links):


Japanee kitchen knives are the ultimate in kitchen knives. They offer superior performance, edge retention, and ease of use.

These characteristics of the knives come from the high-quality steel used to make them and the attention to detail in the skill and workmanship when the knives are produced. 

When you buy your first Japanese knife and experience its advantages, it won’t be long before you purchase more Japanese knives for other tasks in your kitchen!

TIP: Choosing your first Japanese knife can raise questions about which style to choose. Check out the ultimate guide on choosing your first Japanese knife in the article below:
Choosing Your First Japanese Knife (Ultimate Guide + Tips)