Japanese bladesmithing is strongly connected to the ancient swordsmithing, a process developed in Japan for forging traditionally made bladed weapons (nihonto), such as the katana. As with the exception of few mountain villages, the country’s population’s nutrition was almost exclusively based on fish products, the knives manufactured by the Japanese had to be particularly sharp in order for the fish and its nutrients to be correctly preserved. As a result, knives such as the yanagi, the deba, the santoku, the nakiri, and the usuba were created based on Japanese fabrication techniques that covered those specific needs. These knives were gradually adopted in weste kitchens.
We hereby provide you with a match of the Japanese style knives and their corresponding weste style ones.
GUYTO - CHEF knife
The gyuto knife is also known as the chef's (or cook's) knife and is used for professional Weste cuisine. It is an indispensable all-purpose kitchen knife that can be used for chopping, mincing, slicing and dicing. The general size ranges from 200 mm to 270 mm. 200 mm is more of a line knife size and is more nimble, whereas 240 mm is more of a general purpose size and allows for more slicing. 270 mm has more slicing power but is much taller and longer making it more difficult to use.
The santoku knife, also called bunka bocho (culture knife), is primarily used for vegetables and fish. It is an Asian inspired knife which, due to its popularity and functionality, has also begun being produced by european brands during the recent years. It is generally flatter than the gyuto knife and has a less pointy tip. Since it is flatter, the wrist is in a more natural position and the shoulder does not need to be raised as high. Though these knives do not require as much room to cut, they are not always as suitable when doing Weste cutting techniques as a gyuto knife would.
The general size ranges from 165 mm to 180 mm.
The Nakiri blade shape is traditional for Japanese vegetable knives and is mostly used for cutting all kinds of vegetables, fish, meat, slicing and dicing. It is a popular alteative of the santoku.
Opposite to the gyuto, the nakiri isn’t rocked like a chef's knife. Instead, with just a simple effortless push, it cuts with great precision vegetables of all kinds.
It is no relevant to any European type knife.
The general size ranges from 165 mm to 180 mm.
PETTY - PARING or UTILITY knife
Petty knives are very similar to the common weste paring or utility knives. In small sizes they are similar to the paring knives which often accompany the gyuto knife for paring work or for smaller quantity produce. In medium sizes they are similar to the utility knives, while in large sizes of 150 to 180 mm, they function mostly as fillet knives, for delicate slices of meat or fish (though they are also suitable for multi purpose tasks as well).
While there is no hard rule about where a petty and paring knife diverge or what application each is most adept at, pettys are often considered ideal for small and delicate tasks on a cutting board while paring knives are better employed in hand.
The general sizes range from 90 mm to 180 mm.
SUJIHIKI - CARVING knife
The sujihiki knife is the Japanese copy of the European carving knife. Double beveled, long knife with a narrow blade, is used to cut meat, often in the form of a draw cut.
The general sizes range from 200 mm to 300 mm.
The Yanagi knife is a single bevel slicing knife with a long, narrow blade that smoothly slices through raw fish and preserves the integrity of each ingredient's freshness.
The construction of the yanagiba is designed for cutting surfaces that are smooth, shiny and even, in order to maximize the taste.
As it is used only for fish, it is no relevant with any European type knife.
It belongs to the "sashimi bocho" knife type, together with takohiki.
The blade is very thin behind the edge which allows the cut to be made using primarily the weight of the knife. Greater force or thickness would result in tearing or bruising of the flesh.
The back face of the blade (urasuki) is concave to easily detach the blade from the substance being cut, and the front bevel (shinogi) allows sliced piece to be easily removed from the blade after cutting.
General size is 270 mm to 330 mm, though the 240 mm is becomming more and more common.
DEBA and AJIKIRI DEBA knife
The Deba Knife is a Japanese style kitchen carver primarily used to cut fish. In smaller 120 mm sizes it is also called ajikiri deba. Depending on size, it is 5mm to 9mm thick.
Its thickness, and often a more obtuse angle on the back of the heel allow it to cut off the heads of fish without damage. The rest of the blade is then used to ride against the fish bones, separating the fillet. The smaller sizes are less thick, allow the knife to move through flesh easily, and are much more nimble. They are still much thinner behind the edge and more fragile than a Weste butcher knife.
Deba knives always come in a single bevel.
Like the yanagi, it is not found in any European knife type.
The general size is 120 mm to 210 mm.
The Usuba knife is a Japanese kitchen knife, similar to nakiri, with a straight blade edge suitable for cutting all the way to the cutting board without the need for a horizontal pull or push. The ubusa knife is used for ultra-thin slices that require a delicate touch when cutting vegetables. The thin blade is required for cutting through firm vegetables without cracking them.
Usuba bōchō (lit. thin knife) is the traditional vegetable knife for the professional Japanese cook.
The Usuba bōchō is used by professionals and differs from the related Nakiri bōchō, which is preferred for home use. While the nakiri bōchō's cutting blade is sharpened from both sides, the usuba bōchō's blade is sharpened only from one side, a style known as kataba in Japanese. This kataba style edge gives better cuts and allows for the cutting of thinner slices than the ryōba used for nakiri bōchō, but requires more skill to use.
The usuba bōchō is heavier than a nakiri bōchō, although still much lighter than a deba bōchō.
General size is 180 mm to 240 mm.
HONESUKI - BONING knife
The Honesuki knife is specifically designed for de-boning and breaking down poultry.
The specific knife is the Japanese version of the classic European boning knife, yet it is stiff and robust with pointed tips and a triangular profile.
General size is 135 mm to 180 mm.
Similar to the yanagi, the takohiki knife belongs to the sashimi knives family. Used almost exclusively for fish filleting and especially octopus (spelled tako in japanese), it has a square shape, it is also single beveled and it is used mostly in Asian cuisines.
General size is 240 mm to 330 mm.
The kiritsuke knife is designed to combine the functionality of Usuba and Yanagiba. It is single beveled, quite long and is another knife type designed for the Japanese kitchen needs. Quite often it can be misunderstood with a large gyuto (chef's) knife but it has a totally different thickness, weight and length.
General size is 240 mm to 300 mm.
GOKUJO - FISH FILET knife
The Japanese gokujo (boning/fillet knife) has a narrow, uptued blade that easily separates meat from bone, and quickly removes bones and skin when filleting fish. It is a close cousin to the weste-style boning knife.
General size is 150 mm to 180 mm.
CHUKABOCHO - CHINESE CLEAVER knife
The chukabocho knife is commonly known as the Chinese chef knife. It has a short handle, a flat profile, and a tall blade used to gain mechanical advantage. Though same in shape with a classic European cleaver, its purpose is totally different as the thin blade would easily get damaged when hitting bones.
General size is 180 mm to 240 mm.
The Kudamono Knife is a small Asian vegetable knife with a strong blade, straight cutting edge, and firm tip. Cleans, peels and cuts small fruit and vegetables. It is ideal for a wide variety of small tasks where more precise cuts are needed.
While the size is similar to a paring knife, the blade shape is different.
Instead of the paring knife’s curved edge, the Kudamono knife has a straight edge. This straight edge makes it easy to handhold a carrot or zucchini while slicing it into a pot. The flat edge is handy for chopping or mincing smaller herbs and vegetables against a chopping board.