So you’re looking for a new knife set because that multi-colored stamped out steel set from Costco just isn’t cutting it anymore… get it? Cutting it?
Anyways they may be completely dull and you’ve tried sharpening them but the stamped steel is just too soft and thin to hold an edge for any useful length of time. This may be where Japanese cooking knives come in.
One thing the Japanese are known for is their craftsmanship and their sharp steel. At this point, the words ‘sharp knife’ are synonymous with Japanese knives.
For evidence look at the Katana, this legendary blade is widely considered one of the best blades from the extent of recorded history. The now pacifist nation hasn’t laid their blacksmithing and blade crafting skills to rest. They’ve simply transferred their skills to the culinary world.
Japanese kitchen knives are widely accepted as the highest quality kitchen knives in the world. Every chef will have at least one 8” or 10” Japanese chef knife in their collection.
They are renowned for their cutting ability, their steel quality, their edge retainment, and their sleek and professional looks. This doesn’t mean they are unobtainable to the humble home cook.
They’re actually becoming more accessible to people like yourself but so are the copies and fakes.
We’ll go through a list of the top 5 sets of Japanese knives currently available and include a buyer’s guide to arm you with enough knowledge to weed out the fakes and choose the best Japanese knives yourself.
Japanese knives require additional care to keep their edges sharp and corrosion-free. This is because they are made from highly brittle carbon steel (around 60 on the HRC). This steel keeps an edge against most usage but can be easily affected by water and acidic food.
You should never leave a Japanese knife wet or at the bottom of your sink with dishes piled on top. You should never use these knives on an unsuitable cutting surface, they should always be used on wooden chopping boards or soft polymer ones.
Finally, you should never use ‘instant sharp’ knife sharpeners, not only with Japanese knives but all knives in general. These easy sharpeners cause massive damage to the knife’s edge and remove way more material than necessary for a good sharpen.
We recommend always using Japanese water stones or Whetstones to sharpen your knives, they take a bit more time and some practice to get good results but the end product is always worth it.
A good Japanese set will always include a chef's knife or Gyuto along with at least one of the following: a general-purpose knife or Santoku, a flat vegetable knife or Nakiri, a slicing knife or Yanagiba or Sujihiki, a bone knife or Hankotsu or Honesuki, and a paring knife or Petty Knife.
You may find other knives in your set but these are the basics you’d find in most Japanese households.
Traditional Japanese knives also commonly have a 2 piece octagonal full tang handle. This is less important in westernized Japanese knives.
You should always look for the type of steel used in a knife, they will almost always use a high carbon steel. Another aspect worth noting is that to increase accessibility some knives use Japanese steel but are actually forged in China.
The higher quality bespoke knives will be hand-forged in Japan but these knives can range from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars each.
In a rush?
Are you in a rush to get your salmon cut perfectly for your sushi or have you got a bushel of enoki mushrooms that are ready to go into your miso soup and you need your knife now?
Not to worry, we’ve included our topic pick for you here with just a few reasons why we love it.
This knife set includes all the knives you could possibly need in the kitchen, it comes with a knife block and a couple of other useful kitchen tools.
- 7 knives, kitchen shears, and honing steel.
- Included knife block.
- Damascus steel.
- D-shaped ebony PakkaWood handles.
- Crafted in Seki, Japan.
OUR TOP PICK
This 10-piece Classic set from Shun is one of the best options for traditional Japanese knives currently available. Shun is a giant in the kitchen knife world and for good reason.
They have an extensive history in producing high-quality knives that are suitable for both the professional kitchen and the home kitchen. These knives are forged in Seki, Japan us
This set includes an 8” Chef’s Knife (Gyuto), a 7” Santoku Knife, a 9” Carving Knife (Sujihiki), a 6” Utility Knife (Kaisaki), a 5” Nakiri Knife, a 4.5” Honesuki Knife, and a 3.5” Paring knife. Meaning this set will meet almost all your knife needs in the kitchen.
The set also includes a honing steel for honing your knives after a couple of uses (this will not replace regular sharpening) and a pair of kitchen shears.
The set also includes a 13 slot knife block where you can store this set of knives plus any other knives you have laying around.
A wooden knife block is a great way to elongate the life of your knife edges as wood is much softer than steel and therefore cannot blunt the blade as you withdraw them or put them away.
You should never store your knives in a drawer with other knives, the sound of steel clattering together is actually the sound of your knife edges dulling.
You won’t need to worry about maintenance as much as Shun has decided to opt for stainless steel as opposed to raw high carbon steel.
This doesn't mean you can leave it in the sink or wash it and leave it to dry on the drying rack, it simply means you won’t have to worry about oiling your blade to stop corrosion.
The knives are constructed using a layering/laminating system that increases the internal strength of the blades and produces a type of steel known as Damascus.
This makes the blades exceptionally durable and also gives them a beautiful pattern. Shun opted for 34 layers in their Damascus steel which reinforces the blade without losing the beautiful pattern.
The forged collars of the knife that lead to the handle are expertly placed to balance the blade and feel smooth and easy to handle whilst cutting.
The knives are full tang meaning that the blade extends all the way through the handle to increase strength and balance.
The handles are made from ebony PakkaWood and are formed in a D-shape which while it is a delineation from the octagonal shape of a traditional knife increases comfort during long usees without compromising the grip it offers.
- The 7 knives and 2 included tools make this a perfect set for any kitchen.
- The 34-layer Damascus Stainless Steel makes the blades durable and aesthetically pleasing.
- The full tang handle with a hand-forged collar increases comfort and balance.
- A D-shape in the handle increases the grip and comfort during use.
- Forged in Seki, Japan, and have a limited lifetime warranty from Shun.
- Pricey for first-time buyers.
The 5 piece set from YARENH offers a great range of knives made from Japanese steel in China.
This reduces the overall cost of the set without compromising material quality.
The blades knives are produced in the world-famous “Cutter City” of Yangjiang in China. You can ensure a good cut from these knives and a lasting edge.
The Blades are forged from 67 layer Damascus steel and the handles from Redwood PakkaWood.
The blades have a high carbon steel core with a hardness of 60 HRC and a softer steel for the cutting edge.
This is so that it can be easily sharpened without deforming the shape of the blade. The Redwood handles are in an ambidextrous oval shape so that you can use this blade whether you are left or right-handed.
The finished PakkaWood also increases your grip without making the handle uncomfortable.
The set includes an 8” Gyuto Knife, a 7” Santoku Knife, a 6 ½” Nakiri Knife, a 5” Kaisaki Knife, and a 3.5” Petty Knife.
As with the Shun set the only thing missing from this set is a Cleaver. Apart from that, this is a complete set and you will be able to deal with any knife related issues in the kitchen.
The set comes packed in a lavish gift box that can double as a storage box. Once cleaned and properly dried the knives can be stored in the gift box and placed in a drawer or kitchen unit.
The box is low profile enough to fit in a drawer while still protecting the delicate edges of your knives.
- 5 knives in 1 set to cater to all kitchen needs.
- The stippled Damascus steel looks amazing and keeps performance with proper maintenance.
- The Redwood PakkaWood handle keeps grip even when wet and can be used ambidextrously.
- The included gift box doubles as a storage crate for the knives when not in use.
- YARENH offers an unconditional refund within the first month of usage for this set so you can purchase these without worry.
- The handles are not shaped for comfortable usage.
This 4-piece set from Findking is a great set for anyone looking for high quality traditional Japanese style knives without having to pay the huge cost for traditional hand-forged Japanese knives.
The steel used in this set is not Japanese neither is it made in Japan, the methods used to forge this however are very similar to the Japanese methods.
These blades are constructed from 9CR18MOV steel with an HRC of 60 which is a great all-around steel for knives as it can be sharpened quite easily and holds an edge decently well.
Findking has a 3 layer laminating system to forge this blade as opposed to the Damascus folding in the last 2 knife sets. This makes the maintenance a little bit more simple as you don’t have to worry about pattern retention.
This is however a raw steel so oiling after a clean can help extend the life of the knife and reduce the risk of rusting completely.
A good oil to use for this is Tsubaki Oil as it is food grade and also absorbs very well into raw steel.
The set includes an 8” Gyuto Knife, a 7” Santoku Knife and Nakiri Knife, and a 5” Kaisaki Knife. The sides of each blade are embossed with a clad dimple effect that allows for easy release of the food while dicing or slicing.
The handles of these knives are carved from solid Rosewood and are formed into the traditional octagonal shape of real Japanese knives. This shape increases the comfort, stability, and precision of the knife.
We would recommend a set of decent quality Whetstones to maintain these knives as these will not damage the core or the edge of the blades.
- A beautiful traditional looking set of 4 knives.
- All of the most commonly used knives are included in this set.
- The Aesthetically pleasing octagonal Rosewood handles increase the comfort, stability, and precision of each knife.
- The Full-tang allows for the knives to be balanced along the spine and allow you to maneuver the knife with greater control.
- The steel and clad dimple effect forged into these knives makes them perfect for longer cooking.
- These knives are not forged in Japan and they don’t use Japanese steel.
Our secondary from Shun the so-called 5-Piece set is actually made up of 3 knives, the other pieces consist of the bamboo knife block and the honing steel.
The set is great for any starter as stated by the name and the 3 included knives will usually be enough for the standard kitchen.
The set includes an 8” Gyuto Knife, a 6” Kaisaki Knife, and a 4.5” Paring Knife. You will be able to handle most knife related tasks as a Gyuto can handle almost all chopping and slicing tasks while the Kaisaki and Paring Knife can be used for more intricate tasks like deboning a chicken.
The Knives are constructed from Shun’s Stainless V10 steel that has been optimized for edge retention, ease of sharpening, and corrosion resistance.
Shun sharpens all of their knives to a much steeper 16°, most all other knives will sit at a much wider 20°-25°.
This reduction in edge angle increases the sharpness of the blade and would usually mean the maintenance needed to keep up that edge is massively increased but because of Shun’s V10 steel the maintenance is roughly the same.
The blades in this set are forged in the same place as the first set on our list but we’ve added this set on the list because it may be more accessible due to the price.
- The 3 Included knives can be honed to elongate the time between sharpening.
- The 34-layer Damascus steel makes this blade more durable and beautiful.
- The D-shaped handle increases grip even when wet.
- The full tang handle with a hand-forged collar increases comfort and balance.
- Forged in Seki, Japan, and have a limited lifetime warranty from Shun.
- With only 3 knives in the set, you will not have a dedicated vegetable/chopping knife.
The final set on our list is a 9 piece kit from Ross Henery. This set is another Japanese Style set that isn’t actually made from Japanese steel or in Japan.
This set does however offer you all the knives you would need, making it the most accessible kit on our list.
The single-piece construction is made from high carbon stainless steel which as stated makes up the whole of each piece from blade tip to handle.
The steel is corrosion resistant and retains an edge very well, as the whole set is made from this steel though, you will need to oil or maintain your knives quite often.
The set includes a 10” Carving Knife similar to a Takohiki, an 8'' Gyuto, Fileting Knife similar to an Ai-Deba and Bread Knife, 7” Cleaver similar to a Chukabocho, a 6” Kaisaki and a 4” Paring Knife.
Alongside the knives, this set also includes a meat fork, a honing steel, and a canvas carry case.
This type of case is very often used by Japanese chefs to move their knives around. It works well for edge retention and protects your knives from some damage.
Each knife and the meat fork have a knurled western style ergonomic handle that is forged from the same piece of steel as the knife blades.
- All knives included in the set make up all the knives you could need in the kitchen.
- The single-piece construction increases the durability of the knives as the blade and handle aren’t separate pieces.
- The high-carbon steel used holds an edge well and can be easily sharpened with Whetstones.
- The included carry case can be used to easily transport the knives whilst also being perfect for storage.
- These knives are not Japanese knives but are Japanese style.
Best Japanese Knife Set Buying Guide
If you’re looking to purchase a set of Japanese knives it means you’re no beginner in the kitchen. Japanese knives require a certain level of maintenance that makes them unideal for the most novice of home cooks.
The work you put into these blades is however extremely worth it, these knives are the sharpest in the world and often the best optimized for their intended roles.
You will mostly only ever need 1 to 3 different knives in your kitchen but if you’re looking to make some complex Japanese dishes like sushi you’ll need the proper tools to prepare it.
When seeking out the best Japanese knives there are a few things you should keep in mind whilst making your choice.
A good Japanese knife will always be made from a harder carbon steel because Japanese knives are thinner and sharper than standard American or European knives and therefore need to be made from harder metal so as not to deform.
The handle of a Japanese knife will almost always be straight, it may have cross-sectional variation but the overall shape should be straight.
Westernized Japanese knives are now made with more ergonomic handles but the traditional ones are octagonal and straight. This is because the balance of the blade can be more finely attuned if the handle is uniform.
You should ask yourself if you have the time to maintain these knives, some of them require regular oil to resist corrosion. The other major type of maintenance needed is in the sharpening.
Japanese knives should only be sharpened with Whetstones or water stones. This protects the steel and ensures you don’t damage the blade edge or the inner core.
Sharpening any knife with Japanese Whetstones is the best way to do it and will elongate the life of any blade so it’s an invaluable skill to learn.
You should also decide whether you need a whole set or if you could do with a single or even just 2 knives. With the Japanese knives the more you can spend the better the quality will be and for the price of a whole, you can ensure that you get yourself a very high-quality single knife.
Most professional western chefs claim that you only need 3 types of knives in a professional kitchen so it may be worth investing in a smaller set to increase the overall quality and longevity.
Now that you know what to look for, you’ll be making sushi in no time. Japanese knives are an investment, if treated right they will last you a lifetime.