Your Guide to Buying High-Quality Sushi & Sashimi Knives

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In Japan, the chef’s knife, or “hocho,” is considered the most important tool of his or her profession, as the Japanese proverb "the knife is the soul of the cook" clearly illustrates. Steeped in a rich tradition of knife making spanning 600 years, Japanese craftsmen have honed their techniques into an artform that is now available to anyone in the world.

In this guide we cover everything you need to know about the different types of sushi and sashimi knives, what to consider when shopping for a knife, and how to properly maintain it for years of satisfying use.

 

 Contents

  1. Western Knives vs. Japanese Knives
  2. Types of Japanese Sushi Knives
    1. Yanagiba
    2. Deba
    3. Usuba
    4. Takohiki
    5. Fuguhiki
  3. Popular Sushi Knife Brands for Professional Chefs
  4. How to Use Your Sushi Knife
  5. Japanese Knife Maintenance: Sharpening, Cleaning & Storing

Western Knives vs. Japanese Knives

Western knives Japanese knives
Pictured: Misono Swedish High-Carbon Steel Hand-Finished Knives Pictured: Masamoto KS Honkasumi Gyokuhaku-ko Knives

With so many options available for professional and amateur chefs alike, you may be wondering what makes Japanese knives so unique? The main differences between Western knives and Japanese knives are found in the:

  • Steel material
  • Blade structure and design
  • Blade edge
  • Quality

Japanese kitchen knives are generally considered to be sharper than Western knives because of the necessity in Japanese cuisine for delicate handling and precise cutting.

 

Steel Material

Carbon steel knives Damascus steel knives
Pictured: Goh Umanosuke Yoshihiro Suminagashi B1SN-M Damascus Blue 1 Steel Kiritsuke-Yanagiba Pictured: Sakai Takayuki 33-Layer VG10 Damascus Hammered Kiritsuke-Yanagiba

Japanese knives are typically made with harder steel, which means the blade is able to maintain a sharp edge for a longer period and therefore does not need to be sharpened as often.

In the past, Western knives used a softer steel, although they are now largely influenced by Japanese knives. Keep in mind that softer steel does not necessarily mean inferior material. Due to the softer steel, the blade does not hold its edge as long, but it is much easier to sharpen. When held, Western knives have a bit more weight, which can be a positive trait depending on personal preference.

Nowadays, stainless steel is often used for Japanese chef knives, and multi-layer laminated steel is used for high-end Damascus steel knives to add corrosion resistance while maintaining strength and durability.

 

Blade Structure and Design

Because Japanese chef knives originated from samurai swords, the blades are traditionally forged in multiple layers, with an inner core of hard and brittle carbon steel that is forge welded to a thick layer of soft and more malleable iron steel.

japanese sushi and sashimi knife steel blade diagram

The iron steel sandwiches the carbon steel core so that the hard steel is exposed only at the blade's edge. This elaborate forging technique ensures optimal durability and unequaled sharpness.

Each knife shape has been developed solely for practical use, resulting in designs that have stood the test of time for centuries. The light wooden handles, well-balanced weight, and extraordinary sharpness make using Japanese chef knives a remarkable experience.

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Blade Edge

Japanese-style blades are typically single-edged while Western-style blades are double-edged. It is a common misunderstanding that more acute angles provide greater sharpness. In fact, the angle of the edge does not affect the ability to cut.

The reason that knives with acute angles feel sharper when cutting is because of less friction, which creates less resistance. However, the sharper the angle, the greater chance of chipping the edge when cutting hard ingredients such as squash or frozen food.

double-edged vs. single-edged blade diagram
While all-purpose kitchen knives are generally sharpened at around 25–30 degrees, professional sashimi knives are sharpened at around 35–45 degrees, which provides excellent sharpness and less chance of chipping. Western knives are often machine sharpened and finished double-edged at a ratio of 50:50. Japanese knives are typically hand-sharpened and finished single-edged at a ratio of 100:0.

 

Cost vs. Quality

Why are Japanese chef knives expensive? A lot goes into each blade. Unlike cheap Japanese-style knives sold in the West, authentic Japanese knives are made with techniques that have been honed over centuries — dating back to the katana.

By investing more in your cutlery, you will be rewarded with high-quality tools that can last generations if properly maintained; a sharpness that no Western knife can match; and an attention to detail by experienced artisans that is put into every knife (even those that are economically priced).

With that being said, every sushi chef has a budget, so it's important to understand what you can expect to get based on your price range.

Beginner

(Under $100)

For casual use at home, a sushi knife under $100 will meet your needs, but for this price you sacrifice many of the benefits that make Japanese cutlery world renowned.

Standard

($100 – 200)

This price range is ideal for regular personal use. If you love making sushi and want to serve restaurant-quality results at home, we highly recommend staying above $100.

Professional

($200 – 300)

For professional chefs working at an open counter or in a hotel, the sushi knives you can buy in price range are sure to impress customers with their high performance and excellent designs.

Master

(Over $300)

Japanese knives available at $300 and above present the best of what Japan's leading brands have to offer in looks, material, artistry, and rarity. If you're an enthusiast of Japanese cutlery or a knife collector in general, these high-end hocho will create a striking display among your collection.

Types of Sushi and Sashimi Knives

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What's the difference between sushi knives and sashimi knives? Making sushi requires cutting many different ingredients — fish, vegetables, and sushi rolls — therefore, they are designed for a variety of tasks. Sashimi knives are designed for the sole purpose of cutting raw fish.

There are five main types of sushi and sashimi knives, and each one is used for specific purposes when making sushi.

 

 

 

Yanagiba

Yanagiba

Pictured: Sakai Takayuki 17-Layer VG10 Damascus Hammered Kiritsuke Yanagiba and Saya

The yanagiba is a sashimi knife designed for cutting and filleting fish with a pull stroke. The slim blade is in the shape of a katana, making it suitable for slicing, especially sashimi as it allows you to cut and keep the shape of the fish without bruising the surface. The yanagiba is also called “shobu” and is popular among sushi chefs in western Japan around Osaka and Kyoto.

Purpose: Slicing sashimi and cutting sushi rolls

 

Yanagiba Knives

 Under $100 >  $100 – $200 >
 $200 – $300 >  Over $300 >

 

 

 

Deba

Deba

Pictured: Sakai Takayuki Kasumitogi (White Steel) Deba Knife

The deba, a popular choice for four centuries, is designed for cutting fish and mincing. The back of the blade can be used to chop thin bones. Deba knives are very durable as they are thick and heavier compared to other knives.

Purpose: Filleting fish

 

Deba Knives

 Under $100 >  $100 – $200 >
 $200 – $300 >  Over $300 >

 

 

 

Usuba

Usuba

Pictured: Sakai Takayuki Honyaki Water Quench Aogami 2 Steel Usuba

The usuba has a thin, straight blade for clean cutting. It can make paper-thin slices of any vegetable or fruit, including tomatoes. The wide blade is good for guiding along your finger knuckles. It is particularly popular among professional chefs in eastern Japan around Tokyo.

Purpose: Cutting vegetables

 

Usuba Knives

 Under $100 >  $100 – $200 >
 $200 – $300 >  Over $300 >

 

 

 

Takohiki

Takohiki

Pictured: Sakai Takayuki Byakko White Tiger (White 1 Steel) Sakimaru-Takohiki

The takohiki is a variety of yanagiba and is also used to cut sashimi. It has a square shape and long blade. The takohiki has a straight blade edge while the yanagiba’s edge curves toward the tip of the blade. Like the usuba, this chef knife is particularly popular among professionals in eastern Japan around Tokyo.

Purpose: Slicing sashimi and cutting sushi rolls

 

Takohiki Knives

 Under $100 >  $100 – $200 >
 $200 – $300 >  Over $300 >

 

 

 

Fuguhiki

Fuguhiki

Pictured: Sakai Takayuki Honyaki Water Quench Aogami 2 Steel Fuguhiki

The fuguhiki is a sashimi knife originally designed for a specific purpose, cutting and slicing puffer fish sashimi, also known as “tessa.” Its blade shape is similar to the yanagiba, but is thinner and has a narrower blade width making it an excellent choice for cutting thin slices.

Purpose: Slicing sashimi (especially puffer fish)

 

Fuguhiki Knives

 Under $100 >  $100 – $200 >
 $200 – $300 >  Over $300 >

 

Popular Sushi Knife Brands for Serious Chefs

With so many different knife makers in Japan, it can be hard to choose one brand over another. We have put together a list of five popular Japanese knife brands based on their quality and reputation among professional sushi chefs.

Sakai Takayuki

Sakai takayuki sushi knives

Sakai Takayuki is based in Sakai, Japan, a city near Osaka that has been a center for Japanese knife making for over 600 years. They are known for producing high-end chef knives and approach the craft from the constant desire for seeking change and improvement.

Price Range: $100 – $4,600

Brand Features:

  • A wide selection of sushi knives
  • Choose from different materials, production processes, handles, and pricing
  • Each knife is hand-sharpened before shipping to ensure ultimate sharpness

Check Sakai Takayuki Sushi Knives >>

  

Masamoto

Masamoto sushi knives

Masamoto is a family-owned business based in Tokyo, Japan. For over 150 years, they have been a standard in integrity and premier-quality professional chef knives.

Price Range: $370 – $1,500

Brand Features:

  • Considered the number 1 brand name for sushi knives not only in Japan but around the world.
  • Well-known and respected by professional sushi chefs
  • Popular choice for gifts

Check Masamoto Sushi Knives >>

 

Fujiwara Kanefusa

Fujiwara kanefusa sushi knives

Fujiwara Kanefusa is based in Seki city, Japan, about 50 kilometers north of Nagoya. Named after a well-known master swordsmith, the family-owned business has been passed down generation to generation dating back to the 16th century.

Price Range: $100 – $340

Features:

  • Excellent quality at affordable prices
  • Japanese samurai sword making technology is applied to their knife making

Check Fujiwara Kanefusa Sushi Knives >>

 

Sabun

Sabun sushi knives

Sabun is based in Niigata, Japan. They are respected for their high-end chef knives for professional use.

Price Range: $140 – $1,300

Brand Features:

  • Sharp, durable edge made by careful forging and polishing
  • Masters of traditional Japanese knife-making technology

Check Sabun Sushi Knives >>

 

Goh Umanosuke Yoshihiro

Goh umanosuke yoshihiro sushi knives

Goh Umanosuke Yoshihiro is also based in Sakai city, Japan, like the brand Sakai Takayuki. They are known for producing exceptionally high-end chef knives.

Price Range: $150 – $3,700

Features:

  • Combines traditional production technology with modern forging and polishing techniques
  • Each knife is hand-sharpened before shipping to ensure ultimate sharpness

Check Goh Umanosuke Yoshihiro Sushi Knives >>

 

How to Use Your Sushi Knife

How to Slice Sashimi

While owning a high-quality yanagiba is vital for slicing sashimi, a knife is only as good as the chef using it. The following video (in Japanese) demonstrates the proper technique.

Video Summary:

  • Place the piece of fish so that the thickest end is farthest away from you
  • Hold your index finger along the spine of the blade to hold the knife steady
  • To cut, place the heel of the blade on the fish and pull the knife towards you so that the entire blade, from heel to tip, slices through the fish in one clean stroke.

How to Cut Vegetables

Cutting vegetables is a basic culinary skill but nonetheless important for all chefs to master. The following video (in Japanese) demonstrates the proper techniques for slicing and julienning.

Video Summary:

  • Place the vegetable close to you on the cutting board with just enough space so that the cut pieces do not fall off the board. Keep in mind that if the vegetable is too far away from you on the cutting board, you will have to lean forward and it will be hard to use your knife properly.
  • Cut the vegetable with your knife moving in a back and forth motion instead of an up and down motion.
  • Keep your eyes on the top of the blade right around the area where the blade comes into contact with the vegetable.

 

Sushi Knife Maintenance

Machine vs. Hand Sharpening

How to sharpen sushi knife

Knives that are bought from retailers are typically machine sharpened by the manufacturer. This sharpening method is called “standard blade finishing.” High-end Japanese knives will often be hand-finished before shipping to the customer.

 

How to Sharpen Single-edge Knives with a Whetstone

Single-edge blades are the standard style for traditional Japanese knives. There are a couple reasons that it is worth investing in sharpening tools and learning how to properly maintain your knife’s edge. Not only is it possible that you will need to hand-finish your knife before its first use, but it is important to know how to correctly sharpen a single-edge knife if a chip, bend, or rust appears on the blade after continued use.

The following video (in Japanese) demonstrates the proper techniques for hand-finishing with a Japanese whetstone.

Video Summary:

  1. Wet the whetstone following the manufacturer's instructions.
  2. Firmly hold the knife in your right hand in three areas: the handle, the heel, and the spine.
  3. Place the edge of the blade firmly on the whetstone at a 45-degree angle.
  4. With your left hand, place your index and middle fingers on the side of the blade. Move your two fingers up and down on different parts of the blade as you sharpen. Use the full length of the whetstone from top to bottom for best results.
  5. Water will come out of the stone as you sharpen; do not dry it off. If the stone becomes too dry, add a bit of water to it. You will notice black residue forming.
  6. Next, sharpen the other side of the blade by placing the blade perpendicular and flat on the whetstone with the blade facing away from you. Sharpen from the heel to the tip of the blade.
  7. Open up a newspaper and wipe off the residue from both sides of the blade.
  8. Lastly, level your whetstone with a flattening stone.

Two important tips: Do not push down on the blade too hard and do not change the degree in which you are sharpening the knife.

 

Check Japanese Whetstones >>

 

Using a Sharpening Guide

Sushi knife sharpening guide

Pictured: Super Togeru Ceramic Sharpening Guide

To ensure the correct angle when sharpening with a whetstone, we recommend using a sharpening guide. This tool helps keep the knife at the same angle as it can be hard to hold it steady by hand.

To use a sharpening guide, slip it over the spine of the knife and re-center as needed. After each use, rinse and clean the tool thoroughly to remove whetstone residue, then run a clean towel through it to pick up anything that wasn’t washed off.

Important: If residue remains on the sharpening guide, it could scratch the knife the next time you use it.

The Super Togeru Sharpening Guide shown above comes with a white sliding strip to help glide your knife smoothly across the whetstone as well as prevent it from scratching the whetstone. You can also place painter's tape along the spine of your knife to avoid minor scratches when slipping the sharpening guide on and off of your knife.

 

Check Super Togeru Sharpening Guide >>

 

How to Remove Rust from the Blade

Traditional Japanese knife blades are made of iron and carbon steel. This provides optimal sharpness and makes them harder to chip. However, the material is prone to oxidation, commonly referred to as rust. To prevent rusting, it is important to keep your knife blade clean and dry after each use.

Carbon steel can easily rust especially if the blade is new. The following video (in Japanese) demonstrates a simple technique for removing rust using an abrasive powder and a wine cork.

Video Summary:

  1. Soak a wine cork in water.
  2. Wet the knife with water and place it on a cutting board.
  3. Sprinkle a food-safe abrasive cleaning powder evenly over the blade.
  4. Polish the rusted area by rubbing the soaked cork over the blade.

 

How to Clean Your Sushi Knives after Each Use

Maintenance after each use is very important. Follow the steps below to help ensure you get the most of out your sushi knives.

  1. Wash the knife with dish soap and water.
  2. Pour boiling water over the blade to sterilize the knife.
  3. Wipe the blade dry with tissue paper.
  4. Pour a small amount of cooking oil on dry tissue paper and wipe over the whole surface of the blade.

Check Kurobara Cutlery Oil >>

 

How to Store Your Sushi Knives

How to store sushi knife

While cleaning and polishing are important preventative steps for avoiding rust, correctly storing your knife is also as important. The cheapest method is to wrap the blade in newspaper when you’re not using it as the ink on the newspaper contains oil which can prevent rust. While this method is effective, it is important to be sure that the newspaper uses soy-based ink.

If you prefer not using newspaper, or if you travel often with your knife, you will want to use a type of wooden knife cover called a saya sheath.

A sheath not only prevents the blade from being damaged but also ensures safe transportation. We offer a variety of sheaths made by respected Japanese knife manufactures, and we’re happy to help you find the correct one for your knife brand, size, and shape.

Sushi knife sheaths

 

Check Saya Sheaths >>

 

Shopping for Sushi Knives Made in Japan

Shopping for sushi knives is both exciting and overwhelming. Hocho Knife's wide selection of sushi and sashimi knives ensures that you will find the best yanagiba, deba, usuba, takohiki, or fuguhiki for your price range. If the information above doesn't answer your questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are happy to help guide you to the best Japanese knife for your needs.

 

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