Japanese Style Knives
Traditional Japanese Knives
Japan is the land of long traditions, where hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge and experience are passed down
from master to apprentice, from teacher to pupil. From ikebana flower arrangements to martial arts and kabuki theater, each tradition has its own set of rules, procedures and schools of styles. Traditional Japanese knives were originally derived from Japanese sword craftsmanship. The techniques have been handed from generation to generation and perfected over time.
A Fine Edge for Fine Cuisine
A sharp blade slice through ingredients effortlessly, but a dull blade will damage the cell walls of ingredients, altering their texture and flavor. For
example if one tries to chiffonade basil with a dull knife and it will turn black almost instantly. With a thin sharp knife, the same chiffonade will retain its vibrant green color for hours or even days. The single-edged blade is a unique feature of traditional Japanese knives, which is directly linked to Japanese cuisine and history. Traditional Japanese cuisine aims to preserve and accentuate the true flavors of fresh and seasonal ingredients, making a sharp knife is essential to this process.
Styles and Uses of Traditional Japanese Knives
The yanagi is used to slice boneless fish fillets into sashimi and toppings for sushi. The graceful, long and thin blade is designed to cut slices in one drawing stroke, which applies minimal pressure on the flesh of the fish to avoid stress and cell destruction. Different cutting techniques are used with the yanagi to enhance the aesthetics and the flavors of the fish. There are several variations of fish slicers that are all used in different situations and regions, however the yanagi style is the most widely used. The kensaki yanagi, sakimaru takobiki and maguro yanagi serve similar functions, but are more elegant styles. If space allows, longer blades will produce better results. Korin recommends the 30cm length for this style, because it has the most optimal weight and length for slicing through the fish without damaging the flesh. Originated in Kansai (Osaka) region.
The kamagata usuba is a traditional Japanese knife designed to work with ve
getables. Unlike the Kanto version of the usuba, the kamagata usuba has a pointed tip, which allows for more delicate work and decorative carving. Originated in Kansai (Osaka) region.
The usuba is a traditional Japanese style knife designed to cut vegetables. Japanese cuisine stresses the importance and beauty of seasonal ingredients, referred to as `shun.’ The literal translation of usuba is `thin blade.’ Without this incredibly sharp and thin blade, the knife would break down the cell walls of vegetables, causing ingredients to discolor and decrease in flavor. Originated in Kanto (Tokyo) region.
The deba is used in Japanese fish markets and restaurants to butcher and fillet whole fish without damaging the flesh. Although many use this knife on meat as well, the deba is not intended for chopping large diameter bones nor should it be used by slamming down the knife like a cleaver. For the best results, please apply pressure on the spine of the knife to make clean and precise cuts. Originated in Kansai (Osaka) region.
The mioroshi deba is
a specialized knife that can be used both as a deba and as a yanagi knife. This style of knife is much thinner and more brittle than the standard deba, and therefore requires more experience and skill to fully utilize.
The kiritsuke is one of the few multi-purpose traditional Japanese knives, and it may be used as a yanagi or usuba knife. This style of knife is traditionally only used by the executive chef in the Japanese kitchen.
The takobiki was originally designed and crafted by the founder of Masamoto Sohonten, Minosuke Matsuzawa. It serves as the Kanto region (Tokyo) variation of the yanagi knife, and is used to slice boneless fish fillets into sashimi. There are rumors that centuries ago when chefs prepared sashimi in front of their guests, it was considered disrespectful to point the sword-like yanagi at their customers, especially nobility. For this reason older restaurants in Tokyo continue to use the takobiki instead of yanagi knives to this day. Its thin body makes cutting thin slices of fish easier than the yanagi. Takobiki means `octopus cutter,’ which refers to how the blunt tip and balanced weight works well on difficult ingredients such as octopus. Originated in Kanto (Tokyo) region.
Menkiri means `noodle cutter’ in Japanese. The features of the menkiri make it essential when working with noodles. In order to get perfect even thin strips, the knife must be extremely sharp, the blade must extend to the end of the handle to cover the width of the dough, and the blade must sit completely flat against the cutting board. If there is any space between the blade and the cutting board, it will not cut the dough completely and will thus ruin the structure of the noodle.
Sushikiri means sushi slicer in Japanese. The long symmetrically curved blade is designed to slice sushi rolls and battera sushi in one rolling slice without crushing them. These knives are popularly used in the Kansai (Osaka) regions.
Parts of a Japanese knife
The size information in this catalogue is based on actual blade length, as shown below:
Honyaki and Kasumi Knives
There are two classes of Japanese knives based on the materials and methods used in their crafting. They are honyaki and kasumi both honyaki and kasumi knives can be made with either ao-ko or shiro-ko steels. Each classification has its own advantages as well as difficulties.
Honyaki (or "true-forged") knives are constructed entirely out of one material. Honyaki knives have the greatest kirenaga, or edge retention within Japanese knives. However, because the steel is so hard, honyaki knives are harder to sharpen and more prone to chipping, cracking, or breaking if used improperly. Craftsmen require a great amount of skill to forge honyaki knives, and chefs need a lot of experience to use and care for them.
Kasumi & Hongasumi Knives
Kasumi means “mist” which refers to the hazy appearance of the soft iron body of the blade, in contrast to the glossy appearance of the carbon steel. Craftsmen forge kasumi knives by joining a piece of soft iron with a piece of carbon steel. After forging, hammering, and shaping, the carbon steel becomes the blade’s edge. The soft iron portion becomes the body and spine of the blade. This reduced brittleness and makes sharpening easier. Kasumi knives are much easier to use and sharpen than honyaki knives, but their edge retention is shorter. Hongasumi knives are high-grade kasumi knives. They are often made of higher quality materials, paid special attention to and more steps are involved in the forging, tempering, and finishing processes.
Layered steel (Damascus steel) is becoming increasingly popular due to its added benefits and attractive appearance. To create these blades, high carbon steel is layered with soft iron then forged and hammered. Among the kasumi knives, layered steel blades have the longest edge retention.