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How to Use Japanese Knives: Honyaki, Kasumi, and More

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After living in the city for 30 years, EC moved to the countryside. He writes about life in the mountains, dogs, plants, and cooking.

Japanese Knives, From Top: Usuba, Deba, & Yanagiba

Japanese Knives, From Top: Usuba, Deba, & Yanagiba

Japan is well-known for its samurai sword, so it's no wonder it is also home to a wide variety of excellent kitchen knives. Like the samurai sword, Japanese kitchen knives are world-renowned for their high quality and craftsmanship.

The first deba bocho knives were manufactured in the late 16th century. The City of Sakai was the manufacturing capital of samurai sword since the 13th century; but later shifted to crafting traditional Japanese cutlery. Today, the manufacturers of modern kitchen cutlery are based in Seki, Gifu—where the santoku knives are produced. The Miki City is also famous for its knifemaking traditions.

The traditional Japanese knives are divided into two classes based on the forging methods (class is according to method and materials used):

  • Honyaki knives are made from true-forged high-carbon steel.
  • Kasumi knives are made through forging high-carbon steel and soft iron together.

Today, in Japan, most kitchen knives are made of stainless steel.

A Honyaki Knife Has the Longest Lasting Sharpness

A Honyaki Knife Has the Longest Lasting Sharpness

Japanese Knives: Names and Uses

Deba Bocho

kitchen cleaver knife

Fugu Hiki

used to cut very thin slices of the blowfish called fugu

Hancho Hocho

used to fillet tuna

Honyaki

forged knives

Nakiri Bocho

used to cut vegetables

Oroshi Hocho

for filleting tuna

Santoku

all-around knife in the kitchen

Soba Kiri

used to make soba

Tako Hiki

used as sashimi slicer

Udon Kiri

used to make udon

Unagasaki Hocho

used to butcher and fillet eel

Usuba Bocho

used by professional chefs

Yanagi Ba

used for slicing sashimi

A Honyaki Knife (This One With an Ebony Handle) Is Difficult to Sharpen

A Honyaki Knife (This One With an Ebony Handle) Is Difficult to Sharpen

Honyaki Knives

Because a honyaki knife is forged from high-carbon steel, the blade has the longest lasting sharpness of all knives. However, forging the honyaki knife requires superior skill and extensive experience; thus, it is often high-priced. Its blade is also difficult to sharpen and maintain.

Small Kasumi Knife is Used for Paring

Small Kasumi Knife is Used for Paring

Kasumi Knives

A kasumi knife has a blade called ‘san mai.’ Like the samurai sword, the kasumi blade is made from two materials: high-carbon steel and soft iron. The steel forms the blade’s edge while the iron forms the body and spine. In expensive san mai blades, lamination is added to resist corrosion.

Different Sizes of Kasumi Knives (Photo courtesy by sro1234 from Flickr.com)

Different Sizes of Kasumi Knives (Photo courtesy by sro1234 from Flickr.com)

How to Make a Knife

Santoku Knife

The santoku knife is designed after the French chef’s knife. Its name is often translated to ‘three uses’ due to its three cutting tasks: mincing, dicing, and slicing.

Santoku is an All-Around Knife

Santoku is an All-Around Knife

Santoku Knife

Tako Hiki Has a Thin Blade, Used for Sashimi

Tako Hiki or Sashimi Knife

Tako Hiki or Sashimi Knife

Tako Hiki

The tako hiki is one of the long-bladed and thin knives used specifically to cut and prepare octopus. It belongs to the Sashimi Hocho group.

Deba Bocho Must be Heavy to be called a Cleaver in Japan.

Deba Bocho or Cleaver (Photo courtesy by clairebearbadcock from Flickr.com)

Deba Bocho or Cleaver (Photo courtesy by clairebearbadcock from Flickr.com)

Deba Bocho

The deba bocho is traditionally a pointed carving knife used for cutting and carving fish, chicken, and meat.

Specifically designed to fillet, its blade damaged when used to chop large bones.

Its form and use has evolved to become the versatile Japanese cleaver.

Some deba bocho knives have rectangular ends.

Knife Sharpener or Whetstone

Unagisaki Hocho Has a Pointed Blade Used to Fillet Eels.

Unagisaki Hocho (Photo courtesy by pgbasin from Flickr.com)

Unagisaki Hocho (Photo courtesy by pgbasin from Flickr.com)

Unagisaki Hocho

The unagisaki hocho knife has a specially formed sharp tip that is used to cut the eel from near the head down to entire length.

Experts can open, clean, and fillet the eel in just few precise moves.

Udon Kiri Has a Smaller but Still a Mean Blade.

Udon Kiri (Photo courtesy by pgbasin from pgbasin)

Udon Kiri (Photo courtesy by pgbasin from pgbasin)

Soba Kiri Has a Mean and 'Don't Mess With Me' Blade.

Soba Kiri (Photo courtesy by pgbasin from Flickr.com)

Soba Kiri (Photo courtesy by pgbasin from Flickr.com)

Udon Kiri and Soba Kiri

Both knives, udon kiri and soba kiri, are specialized blades used to make udon and soba noodles.

These knives are also called ‘menkiri bocho’.

How to Make Handle for a Knife

Why Knives Don't Break Easily

How a Knife Blade is Forged

The Traditional Nakiri Bocho Has a Longer Blade.

Nakiri Bocho (Photo courtesy by pgbasin from Flickr.com)

Nakiri Bocho (Photo courtesy by pgbasin from Flickr.com)

Osaka's Nakiri Bocho is Almost One-and-a-Half Inches!

Osaka-Style Nakiri Bocho (Photo courtesy by geoffrey_haberman from Flickr.com)

Osaka-Style Nakiri Bocho (Photo courtesy by geoffrey_haberman from Flickr.com)

Nakiri Bocho

Both the nakiri bocho and the usuba bocho are kitchen knives used for cutting greens and vegetables.

Thinner than the deba bocho, the nakiri and usuba blades are preferred when cutting vegetables.

Nakiri is for home use and the usuba for professional.

Kumagoro Nakiri is So Thin It Can Cut an Egg--Neatly!

Kumagoro Nakiri (Photo courtesy by isolatediguana from Flickr.com)

Kumagoro Nakiri (Photo courtesy by isolatediguana from Flickr.com)

Kumagoro Nakiri

The kumagoro nakiri has dimples on its hammer-finished blade that help when cutting vegetables and fruits (like tomatoes and onions) that stick.

Its thin blade is also handy when slicing small pieces (like radish and garlic).

Knives and Their Different Uses

Ai-Deba

combined deba bocho and miroshi deba, used to carve meat

Ajikiri

used for small fish, vegetable, and meat

Bunka Bocho

another name for santoku

Chuka Bocho

cleaver that is similar to Chinese cleaver

Dakketsu

used for bleeding fish to keep fresh

Gyuto

similar to Western chef's knife but with thinner blade

Garasuki

used for boning poultry

Hankotsu

used to separate bones from meat

Ikasaki

used for squids

Kaimuki

used for shucking shellfish, oysters, and scallops

Kawamuki

known as garnishing knife

Kujira Hocho

used to cut whales, shark, tuna, and swordfish

Kurimuki

used peel, carve, and cut fruits and vegetables into fancy shapes

Reitou Hocho

used for cutting frozen meat

Suikakiri

used for cutting watermelon

Sujihiki

used for slicing both raw and cooked meats, and fat

How to Sharpen a Knife

How to Fillet a Fish

How to Fillet an Eel

Man Using Japanese Eel Knife / Unagisaki Hocho (Photo courtesy by blprnt_van from Flickr.com)

Man Using Japanese Eel Knife / Unagisaki Hocho (Photo courtesy by blprnt_van from Flickr.com)

How to Clean Knives

Cleaning Knives (Photo courtesy by Saint Toad from Flickr.com)

Cleaning Knives (Photo courtesy by Saint Toad from Flickr.com)

Whet Stones for Sharpening Knives

How to Avoid Common Mistakes on Knife Sharpening

Common Types of Knives

Knives (Photo courtesy by geishaboy500 from Flickr.com)

Knives (Photo courtesy by geishaboy500 from Flickr.com)

A Knife Used for Leather of Shoes and Bags

Leather or Paper Knife (Photo courtesy by Joshua Doherty from Flickr.com)

Leather or Paper Knife (Photo courtesy by Joshua Doherty from Flickr.com)

Creative Knives

Artistic Knives (Photo courtesy by Kai Hendry from Flickr.com)

Artistic Knives (Photo courtesy by Kai Hendry from Flickr.com)

Fugu Wiki is a Knife Used for Blowfish.

Fugu or venomous blowfish is a Japanese delicacy. The fish needed a person, trained by professionals, to handle the small fish.

I Dream of Having a Japanese Knife for My Kitchen.

I always want several knives for different uses when I am cooking. Sadly, I only have a kitchen knife, which I used for vegetables and meat.

Then I decided to look for knives that boast a blade that is long lasting and is very sharp.

There are countries that have sharp swords in their history but Japan has samurai, which is the sharpest of them all.

So I bought a Santoku (for mincing, dicing and slicing) and a Soba Kiri (for udon and soba noodles).

I also purchased a Kawamuki, used for garnishing.

These knives are really expensive but worth their prices. They have a lasting performance.

With proper use and cleaning, these knives will serve you for many years.

When I researched the knives, I was surprised that there are so many. Japan has a knife used for many dishes.

Vegetables, fish, poultry and meat are the ingredients that needed: peeling, cutting, dicing, slicing, mincing, and carving.

The Suikakiri is a knife used to cut watermelon.

The Garasuki and Hankotsu is used for deboning poultry and meat, such as pork and beef.

There is a blade for different kinds of fish: Dakketsu for bleeding fish to remain fresh when still on the boat, Kujira Hochon for large fish such as whales and shark, Okazaki for squids, and Kaimuki for shucking shellfish such as oysters and scallops.

Do you know that Japanese eat a poisonous blowfish? You have to be an expert in handling fugu. A Fugu Wiki is specially used for filleting the venom from the fish.

Related Links

  • Kitchen Knife: Types And Styles
    Over 110 different typesand styles of the kitchen knives, including photos, definitions, designated use, grind types and more.
  • Japanese Knives - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    There are a number of different types of kitchen knives. The most commonly used types in the kitchen are the deba bocho (kitchen cleaver), the santoku hocho (all-purpose utility knife), and the nakiri bocho and usuba hocho.

Comments

Sandra Ericson from Washington D.C, USA - 20007 on November 22, 2016:

Jiro ono also use Japanese knife as he is a Japanese. I also like Japanese knife for my kitchen work. Better than American kitchen nife.

eventsyoudesign from Nashville, Tennessee on September 26, 2010:

Wow! Great article. Very well written, informative and easy to follow. I love knives. I have a collection for culinary purposes. I would love to have some or all of the knives you have pictured. I have enjoyed the videos of the production of Japanese knives. It is amazing how much goes into the making of a knife. All of your videos are good. Thanks for sharing. I will read more. Teresa