Any practicing chef knows the importance of a good knife. For many, it’s the most critical tool in the kitchen. And for those in the know, Japanese knives, wabocho, are at the top of their class. Japanese knives are famous for their incredible sharpness and long-lasting durability. As a result, each Japanese knife of good quality can cost several hundred dollars, and a set can cost thousands. However, they’re worth the price.
In a previous article on Japanese-style knives, we discussed some of the histories of Japanese kitchen knives, the comparison between German and Western-style kitchen knives. We presented a short guide to some of the more common wabocho. Here, we’ll delve a bit deeper and provide details on many more knives that were not part of the original guide.
Wabocho and Western-style Knives: What’s the Difference
There is essentially one main difference between the two styles of knives. Japanese knives are traditionally sharpened on one side of the blade only (single-bevel blades), and Western-style knives are beveled equally on both sides.
The bevel onwabochoblades is usually tapered to the right side, making them well-suited for use with the right hand. Left-handed wabocho can be custom ordered.
Japanese knives are thinner and lighter, and the manufacturing process makes them remarkably sharper and ideally suited for more precise and detailed cutting. It also takes a little bit of skill to learn how to cut properly with a single-bevel blade.
Because Japanese cuisine often focuses on aesthetics as well as taste, professional chefs need to be able to achieve intricate and delicate cuts with speed and control. Western-style knives don’t offer the same delicate control.
Honyaki — these blades are made using a specialized forging process that utilizes steel with high carbon content. The steel is hammered repeatedly so that the carbon and chromium molecules are evenly distributed, and any impurities are eliminated. This process, Hizukuri, is quite long and requires great skill.
Honyaki blades are sharp but also challenging to maintain. They are one of the top knives in Japan and are the number one choice for many professional chefs.
Kasumi — these blades are made with two layers of forged metal: carbon and iron. The cutting edge consists of carbon steel, and the remainder of the blade is iron. This makes it easier to sharpen the blade.
Japanese Kitchen Knives
Some common wabocho were already covered in the previous article on Japanese kitchen knives. These include:
The following are additional knives worth mentioning.
A multi-purpose knife used for cutting fish, meat, and vegetables. However, this knife would be a Western-style knife because it typically has a double-bevel.
Another multi-purpose Western-style knife has a blade that widens toward the handle, making it suitable for short or long cuts. The thin tip enables more precise cuts.
A vegetable knife with a thin, rectangular blade that is usually double-beveled. Nakiri means “knife for cutting greens.”
It’s a paring knife that looks like a smaller version of the Gyoto. It is ideal for small, delicate cuts and tasks such as peeling fruits or cutting herbs.
Although the deba was mentioned The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Kitchen Knives, it should be noted that there are several kinds:
- Hon-deba—the thickest and heaviest deba
- Ko-deba—smaller, designed for cutting small fish
- Kanisaki-deba—specially designed for cutting shellfish like crabs and lobsters
- Miroshi-deba—has a thinner, longer blade for filleting fish
The Japanese version of the Chinese cleaver, a chef’s knife with a rectangular blade and wide handle. You can use this wabocho for a variety of tasks, including chopping, crushing, and mincing.
A knife with a long, narrow blade, perfect for slicing fish and meat in nice, clean cuts.
The pointing tip on this knife is especially for boning poultry by cutting through the joints instead of breaking the bones. You can also use this for filleting fish.
Basically, a larger version of the Honesuki. Chefs use this knife for larger birds and cuts of meat.
The short, stocky blade with a pointing tip is for butchering meat and chops.
This knife features a very sturdy blade, usually with a serrated edge, and is made for cutting or sawing through frozen foods.
A variation of the Usuba from the Kansai region, featuring a sickle-shaped tip for more precision and decorative cutting.
This knife has a long and thin blade. This is the special knife chefs use to make sashimi from the pufferfish.
Funayuki aptly translates to “Fisherman’s Knife” in Japanese. So, it goes without saying that this is the kind of knife fishermen typically use this knife for cleaning fish on the boat.
This knife features a blade that is long as a yanagiba, and high as an usuba. It’s a versatile knife that takes great skill to use to prepare traditional Japanese dishes.
A small knife with an angled tip on the blade. The angle makes it possible for creating intricate designs in vegetables and garnishes.
This long, straight blade has a square tip. It’s a special sashimi knife for preparing sashimi from the octopus.
This is a hybrid sashimi knife because of its blade tip’s reminiscence of a samurai sword. It also has a combination design of yanagiba and takohiki sashimi knives.
Unagisaki means “eel ripping” in Japanese. A sharp and pointing tip on this knife can penetrate the tough skin of unagi (eel).
A knife with a very long, flexible blade made for cutting up large fish such as tuna. The blade is so long that two people will generally use this knife.
Find Your Wabocho
Believe it or not, this list still isn’t complete. That’s because, in Japan, there is a knife for everything, from cutting tofu to cutting mochi. Of course, you don’t necessarily need that many knives, and only professional kitchens will have more than the most common wabocho.