Best Japanese Knife Sets Available | An Expert Guide

Peter Stec
September 29, 2021
Best Japanese Knife Sets Available

Sharp knives are an essential part of the home chef’s arsenal or the professional cook’s toolbox. A keen blade will ensure your food is sliced faster and more safely than using a dull edge. Of course, when it comes to cutting-edge precision, Japanese knife sets are known for their superior quality.   

For this article, I experimented with a range of sets available on Amazon. As a chef who’s worked at a leading cooking school, my verdict follows on the best Japanese knife set to suit your needs. Whether you’re a professional restaurant chef cooking commercially or a hobby cook looking to buy good quality tools on a budget, keep reading to find out.  

I’ll also give you an overview of what to look for when choosing Japanese knives, with a particular focus on how the handle structure and knife weight affect overall balance and versatility. 

It’s also essential to appreciate and understand how regular knife sharpening is necessary for slicing and dicing in the kitchen. 

You might believe that the best Japanese knife set is out of your price range, but as you’ll discover in this article, there are lesser-known brands that’ll deliver good results while falling within your budget.

Look at your knife purchase as an investment. High-quality knives will last a lifetime and provide the edge you need to move from home-cook to serious foodie. Think of the impression your Japanese knives will make when your friends enjoy one of your professionally cooked meals.

Japanese Perfection

Best Japanese Knife Sets Available

It’s not for nothing that Japanese chefs are held in high esteem for their culinary prowess. Their cooking is all about precision, style, and quality. Think of a sushi chef slicing a fresh tuna belly for sashimi, and an image of razor-sharp blades comes to mind.

While these chefs will likely use professional grade Global Kabuto knives in their Japanese kitchen, an entry-level Yatoshi brand will probably satisfy your needs, especially if you’re a novice home cook. I’ll cover the range of Japanese knives in between, and we’ll explore the best available options.

How to Choose a Japanese Knife Set

Japanese knives come in sets because each blade has a different function. For example, specific knives are long and thin and designed for deboning poultry. Others are smaller and meant for paring vegetables. A versatile, general-purpose chef’s knife should also feature prominently in each complete set. I’ll consider the various types of blades included in Japanese knife sets as we learn about their size, material and function. 

Types of Knives

Meat and fish knives made in Japan include:

  • Honesuki knives are meant for deboning meat and preparing poultry.
  • Sujihiki knives have a thin blade and a sharp edge meant for the precise cuts needed when carving meat.
  • Yanagiba knives are designed for slicing fish into sashimi and nigiri. This type of knife creates long, clean cuts.
  • Deba knives have a thick spine and are relatively heavy, making them ideal for gutting and filleting fish.

Fruit and vegetable knives made in Japan include:

  • Nakiri knives are sturdy, with a rectangular-shaped blade meant for cutting and chopping harder vegetables like squash.
  • Usaba is a traditional knife with an ultra-thin blade, very sharp edge, and is suitable for precise, decorative cuts when slicing vegetables.
  • Petty knives are smaller knives, used for paring fruits and vegetables or chopping fragile herbs.

All-purpose utility knives:

  • The Gyuto knives have a large, slightly curved blade and are used for cutting meat or vegetables. Its curve allows for a rocking motion when chopping.
  • Santoku is a utility knife smaller than the Gyuto and these knives are perfect for cutting vegetables or meat.

What Determines Quality in a Knife?

Considering that quality ensures durability and value for money, you want to look out for the following features when shopping for the best Japanese knife sets:

  • Material: Traditional Japanese knives are made of a material called hagane, a type of carbon steel. That said, modern blades are often made of stainless steel or even high-carbon stainless steel. The advantage of carbon super steel is that it’s easier to keep sharp because it’s so hard. On the downside, carbon steel tends to rust or stain more quickly, but this is easily avoided if you wash and dry the blade after every use. If you decide to choose stainless steel – and most home-use sets are made from it – you will own a collection of stain and rust-resistant knives. Because stainless steel is tougher, it’s also chip-resistant should a knife fall on the ground. You might also want to consider high-carbon stainless steel, which is a combination of the two materials. This gives blades the ability to keep their sharpness while not succumbing to rust or stains.
  • Rockwell Hardness: This refers to the hardness of the metal and is based on indentation depth on a steel blade. A Rockwell hardness of 57-59 is considered good for Japanese knives, while a Rockwell hardness of 60 and above is premium.
  • The tang refers to the steel backbone of knives. Ideally, you want one single piece of steel extending from the blade section right into the handle. A “full tang” knife has a steel backbone that extends the length of the handle, providing enhanced stability. A “partial tang” knife has the backbone extended midway into the handle.
  • The cutting edge: Traditional Japanese knives have a single bevel blade edge, which means they have a very narrow cutting angle. This narrow-angle enables precision and ultra-thin cuts. Western-style knives usually have a double bevel edge, which means that if you examine a cross-section of the blade, you will notice that the cutting edge tapers symmetrically. Modern Japanese knives offer both formats, and this is useful in that double bevel blades are more accessible for the home-cook to use.
  • Forged or stamped: Steel knives made in a forge (where a single piece of steel alloy is heated and hammered into shape) are generally regarded as superior. They are heavier, well-balanced, and have what is termed a bolster, a ridge of steel between the blade and the handle. Stamped blades shouldn’t be discounted either. Stamped knives are ‘stamped’ out of a sheet of steel, and are lighter in weight because they don’t have a bolster.

Blade Length

The length of the blade is relevant because you need to consider your daily food-prepping needs when choosing a knife set. Personally, I avoid using a one-size-fits-all knife. I prefer using different blades according to the job.

I’ve already outlined the types of Japanese knives and their functions. Think about how you will be using your knives. Perhaps you like to prepare a lot of fish or hope to learn more about sushi? In this case, a Yanagiba style of knife would need to be included in your set. 

Or you might be looking for a small, easy-to-manage type of blade, like the Santoku knives. The Santoku is a great multi-purpose option to have in your set.

Knife Handle

Hidden Tang Knife

A traditional Japanese knife handle has a hidden tang. They have a sleek look because the rivets are not visible, either. The actual handle is lighter, cylindrical, and often made of wood. This is relevant because the weight distribution is more toward the blade, while western-style knives tend to balance between the handle and blade.

While wooden handles are sleeker and have a smooth grip, a downside is that wood is porous and can trap bacteria if not properly sterilized after each use. In addition, they can absorb water and crack if not hand-washed and immediately dried. Saying that, I prefer the wooden handles because they are authentic. Besides, as a professional chef, I take great pride in maintaining my knives and usually apply food-grade oil to enhance the wood.

Other popular handle materials used when making Japanese knives include plastic and stainless steel.

  • Plastic handles are more germ resistant and are available in a variety of colors and patterns. A downside is that they tend to crack over time. The accomplished chef might also feel that the handles are too light in hand. 
  • Stainless steel obviously makes the knife heavier. The material is tough and won’t absorb bacteria. Indents in the handle provide grip and improve safety.
  • Micarta is made from a compress of cloth and glued together with phenolic resin, giving it a stylish, grained look.

Weight and Balance of the Knife

Traditional Japanese knives are light and balanced toward the blade. Western-style knives are heavier and evenly balanced between the handle and the blade. While weight and balance are personal preferences, consider that a full tang knife (where the metal backbone runs right through to the handle) will be heavier. 

I prefer knives with a bolster as I like a bit of weight and heft closer to the handle. 

Single Bevel vs. Double Bevel Blade

While traditional Japanese knives are made with a single bevel, modern variations are double-beveled. And just as well, because although single-bevel is known to be sharper, double-bevel is more suitable for home cooks. In addition, single-bevel blades are only suitable for right-handed people, while double bevels will suit lefties as well.

Versatility

Versatility is important because it relates to your exact needs. A small set will contain around three to five knives, ideal for those starting out. But if you’re looking to experiment, then I’d recommend going with a seven-piece set.  

Knife Block

Many Japanese knife sets will come with a knife block for storage. This promotes ease-of-use, knife safety and will prevent damage to the blades.  

Honing Steel

Some sets may include a honing steel for knife maintenance. These steel rods do not sharpen the blade in the same way that a stone would, but daily use will enhance functionality. 

Extras

Some sets might include steak knives or kitchen shears. 

German vs. Japanese Knives

german knife

Before you choose a knife set, you might have heard about German knives. For what it’s worth, German blades tend to be thicker and heavier than Japanese knives. This means they’re great for utility purposes, whereas Japanese knives are more specialized. In other words, their thinner, lighter blades are best suited to more delicate slicing.

While both knives are made of steel, the Japanese blades tend to be harder and typically measure 60 to 63 on the Rockwell scale measuring indentation hardness. German knives measure around 57 to 60. This means that the Japanese knives tend to be sharper and will keep their sharpness. The German blades will be more durable and less inclined to chip.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Japanese blades are angled at 10 to 15 degrees per side (compared with 17 degrees for the German knives). A narrower angle is sharper and will not damage the food. 

Best Knife Picks

Now that we understand what constitutes the best Japanese knife set let’s discover which brands live up to the benchmarks of sharpness, durability, and versatility.

TUO Damascus Kitchen Knife Set 3 Piece

Features:

  • Forged knives, not stamped
  • Full Tang, high carbon steel
  • Premium Japanese

If you’re a knife novice, then this good-looking set is a great way to get started. While it only contains three knives, you can quickly build up your collection as you progress. I’d suggest purchasing a knife block separately.

The blades are made of Japanese Damascus stainless steel, equating to fantastic rust resistance while ensuring a lifetime of performance.

I found the ergonomic handles provided superb agility and comfort.

This set is well priced for Japanese Damascus (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).

Set includes:

  • 8-inch Chef’s knife
  • 6.5-inch Nakiri knife
  • 3.5-inch Paring knife

Pros

  • Excellent sharp edge retention
  • 100% satisfaction and money-back guarantee
  • Lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship
  • Incredibly hard blade
  • Great looking knives

Cons

  • No knife block included
  • Limited selection of knives

—-

Dalstrong Knife Set Block - 5pc - Shogun Series X Knife Set

Features:

  • Forged knives, not stamped
  • Full Tang, high carbon steel
  • Premium Japanese

This set is a good choice for the above-average home cook or professional chef.

These knives are made from 67 layers of high-carbon stainless steel layers and are razor sharp. The edges are hand-finished to an impressive 8-12° per side and are rated against stain and corrosion resistance. I liked the balance of the knives in that they are evenly weighted. 

A stylish acacia-wood block gives this knife set excellent value and places it among the best Japanese knife sets (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).

Set includes:

  • 8-inch Chef’s knife
  • 7-inch Santoku
  • 6-inch Utility knife
  • 8-inch Bread knife 
  • 3.75-inch Paring knife
  • 5-piece Block Set

Pros

  • Excellent sharp edge retention
  • 100% satisfaction and money-back guarantee
  • Lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship
  • Incredibly hard blade
  • Comes with an acacia-wood knife block

Cons

  • Price

—-

Yatoshi 5 Knife Set - Pro Kitchen Knife Set

Features:

  • Full Tang
  • A cutting edge of 15-degrees
  • Comes in a gift box

While this set is not made from real Damascus Japanese steel, its high-carbon stainless steel blades come with a striking wave pattern.

And it must be mentioned upfront that this set falls into the great bang-for-your-buck category (see Amazon.com for most up-to-date price).

I liked the look and feel of the pakkawood handle, not too heavy yet bolstered for a comfortable ‘pinch grip’. While the slim knife blades are undoubtedly hard, they don’t fall into the same category as the knives listed above. 

That said, it’s still a great knife set and comes recommended, especially at the listed price.

Set includes:

  • 8-inch Chef’s knife
  • 7-inch Santoku knife
  • 5-inch Santoku knife
  • Utility knife
  • 4-inch Paring knife

Pros

  • 100% satisfaction and money-back guarantee
  • Lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship
  • Hard steel knives

Cons

  • No knife block included

—-

Global Kabuto 7 Piece Knife Block Set

Features:

  • Full-length tang
  • Stamped knives, not forged
  • Comes with a knife block and sharpening rod

The Global Kabuto range is exceptionally sleek and ergonomically designed. This seven-piece knife set surprised me, but clearly, it is a famous brand for a reason. Simple to clean and easy to sharpen, the knives are perfectly balanced, though lighter in hand than I expected.

Interestingly, the blades are stamped, not forged. Not that this affects their performance, for I found myself instinctively reaching for one whenever I needed to chop something. Their handles are perforated, providing superior grip and comfort, especially when using them over an extended period.

I’d recommend washing them by hand immediately after use. A dishwasher would ruin them as it will lead to rust spots.

The set includes a knife storage block and ceramic sharpening steel. Excellent value in its class (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).

Set includes:

  • 3-inch Paring knife
  • 4.5-inch Utility knife
  • 5-inch Chef’s Prep knife
  • 5.5-inch Vegetable knife
  • 8-inch Chef’s knife
  • 8.5-inch Bread knife
  • Ceramic honing rod
  • Knife block

Pros

  • Superior sharp edge retention
  • 100% satisfaction and money-back guarantee
  • Lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship
  • Hard blade

Cons

  • Price

—-

Kyoku 5-Knife Set with Block

Features:

  • Full-length tang
  • Forged knives, not stamped
  • Comes with a bamboo knife block and chopping board

A beautiful-looking five-piece knife set, these blades are made from superior Japanese steel with added cobalt and cryogenically treated steel cores.

I found this slim knife to be well-balanced and enjoyable to work with. I especially liked the durable black pakkawood handle. 

The blades are ruthlessly sharp and handcrafted to a mirror polish of 13-15° per side – I diced onion in double-quick time. The material is incredibly hard yet still corrosion-resistant.

Considering that it’s a five-piece block set, it represents an excellent value (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).

Set includes:

  • 8-inch Chef’s knife
  • 8-inch Bread knife
  • 6.5-inch Carving knife
  • 5-inch Utility knife
  • 3.5-inch Paring knife
  • Wooden knife block

Pros

  • Superior sharp edge
  • 100% satisfaction and money-back guarantee
  • Lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship
  • Hard blade

Cons

  • Wooden handles will need constant cleaning and drying

—-

Imarku 10 Piece Japanese German Chef Knife Set Professional

Features:

  • Full-length tang
  • Stamped knives, not forged
  • German engineering
  • Comes with a bamboo knife block set and chopping board

Another knife set that is stamped rather than forged, Imarku knives are German-engineered and made with a  high carbon stainless steel core.

The steel has a carbon content of between 0.6 to 0.75%, meaning it’s harder than a regular stainless-steel blade but not as hard as the TUO Damascus or Dalstrong listed above.

Even so, it’s a good knife set and fair value (see Amazon.com for the most up-to-date price).

One upside of the blades is their corrosion-free properties (thanks to an 18% chrome content). This makes them stain and tarnish-resistant.

The bamboo knife block and chopping board give the set great authenticity.

Set includes:

  • 8-inch Chef’s knife
  • 7-inch Santoku knife
  • 8-inch Bread knife
  • 8-inch Slicing knife
  • 5-inch Utility knife
  • 3-inch Paring knife
  • 5.5-inch Kitchen scissors
  • Knife sharpener rod
  • Bamboo knife block
  • Bamboo cutting board, 

Pros

  • Superior cutting edge
  • 100% satisfaction and money-back guarantee
  • Lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship
  • Hard blade

Cons

  • Wooden handles will need constant cleaning and drying

—-

Knife Maintenance

Now that you’ve bought yourself a set of Japanese knives, you’ll need to learn how to keep them sharp. 

Besides doing a better job of chopping and slicing, a sharp blade enables you to work faster and more safely. A blunt edge requires you to apply more force to the item being cut. This means the chance of knives slipping and cutting your fingers is greater. In addition, a blunt knife causes a severe wound that takes longer to heal. Believe me, I’ve worked with knives long enough to know that you do not want to be injured with a blunt edge.

Sharp knives cut food better. For example, if you cut herbs or other delicate ingredients, you’ll damage fewer of the cells that surround the cut. This slows the speed at which fruit and vegetables discolor, or wilts. Besides, sharp knives are far more enjoyable to work with.

You’ll need a honing steel and a whetstone to sharpen your Japanese knives. Soak the whetstone in water for about 15 minutes. Place the stone on a cloth to prevent slipping while you sharpen the knife.

For single bevel knives, begin sharpening from the reverse side (around three strokes down the stone). Flip the blade over and sharpen for about seven strokes. Flip and repeat three times.

Wash the sharpened knife with hot water and dry properly.

Use the honing steel daily to maintain a sharp edge on your knives. 

In Conclusion

I tested a very broad range of knives I believe that new home cooks should consider the TUO Damascus Kitchen Knife Set 3 Piece, as the collection can always be added to. Just remember to purchase a knife storage block.

More accomplished cooks might prefer the Global Kabuto range, both for its reliability and comfort of use. That said, when it comes to authenticity and style, the Imarku 10 Piece is difficult to beat. The set comes in at an excellent price and also includes a knife block, honing steel, and kitchen shears. 

FAQs About Japanese Knife Sets

Once you’ve determined your culinary needs, you should be well prepared to make an intelligent choice when choosing from the best Japanese knife sets.  

The benefits of a good knife set include the speed of food preparation, which enhances the overall joy of cooking.

If you’re still undecided, then the following frequently asked questions and answers will help.

Q: How many knives should I choose for my set?

It depends on your needs. Home cooks just starting out should go for a three-piece knife set and look to build up your collection as you progress. Professional chefs would need to look at a seven-piece set.

Q. How vital is a knife block set?

Proper knife storage is vital. Besides making your knives easily accessible, the knife block will protect the blades from damage. And what better way to show off your new collection than a professional knife block set?

Q. Is it important that I choose a forged blade over-stamped?

No. While Japanese knives are traditionally forged from a single bar of steel, many top brands stamp their knives out of a sheet of metal without affecting quality.

Q. Is a full tang preferable? 

Yes. If the steel backbone runs right through to the end of the handle, you will have greater knife control and durability.

Q. Should I choose a single or double bevel blade?

Japanese knives are traditionally single bevel blades. Saying that modern knives often have a double bevel blade because they are easier to sharpen at home. Professional chefs might prefer the single bevel blade as they are easier to sharpen on a stone.

Q. How should I wash a Japanese knife?

By hand. And be sure to dry them properly after washing. Do not place knives in a dishwasher, as it might lead to staining or rust.

Q. How will I know when to sharpen a Japanese knife?

If you battle to slice soft foods like a fresh tomato, then your knives need sharpening. Note that it’s easier to keep sharpening a relatively sharp knife than waiting and trying to sharpen a very dull blade.

Q. How long will a Japanese knife set last?

A lifetime. Japanese knives are made from quality materials and should come with a lifetime guarantee. This assumes proper knife care and maintenance.

About The Author
Hey Knife Up gang! I'm Pete, and I'm just another man like you in a small rural town who loves the outdoors as much as the other million internet users that cruise sites like KnifeUp.com every day. The difference is that I like to share what I know and research what I don't totally know so that YOU can have all the info you need to feel confident and prepared for all things outdoors-related! And, for those who care, I have 42 years of wilderness canoeing and bushcraft experience in Northern Ontario and spend most of my Summers covered in mosquitos and fish slime, but hey, it's a lifestyle choice, eh?

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