Buy your first Japanese knife

If you have never bought a Japanese knife, or have never dealt with this topic, then read this short text to get an overview. We have summarized a few points that would have helped us back then before buying a Japanese knife for the first time. Alternatively, you can also watch the video below:

How did we discover Japanese knives?

The subject of Japanese chef's knives is a bit of a science, but getting to grips with it is really fun. You can research a lot and for a long time on the internet before you actually find the "right" knife and then eventually buy it. Ultimately, it won't stop at one Japanese chef's knife and with the experience gained, you'll explore your personal preferences.

Choosing Japan knives can be confusing - we help

About 15 years ago I wanted to get my first Japanese kitchen knife and in the process I felt a little overwhelmed.
In the end, it became a Santoku knife made of Aogami steel, although I had thought about it for a long time due to the blade's potential susceptibility to rust.
I have never regretted this purchase and I am glad that I did not choose one of the "Europeanized" knives with a Japanese look.
On the Internet nowadays you can find so much information, videos and alleged expert blogs, whose information is partly just to shake your head. Also, unfortunately, many black sheep are floating around, which distribute alleged Japanese blades on the Internet. Unfortunately, they often try to deceive the customer with descriptions such as "Asian knife set" or "blades made of Japanese steel" and present cheap products as genuine Japanese knives.

Be careful when buying Japanese knives!

So you should always be vigilant and be careful with extreme discounts or supposed bargain prices. A Japanese knife has a certain price for a reason, which can be a deterrent for newcomers. However, once you understand and experience the quality, durability and craftsmanship behind it, you will understand and invest that price.

How to choose the right chef's knife?

But back to the topic at hand - which Japanese knife should you buy first? Often on the Internet you will read the suggestion Santoku knife and this is a legitimate opinion. Less often you will read Gyuto or Bunka. For us, all three blade types are understandable as the first knife, although we would probably tend to the Bunka knife or Gyuto knife. The Gyuto is the equivalent of the Western chef's knife and the Bunka is a traditional Japanese blade shape that we love. Unfortunately, you can hardly find Bunka knives in Europe anymore, but in our store we offer a lot of different Bunkas and that out of conviction.

What to consider for the blade size?

The blade size is a matter of preference, but a blade between 16 cm - 21cm is suitable. Gyuto knives are even still made by many blacksmiths in a length of up to 30 cm. Typically, bunka and santoku are most commonly found with a blade length of 16 cm - 20 cm. Other blade lengths are rather exceptions. The blade should fit your cutting board at home. A knife that is too large is not practical for small cutting boards and is no fun to use.

Which blade steel for Japanese knives

Once you have decided on a particular blade shape or type of knife, the next step is to choose the blade steel. Here the question is how traditional the steel should be and therefore how susceptible it is to rusting. If a blade is allowed to rust, then the steel is also harder than stainless steel blades. Stainless steel knives require less maintenance, but cannot be sharpened as well as their low-rust alternatives. The harder a blade steel is, the more carbon it contains, and carbon tends to react with its environment. Roughly speaking, more maintenance is required, but the blade is more traditional, harder, sharper and stays sharper longer.
These statements refer only to the blade core. Since Japanese knives are usually 3-ply, the outer sheath steel is also either carbon steel, stainless steel, or a hybrid steel. Here are some surface options for the blades like Tsuchime, polished, Nashiji or Kurouchi.

Overview of properties of knife steels from Japan

Japanese knife handles

As for the handle, you can choose from mostly wooden handles and various shapes. There are also plastic handles with western handle shape, but there you can go according to your own preference.
Not to make it more detailed, these points should be enough. No matter which Japanese knife you choose, you will love it and wonder why you took so long to get one.
In time, you can then add task-specific chef's knives to your collection like a Japanese nakiri knife for vegetables or even consider a Japanese knife set.