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Japanese Knife help.

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Im looking to experiment with some different Japanese knives and was wondering what are some popular/reliable/razor sharp choices? Ive owned a Global, and wasnt impressed (I sold it on ebay). I kinda like what I see and feel just holding a Shun, but have never used one. I know all about the German knives and own a few of them too, but want to know about some Japanese models the average Joe may not know about. Thanks.
post #2 of 24
This forum has a lot of Shun fans. I respect Shun knives and believe they are good value for the money, but also that there are other brands which are better. I should also say that, IMO, when it comes to knives, Alton Brown is payed to market Kershaw/Shun and market them he does. As has been said, "Alton's angle is selling knives."

When I say there are a lot of Shun fans here, I mean there are other forums with a more diverse set of views. There's the knife forum, of course. But others as well:

Let's start with a few resources: A decent source of Japanese knife reviews:
Welcome to Foodie Forums - Intelligent Discussion for Serious Cooks

And, a forum which concentrates on Japanese culinary knives to the near exclusion of anything else. There are more than a handful of people who are actually expert:
Fred's Cutlery Forum - Foodie Forums

Here are three retailers with a good selection of Japanese knives. You may want to click around:
1) The Epicurean Edge: Japanese and European professional chefs knives aka EE
2) Products Japanese Knife,Japanese Kitchen Knife,Japanese Chef's Knives.Com aka JCK
3) Korin - Fine Japanese Tableware and Chef Knives aka Korin
You'll probably learn more by navigating around these and other retail sites, than in any other way. At least you'll get enough to start asking specific questions.

With Global and Shun you've hit on two of the Japanese lines most common in American and European kitchens. Another is MAC. MAC makes a few lines. The least expensive lines provide most of what's good about the Japanese knife experience. Thin blades, acute angles, and hard steel. For their price, they've also got decent ergonomics and fit and finish (F&F).

Some of the European manufacturers introduced lines that borrow heavily from Japanese technology and styling; some also offer upgraded ergonomics. Most of the better European (including Lamson who's American) manufacturers have upgraded their steels to Japanese or near Japanese hardness levels. Two standouts are the Wusthof Le Cordon Bleu and Ikon lines. They both have Japanese style blade handles. LCB is balance forward -- common among Japanese knives, and Ikon is ergonomic and (more) neutrally balanced. IMO, the best of this type is the Henckels Twin Cermax -- which actually is a highish-end Japanese knife with German F&F (almost always better than Japanese).

Disclosure: The 7 knives in my daily use block, are European. Five are are antique or "vintage" carbon-steel Sabatier. Two are modern carbon-steel Sabatier. In the course of teaching cooking, and out of friendship, have tried and sharpened many Japanese knives. So, I've had the opportunity to fool around with a more than a few. You may draw whatever conclusion you like from the fact that I haven't found the differences between my knives and high-end Japanese significant enough to replace my Sabs.

However, if I were replacing lousy knives ... I'd seriously consider Misono UX-10 (powder steel), Misono Swedish (carbon), Ryusen Blazen (powder steel), Fujiwara (budget carbon), Glestain, Kikuichi Elite (carbon) and a few others. But, I'd probably choose the Hiromoto AS as the best practical knife, or Nenox S1 (incredibly expensive, incredibly beautiful, incredible F&F).

The whole "samurai sword" thing is way overblown and mostly about marketing. But there are a few similarities between some Japanese kitchen knives and traditional Japanese sword-smithing. That's the method of bonding one type of steel to another for the best properties of each with either's weaknesses. The most common form in Western-shaped kitchen knives is covering a very hard core (hagane) with a softer cover (jigane). Of this form, the most common method is called "warikomi."

An increasingly popular warikomi style involves using a Damascus-look jigane. Not "Damascus," Damascus look. The Japanese call this kind of layering "sumigashi" (ink pattern"), and it's done for appearance and improved (claimed anyway) release characteristics. You see this warikomi sumigashi in several Shun lines.

Contrast the Shun Classic with the Hiromoto Tenmi Jyuraku AS series (at JCK) The Shun's hagane is made from VG-10, a stainless developed specifically for knives with good across the board characteristics, the Damascus look, and an idiosyncratic handle. The Hiromoto's hagane is made with an exceptional steel -- an Hitachi "blue paper" that has links to the best of ancient swords and the very highest quality and heavily researched modern Japanese tools. The cladding is an ordinary soft stainless, and the handle is a traditional western shape. IMO, the Shun is better looking but the Hiromoto is the better knife.

In your opinion? Look around, ask some questions about specific blade profiles and handle types ... and pretty soon you'll have one.

Kam Pei,
post #3 of 24
I would also take a look at Masamoto and specifically their VG line if you would like to go stainless. They are super sharp knives out of the box and I have been using one for the last month or so in a pro kitchen and it has held up very well. Definitely second on the Hiromoto AS too I have been using a 120mm petty every now and the and he performance has been awesome.
post #4 of 24
B_D_L's post is filled with good information. Where does he find the time....??? :D

"Japanese models the average Joe may not know about." LOL! The average Joe doesn't know that the Japanese make knives at all. Too bad.

In my opinion:

Best Gyuto - Yoshikane SKD 240mm or Takeda 240mm
Best Nakiri - Murray Carter 6 sun or Watanabe 180mm
Best Sujihiki - Kikuichi Carbon Elite 270mm
Best Parer - Shun Classic 3.5"

Best boning, petty, utility - up for grabs - I rotate around 3 dz blades from old Sabatier carbs to Rantanen customs in L6. They all work fine.
Buzz - with a Short Pilot Story

One day, long, long ago there was this Pilot who, surprisingly...........
was not full of crap....
But it was a long time ago.... And it was just one day. The End
Buzz - with a Short Pilot Story

One day, long, long ago there was this Pilot who, surprisingly...........
was not full of crap....
But it was a long time ago.... And it was just one day. The End
post #5 of 24
It's easy to get lost in the minutiae of knife steels and manufacturers. But the key to "razor-sharp" is more sharpening then knife brands. Almost any reasonably well-designed knife can be made sharp enough for surgery.

Give some consideration to how you do sharpen and how you will sharpen when you choose your knives. For instance, a Chef's Choice 130 is a pretty good machine, but it's got seriously wrong angles for Japanese knives. For that matter, if you do use a machine, you're probably better off avoiding the real high-end knives. For one thing, they can scratch your knives up pretty easily, and for another they don't get them REALLY sharp.

More generally, not all systems are suitable for all knives. By way of example, I use Arkansas stones which are too slow for some of the really hard steels used in Japanese knives.

IMO, a lot of thought should be given to how easy the knife is to sharpen. All my daily drivers, carbon Sabatiers, are notoriously easy to sharpen.

post #6 of 24
Thread Starter 
I have a Tri-Hone oil stone I sharpen on. I tried the Chefs Choice on some cheaper knives and it took too much off, and doesnt sharpen near as good as a Tri-Hone. Ive read many forums and tips about the way to sharpen. Gotta get that "burr" and then youre on your way.
post #7 of 24

Observation: Assuming your finest stone is a fine India or finer ... your finer stones are going to take a long time to finish the sorts of very hard steels in better Japanese knives.

If you're up to dealing with carbon steel, which I prefer actually, you're probably okay. Most carbons sharpen easier than most stainless.

Even so, you might want to think about water stones or diamond. Diamond is kind of rough for most Japanese knife aficianados. But most tri-hone set-ups don't go very fine either. If you want to maintain a Japanese level of sharpening polish you're going to need something like a hard Arkansas or a 2000 grit water stone, minimum. Although I use India and Arkansas stones, I wouldn't recommend them for most Japanese knives. Too slow.

The dynamic of sharpening equipment and knives is frustrating. But when you consider that at it's most basic, a knife is just a way of bringing a sharp edge to a task, and that all knives get dull eventually -- and sooner rather than lighter if it's a favorite -- you recognize that you've got to find a method of keeping them sharp that's effective and convenient enough to stay with. It seems to fall squarely in the category of JUST NOT FAIR to need $200 worth of sharpening equipment in order to fool around with a $165 knife. Not that there aren't workarounds and temporary stopgaps -- but definitely something to keep in mind.

I hesitate to recommend my favorite types of knives because they're not what you were asking about. But consider the better French carbons. They're incredibly easy to sharpen, hold an edge very well, and are a lot lighter and more agile than their German or American counterparts.

The lines to look for are Four Star Elephant Sabatier (by Thiers Issard) carbon; Nogent Elephant Sabatier (also Thiers Issard); and K Sabatier au carbone. The Best of Things, Sabatier Kitchen Knives at The Best Things handles Elephant, and K-Sabatier, Kitchen Sabatier Knives : French cutlery from Thiers sells K-Sabatier au carbone.

While there are a couple of other manufacturers who use the Sabatier name and make decent carbons, some even as good, the situation gets confusing. And these three lines are not only the creme de la creme but represent an historical cross section of "modern" carbons. I find the Nogent line especially nice. Unfortunately they don't have all patterns. Also, I prefer a modern, full-tang, rivited handle on my 10" chef's because (a) I use the rivets (1/4" - batonet) and tang spine (1/8" - julienne) as references, and (b) the distal taper balances a long knife more neutrally balanced. My chef's is a K-Sab, but I think the Elephant might actually be nicer. Close call.

Just some thoughts,
post #8 of 24
I purchased a quantity of T-I Nogents from The Best Things last summer at a discount specifically to sell on ebay. Quality control is spotty and runs from "ohh this is a great knife" to "how in the **** did this get out of the factory". Make sure you can return a purchase if you aren't happy. My best Sabs are 30-60 years old and I can say without reservation that they aren't making them like they used to. Here's one of the better new ones and the page also contains a link to a blurb about who's who re: Sabatier.
Buzz - with a Short Pilot Story

One day, long, long ago there was this Pilot who, surprisingly...........
was not full of crap....
But it was a long time ago.... And it was just one day. The End
Buzz - with a Short Pilot Story

One day, long, long ago there was this Pilot who, surprisingly...........
was not full of crap....
But it was a long time ago.... And it was just one day. The End
post #9 of 24
BDL is full of info. He convinced me to buy a K-Sab au-carbon all the while endorsing a MAC. Funny how things work out.

I'm in a similar boat having only used commercial grade and Wustofs till I ordered it.

Haven't recieved my knife in the mail yet, I'll let you know how I like it.
post #10 of 24



Just a quick question, based on BDL's review, Shun classic vs Hiromoto AS. What is your opinion of the Wa Gyuto 300ml knife in the AS range. Thank you for your comments, after reading your piece in the forum I value your opinion.


Thanks again



post #11 of 24

Im using a Shun Elite chef 8 and its unbelievable.. Im cooking at home and at work and its superb.

post #12 of 24

You should really consider buying a true japanese knife a Yanagi or a Takobiki. you can find a lot of diferent prices, and steel quality, pure steel or stainless steel. its also a great investment opportunity, because true forged Japanese knives are going to star disapearing soon, because all the Japanes knife masters are really old, and no young japanese people are taking over the craft.

    Traditional Japanese knife making requires at least 4 skilled craftsmen, and it takes them 2 weeks to complete a single blade. The process can be divided into four stages: forging, edge crafting, handle making, and assembling, each of these stages is separated into different steps. A top-grade knife can go through 50 different steps. The final step is the engraving by hand of the brand and the knife maker, which differentiates handmade knives to mass, produced ones  Some brands I really like are: Korin, Aritsugu and Masamoto.

post #13 of 24

If you are interested in a petty/utility knife, the Henckels Twin Cermax is currently being clearanced for ridiculously cheap.  These are quite handle heavy, so I'm less enthused about the 6" and larger knives (although I understand that the 10" is more neutrally balanced than the other sizes).  The 5" utility/petty is a very nice knife for the price.  The 6" is quite handle heavy and has an odd (at least to me) blade profile.   I've already purchased a bunch of them for this year's holiday gift for my culinary inclined friends and relatives..

post #14 of 24
Boy, you guys can pick 'em.

Sorry, but: I really HATE Shun's cook knife profiles, have some other issues with them re price/quality, and don't recommend them at all, ever. Some people who are excellent technicians love theirs, and love is a good thing. One way or the other, they don't inspire much neutrality. The petty/slicer profile isn't as polarizing, but the construction (thick at the heel) price/quality ratio and so on, is still to dislike -- at least from my perspective. Plus there's the lingering taste left by the cook's. Whether or not a Shun is the obviously best, worst, or a down the middle in between choice for you depends on a number of things.

Still sorry, but: I bought four (count 'em, 4) Hiromoto AS, and was not amused. It's a relatively cheap way to get an AS hagane, but otherwise not great quality in any respect -- and that includes edge characteristics. A lot of people absolutely swear by Hiros though.

Sorry again, but: I strongly recommend against traditional Japanese profiles for most people who don't have a specific reason for using them. They are very much their own thing in terms of maintenance and use, and for most people are counter-productive.

Oh well,
post #15 of 24

So, BDL, how do you really feel about Shun and Hiromoto?  Don't hold back on our account now.biggrin.gif

post #16 of 24

Having originally learned much about Japanese knifes from BDL, or at least adopted BDL's prejudices as a J-Knife newb, I steered clear of the san-mai knives (a la the Hiromoto), too; but certainly there are plenty of obsessives on dedicated knife forums who really like them.  So I don't advocate for the devil, I just point that out.  (Meanwhile, I still steer clear, even when they're rehandled and otherwise super-pimped-out by some some real experts).


The Shun just have goofy profiles.  They just do.  And they're expensive. It's hard to get worse profiles; you can get better edge characteristics for less money.


Oh yeah, except that it's a matter of taste.  Ahem.


I wonder about those Twin Cermax petties.... anybody else have input? Just at that steep a price reduction.  I dislike that "bump" handle style (and don't see how it could possibly be truly ergonomic, either); but it does seem like a lot of petty for the money, unless the MSRP is so exaggeratedly high as to be fooling me.

Edited by Wagstaff - 8/31/11 at 8:36pm
post #17 of 24

Interestingly, the other knives in the line, while also on sale, are not discounted near as heavily.  I first bought one of the 6" and one of the 5" pettys to see what they were like.  There was a review of the petty on the Foody forum.  Although it was described as the 6" petty, the picture is of the 5" petty.  As I noted above, I find the 6" substantially more handle heavy and the blade geometry kind of odd.  I'll play with it for awhile and see if it grows on me, or not.  The 5", on the other hand, is more manageable even if also somewhat handle heavy.  Seems to make less of a difference at that size and the blade is shaped more "normally".  The "ergonomic" handle shape is not as extreme on the smaller petty, and, depending on how you like to hold your petty, the bump shape may also be less relevant (pinch, modified pinch, etc.).  Someone on one of the other knife forums rehandled their Cermax Gyuto using a Wa handle.  Looks great (and reportedly is now way more balanced), but it looked like a lot of work.  Beyond my meager machining talents. 


Hey, for $49.95, these aren't a bad toy.  Were they worth $200 at list?  Of course not.  I think they may just have had more of an overstock in those models than the others.

Edited by pohaku - 8/31/11 at 11:04pm
post #18 of 24

Yeah, if I were to look at any of them, I'd be looking at the 5" petty.  And generally I use a pinch, or modified on a shorter knife perhaps; I'm not super picky about the feel of a handle, actually.  I dislike the way those handles *look* but that's not a huge detriment.  In part they look like they're trying too hard!

post #19 of 24

I agree.  It's a bit too busy and ornate.  Certainly more "fancy" than any of my other knives.  I'm more into utilitarian.  My other pettys are a MAC (from the Chef line) and a Nogent.  And a 34 year old 6" Wusthoff chef classic that gets used as a utility knife.  So, nothing close to fancy.  The Cermax is sufficiently different (both in blade and looks) to keep me entertained for a bit.  Bought 5 of them - the other 4 will go as holiday gifts this year.

post #20 of 24

Mac Pro and Nogent.... so you KNOW what a great handle is!  On another thread, Joost and I wax on about the feel of ebony like the guitar nerds we apparently are.  There's that, but there's the size, shape (and to my eye) look of the Nogents, too, as my favorite western handle in my experience thus far. I really like the basic (ho-wood) wa handles, too, though.


I like the idea of the Twin Cermax as gifts, too -- very nice of you!  I was thinking along those lines as a possibility. At least for 2 people.

post #21 of 24

i also learned most everything i know about j knives from reading BDL's post but still bought a 270 mm takeda and it is still one of my favorites and i have a lot of nice knives.

post #22 of 24

Re: BDL's comments, to me it depends on what I'm using the knife for.  I have German and Japanese blades and use them for different things.  They are all great knives and I keep them all very sharp, but must admit I am most fond of my Japanese knives. I, too, am disappointed in my global.  Sharp, but find it uncomfortable to hold. Plus wasn't all that impressed with my Kyocera ceramic knife.  Was fun at first, but limited uses and not too practical if you drop it! Guess that's why there was a bronze age.  But I digress.  Sgt Pepper asked for recommendations of a couple razor sharp Japanese knives the average Joe may not know about, so he may want to check out a small company called Salter Fine Cutlery.  They use handforged Japanese blades. Very pretty and different.  I have two and they are razor sharp, plus are easy to keep sharp.  Worth checking out.

post #23 of 24

The wood in particular on those Salters is very pretty, Marty! And on those cutting boards.  I don't see a chef's longer than 8"... my eye gets confused by that site, too.  I'm not sure all the various options he's selling (or if I'm even right about 8" being the longest chef's knife).   I'll have to check it out on a more leisurely night.

post #24 of 24

Sgt Pepper - Please look at the Kantesugu Pro M series at Japanese Chefs Knives. VERY hard to beat for the money.

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