A sharp set of knives is a must-have for both professional chefs and passionate home cooks. For many, a knife set is an investment: a high-quality set can last for a lifetime of preparing countless delicious meals.
Japanese knives have earned a stellar reputation for their sharpness, precision, and quality. The best Japanese knife set includes a range of sharp and versatile knives for daily cooking tasks. Keep reading to learn more about the qualities of the best Japanese knife sets and explore some of the top picks on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Shun Classic 6-piece Slim Knife Block Set
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Kessaku 4 Knife Set – Samurai Series
- UPGRADE PICK: DALSTRONG Knife Set Block – Shogun Series X Knife Set
- MOST VERSATILE: Ginsu Gourmet Chikara Series Forged 19-Piece
- BEST STARTER SET: Shun Premier Kitchen Knife Starter Set
- MOST DURABLE: Global 7-piece Ikasu Knife Block Set
- ALSO CONSIDER: Yatoshi 7 Knife Block Set – Pro Kitchen Knife Set
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Japanese Knife Set
A delicious meal starts with prepping ingredients, usually calling for some chopping or dicing. A sharp, well-balanced, and versatile knife set makes prepping a breeze, whether for slicing tomatoes or deboning poultry. When choosing a Japanese knife set, consider the types of knives and their material, durability, size, weight, versatility, and any included accessories.
Japanese knives come in a wide range of knife types, each designed for a different purpose. Below are some of the knife types you can expect to see in a set:
- Gyuto: This larger knife is equivalent to a European chef’s knife and is a general-utility knife for cutting meat or vegetables. With a slightly curved blade, it can cut in a chopping or rocking motion.
- Santoku: With a slightly smaller size and shorter tip than a gyuto knife, santoku knives are another all-purpose knife but usually cut with a chopping motion. They are excellent for cutting vegetables, meat, and fish.
- Sujihiki: These knives are similar to European slicers but typically have a thinner blade that allows for a more precise cut. They are ideal for filleting or carving meat.
- Honesuki: A honesuki knife is the Japanese version of a boning knife, intended for deboning and preparing poultry.
- Nakiri: Ideal for cutting vegetables, these sturdy chopping knives have a rectangular shape with a straight blade. Their straight blade is popular for slicing vegetables and for chopping hard produce, like squash and melons.
- Usaba: Another type of vegetable knife, this traditional knife type has a very thin and sharp blade for precisely slicing vegetables to create very thin or decorative cuts.
- Petty: Similar to a paring knife, these smaller knives are ideal for cutting small fruits and vegetables and for delicate cutting work, such as chopping fragile herbs and produce.
- Yanagiba: Most popularly used for slicing blocks of fish, this angled knife type is often used to prepare sashimi and nigiri sushi since it allows for clean, smooth cuts in a long drawing motion.
- Deba: With a thick spine and a weighty design, these knives are used for gutting, filleting, and preparing fish.
Quality and Durability
When shopping for a Japanese knife set, there are a few features that can contribute to quality and durability, including the tang, cutting edge, material, and manufacturing process.
- Tang: High-quality knives are made from a single piece of steel that extends into the handle for stability. The section of the steel that extends into the handle is called the “tang.” Full-tang knives have a steel piece that extends the entire length of the handle, while partial tang knives extend partially into the handle. A full-tang blade tends to be sturdier and more durable.
- Cutting edge: On a double-bevel blade, the cutting edge tapers symmetrically to each side. Single-bevel blades taper to only one side. Single-bevel blades often have a narrower cutting angle, which helps them make very precise and thin cuts. Many Western knives have a double-bevel blade, while traditional Japanese knives have a single bevel blade. However, when it comes to newer Japanese knives, options are available in both double- and single-bevel blades. Double-bevel blades are easier for the average home cook to use.
- Material: Common materials include carbon steel, stainless steel, and high-carbon stainless steel. Carbon steel is a hard material that is easier to resharpen. However, it is prone to rust, stains, or chips without proper care, which involves carefully cleaning and drying the blade after each use. Traditional Japanese knives are made of a type of carbon steel called hagane. Since carbon steel is harder to maintain, modern residential knives are often made from other steels. Stainless steel is an easy-to-maintain blade material that is rust- and stain-resistant. The material is less fragile than carbon steel, requiring less maintenance. Another popular material for modern Japanese-style knives is high-carbon stainless steel. This type of stainless steel has a higher carbon content than regular stainless steel. This gives it many of the benefits of carbon steel, like its ability to maintain a razor-sharp edge, but makes it less prone to rust or stains.
- Forged vs. stamped: Knife blades are manufactured in either a forging or stamping process. To make forged blades, a bar of steel alloy is heated up and pounded to form the knife shape. Forged knives tend to be heavier and have a bolster (the thick ridge of steel between the blade and the handle on forged knives). On the other hand, stamped blades are cut or stamped out directly from a sheet of steel. These knives tend to feel lighter and usually don’t have a bolster. Forged knives tend to have a better reputation when it comes to quality, but some well-made stamped knives now rival the quality of forged knives.
Japanese knife sets often include knives of varying lengths, depending on the knife types included. Different kitchen knife lengths are well suited to different food-prep tasks.
For example, a short petty knife (similar to a paring knife) is excellent for cutting delicate produce or for making small, decorative cuts. On the other hand, a sujihiki (which resembles a slicer) has a long blade ideal for carving meat since it can create long, smooth strokes.
Depending on the knife set, a range of knife lengths may be included. Consider choosing a set that best covers your daily food-prepping habits.
The ideal handle material depends on personal preference. Common handle materials include wood, plastic, and stainless steel.
Wood handles have a smooth grip and an attractive look. However, since wood is a porous material, these handles can hold on to bacteria. These handles can also crack or warp with water exposure, so they need to be hand-washed. They also benefit from an occasional polish to maintain their attractive sheen.
Plastic handles are less porous and won’t absorb germs but can become brittle or crack over time. These handles tend to be lighter and may feel too light in hand for some users. Plastic handles can come in a range of attractive colors and patterns.
Stainless steel is durable and sanitary but can feel slippery. The presence of indents can help make a handle safer to use. Stainless steel handles tend to make a knife heavier.
When it comes to handle design, Western knives tend to have a bolster and tang with a riveted handle. Generally, these handles are smaller but heavier, placing more weight toward the knife handle. They can be made of a range of nonporous materials like plastics, steels, or cured wood.
Traditional Japanese knife handles often have a hidden tang with no rivets, which gives them their sleek look. Compared to Western-style knives, they tend to have a lighter and larger cylindrical handle that is commonly made of wood. The lighter handle means the weight distribution is toward the blade.
Weight and Balance
For many chefs and serious home cooks, the weight and balance of a knife is an important feature. Factors like the knife tang, distal tapering, and bolster can affect a knife’s weight and balance.
A full tang, where the metal extends throughout the handle, will contribute to a heavier knife. Thicker distal tapering (the blade tapering as it nears the handle) and the presence of a bolster will also lend to a heavier knife. Each of these features helps to balance a knife and make it feel nicer to use. Since these features are often closer to the handle, they can create a weightier handle, which affects balance. Knives without these features tend to have a lighter handle and are more blade-heavy.
Japanese knives tend to be lighter than Western knives and balanced toward the blade. Western knives tend to be heavier and have a more neutral balance. The ideal weight and balance will depend on personal preference.
One benefit of buying a knife set is that it will include a range of versatile knives for different cooking needs. A Japanese knife set with three to five knives may be enough for a beginner cook or for everyday cooking, but those who spend a lot of time experimenting in the kitchen may want to consider a knife set with more pieces.
Multipurpose knives like the gyuto and santoku are common in Japanese knife sets because they perform well for chopping common foods like vegetables and meats. A smaller knife like a petty knife is also very useful for slicing fruits or small cutting jobs that don’t call for a larger knife.
Style and Accessories
Most Japanese knife sets are rather subdued in style, with a classic look and neutral colors. Materials like silver steel blades and stainless steel, black plastic, or natural wooden handles give them a clean look that should suit most kitchens.
Knife sets can include a variety of useful accessories. Many knife sets include a knife block to safely store knives and prevent damage to the blade. Scissors are another useful tool that may come with larger sets.
Some knife sets include honing rods for knife maintenance. These steel rods help to realign the sharp cutting edge of a knife.
Our Top Picks
A high-quality set of Japanese knives will live up to its reputation of having razor-sharp blades and balanced handles for precise cutting. The following top picks are sharp and versatile Japanese knife sets to help make preparing food easy and enjoyable. Read on to learn why these knife sets are the top choices for meal prepping.
Handcrafted in Seki, Japan, this knife set brings Japanese craftsmanship to residential kitchens. This six-piece set from Shun includes three knives, a pair of scissors, and a honing steel. This simple set enables the home cook to tackle a range of food-prepping tasks as well as maintain the knife set.
The knives include a 3.5-inch paring knife, 7-inch santoku knife, and 8-inch chef’s knife to handle daily food-prepping tasks. The blades are made from Shun’s proprietary VG-MAX steel with layers of stainless Damascus steel over top. The steel layers add durability and stain resistance, as well as give the blade its rippled pattern. To maintain the sharp knife edge, a 9-inch honing steel is included. All of the pieces store in the included knife block.
Each double-bevel blade is razor-sharp for safe chopping and dicing. The black pakkawood handles are smooth to the touch and moisture resistant for sleek durability.
Designed in Japan, this knife set is made for daily cooking tasks. The four-piece set includes an 8-inch chef’s knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 5.5-inch utility knife, and 3.5-inch paring knife. Each handcrafted knife has Kessaku’s specially formulated high-carbon stainless steel blade. The blades are designed to be ultrasharp as well as resistant to corrosion and rust.
The mirror-polished handle is made of smooth pakkawood that is heat-, cold-, and moisture-resistant. These handles have a lovely natural grain pattern that conceals the sturdy full tang of the blade.
Although this set does not include a knife block, each knife comes in a premium magnetic closure gift box with a proactive blade guard and cleaning cloth included, ideal for gifting or storing.
Made with AUS-10 steel, a strong type of steel produced by Aichi Steel in Tokai, Japan, these precise knives from Dalstrong perform beautifully in the kitchen. Five knives are included in this set: an 8-inch chef’s knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 6-inch utility knife, 8-inch bread knife, and 3.75-inch paring knife. The knives all fit in the acacia wood knife block for storing.
Each knife has a steel core surrounded by 67 layers of high-carbon stainless steel, providing strength and stain resistance. The hammered-blade finish gives each knife a dimpled look that is sleek and upscale, combining utility with aesthetics. These small divots not only look nice, but they also prevent food from sticking to the blade while chopping.
The handles are made out of G-10, a fiberglass-like material that is nonporous and smooth. The full-tang design and triple-riveted handle provide even more durability for long-term use.
Serious home cooks need a few specialty knives for tasks like filleting fresh fish or deboning poultry. For those who spend a lot of time in the kitchen, consider this versatile 19-piece knife set from Ginsu.
This set includes the following: an 8-inch chef’s knife, 8-inch slicer, 8-inch bread knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 6-inch cleaver, 6-inch boning knife, 5-inch utility knife, 3.5-inch paring knife, a honing rod, a set of kitchen shears, and eight 4.5-inch steak knives.
Each knife is made from Japanese stainless steel, sharpened to a razor edge. The handles are made of water- and heat-resistant black resin for a hygienic and smooth cutting grip. The knives come in an included bamboo-finish knife block, which ensures safe and organized storage.
With three varying sizes, this starter set from Shun covers most daily cooking needs. This set includes an 8-inch chef’s knife, 6.5-inch utility knife, and 4-inch paring knife.
Staying true to tradition, each piece is handcrafted in Shun’s Seki City facility. To create an exceptional knife, the steel blade undergoes a heat-treating and tempering process that makes the blade stronger, harder, and better able to hold a sharp edge.
For a sleek finished look and nonstick function, each blade has a hand-hammered finish. This gives the knife blades a dimpled look that lessens the chance that food like sliced vegetables and fruit will stick to its surface. Each knife has a pakkawood handle with a natural dark brown grain that looks sleek and feels comfortable.
Rather than manufacturing a separate blade and handle, these steel knives from Global are constructed from a single piece of steel. This design eliminates the chance of breaking between the blade and handle. Each knife is handcrafted in Niigata, Japan, using Global’s signature CROMOVA 18 stainless steel that is tempered, hardened, and sharpened to a thin razor edge.
This seven-piece set includes six knives and a stylish bamboo and acrylic knife block. The knives include a 3-inch paring knife, 4.5-inch utility knife, 5-inch utility knife, 5.5-inch nakiri knife, 8-inch chef’s knife, and 8-inch bread knife.
The knives have a molded hollow handle that is filled with the right amount of sand for optimal balance. Each handle has a dimpled grip, which provides a comfortable and slip-resistant surface.
A nice set of knives doesn’t only make food prep easier; a stylish set can also look great on the kitchen counter. Made from high-carbon steel and with a dark brown pakkawood handle, these knives look as sleek as they feel.
This set includes an 8-inch chef’s knife, 7-inch santoku knife, 5-inch santoku knife, 8-inch bread knife, 7-inch slicing knife, utility knife, and paring knife. The seven knives store in their included stainless steel knife block.
Each high-carbon stainless steel blade is durable and ultrasharp. The knives are resistant to corrosion, rust, and stains and are finished with a striking waved pattern. For comfortable chopping, the knives have a smooth pakkawood handle, giving them a traditional Japanese knife look while offering a secure, lightweight grip.
FAQs About Japanese Knife Sets
A good set of knives is a worthwhile kitchen investment. A well-crafted knife set can make all the difference while chopping, slicing, and mincing food. Before choosing a set of Japanese knives, consider the following frequently asked questions and answers below.
Q. What is a Japanese-style knife?
Japanese-style knives are food-preparation knives inspired by traditional Japanese knife-making techniques and knives.
Q. Are Japanese knives single or double bevel?
It depends on the knife. Traditional Japanese knives are single bevel, while modern Japanese knives can have single-bevel or double-bevel blades.
Q. Can I put Japanese knives in the dishwasher?
No, it is best to hand-wash Japanese knives to prevent any damage.
Q. How often do I have to sharpen Japanese knives?
Since it depends on the frequency of use, it is best to sharpen Japanese knives once they start to dull—it is easier to get a relatively sharp knife back to exceptionally sharp rather than sharpening a dull knife. If you have trouble slicing through a delicate fruit like a tomato, that is one sign that the knife is starting to get dull and needs to be sharpened.
Q. How long do knife sets last?
A high-quality and well-maintained knife set has the potential to last many decades and create a lifetime of recipes.