The Japanese tradition of knife making runs long, with some of today’s methods having been applied to samurai sword making. While both are precision-crafted, the Japanese style is minimalist and sleek versus the practical, black-handled, riveted, German look. The Shun Classic series is probably the closest comparison to the German, with its black PakkaWood handles, but the similarities pretty much end there. Japanese knives overall are much lighter. They start with a very tough inner core then add layers upon layers of steel producing a variegated “wave” pattern on the blade. The wave pattern helps keep food, such as sushi for example, from sticking to the blade. A common knife style is the Santoku, which adds hollows in the blade for even less friction when slicing. The strength of the core metal in these lightweight knives enables the blade to be thinner than the traditional German steel, as well as stay sharper longer. The down side is that when they do become dull you need to go to a professional to sharpen them.
Ceramic knives from Japan are also renowned for their minimalist designs. In contrast to steel, they resist any kind of wear or corrosion and Zirconium oxide is significantly harder than steel, keeping a sharp edge from months to years, with a nonstick surface that makes cleanup easy. That being said, they are a bit fragile (don’t drop them), can chip if used on bones or frozen foods, and require special sharpening tools.
Shun, Global and ceramic knives are all more lightweight than classic, German forged knives. Some say the lightweight design of Shun, Global and ceramic knives is an advantage as it reduces hand fatigue, while others prefer the more traditional forged German heft. What’s the ultimate knife collection? We recommend a mixture of the “workhorse” forged German style and precision-focused Japanese style to tackle different tasks in your kitchen.
Top-Rated Japanese Knives
With handles made from moisture-resistant PakkaWood and a 33-layer steel clad construction, the handcrafted yet elegant Shun knives marry function and style seamlessly resulting in perfectly balanced, lightweight, incredibly sharp knives.
In 1983 Japan’s Global knives were introduced into the market, making quite a splash with their all-steel construction of blade and handle. Global achieves the proper balance by filling the hollow handle with just enough sand for a perfect balance.
Kyocera is the best known, top brand if you’re in the market for sleekly minimalist ceramic knives. They boast holding their edge at least 10 times longer than other professional cutlery materials, including high carbon steel.