The eternal debate: Japanese or Western knives?

Which type of knife do you prefer?Even if you are not an expert in the cutlery industry, it is very likely that you've already heard about the discussion about which type of kitchen knives is better: Japanese or Western knives? There are many criteria that can influence your decision when you are about to buy a kitchen knife: the brand, the weight, the price, the look, etc. However,  there is one criterion above all that truly put cooks to debate, and that criterion is the fact of determining which knives are better: Japanese or Western?

Sure, choosing between both might be a simple matter of preference and determining which one is best could be completely subjective, but in order to help you pick a side, here at MyChefKnives we've decided to explain you what differentiates a Japanese knife from a Western knife and vice versa. After learning the best arguments from both sides of the debate, it will be all up to you to choose which is your preferred one. As for us, we love them both :)                      


    Japanese Style Kitchen Knives    

They've been invading the European and American markets for the last years, and now that they're here, they're willing to stay. Japanese style knives are becoming so popular around the world that even popular Western brands such as Wusthof started to manufacture kitchen knives with Japanese style blades. However, don't get confused, a knife can have a Japanese style blade (such as the one of a santoku knife) but that doesn't make it a Japanese knife. A true Japanese knife is the one that is manufactured in Japan usually following the traditional Samurai know-how in the field of sharp blades.

The blade of a Japanese knife

Nothing like the beauty of a Japanese blade!This is probably where it lies the biggest and most notorious difference between a Japanese knife and a Western knife. In Japanese cutlery, the steel used for manufacturing blades is of very high quality, and it is characterised by its impressive strength and robustness. There are several different types of Japanese steel, but the most popular of all is the VG10 steel, which is the one used at the core of the blades of KAI Shun Classic knives. This type of steel has a carbon content of 1% while most Western blades only reach a 0.5% of carbon content. The high carbon content plays an important role in making the blade ultra rigid, thus making it reach a hardness level that exceeds 60 HRC in the Rockwell scale.

Another particularity of most traditional Japanese blades is that they have an asymmetrical edge. This type of edge is the result of sharpening the blade only one side. The advantage of an asymmetrical edge is that it allows you cut your food in a more precise and delicate way. At the same time, this type of edge explains why many Japanese knives can be used only by right-handed cooks or only by left-handed cooks. However, we have to clarify that this is not the case for all Japanese knives. In fact, many Japanese manufacturers such as KAI have started to make knives with symmetrical blades, and this has helped them to respond to the needs of Western markets.

In terms of aesthetics, many Japanese knives tend to stand out thanks to their damascus blades. Indeed, a damascus blade has one of the nicest and most original looks that you can find on anyt type of knife. The damascus effect is created by overlapping layers of steel that are forged together when making the blade. In the final result, you can see "wavy lines" across the surface of the blade. The number of "wavy lines" will depend on the amount of layers used in the forging of the blade, and that vary anywhere from 3 ;ayers to 64 layers of steel.

Sharpening a Japanese knife

One of the main arguments used by the cooks who prefer Japanese knives over Western knives is the sharpness of the blade. Indeed, Japanese knives tend to have ultra sharp blades which, thanks to the high hardness of the steel, are able to keep a razor sharp edge for longer time. However, for when the time comes and you need to sharpen a Japanese knife, these are 2 biggest advices:

- The most recommended accessory for sharpening Japanese kitchen knives is the whetstone. For choosing the right whetstone for your Japanese knife, you have to know how hard is the blade of the knife. As a general rule, the harder the blade is, the finer the grit of the whetstone has to be. Since Japanese knives are usually quite rigid, we recommend you to never use a whetstone with a grit lower than 1000 grains. There are also manual and electric sharpeners that can be used for sharpening Japanese knives, but the most recommended accessory remains being the whetstone.

- Regardless of the type of knife sharpener that you decide to use, it is important that you always maintain a sharpening angle around 15°. Some Japanese knives might require a sharpening angle of as low as 5°, and yes, it is true that such low sharpening angles make the sharpening process a bit more difficult, but if it is well done, the cutting edge of your knife will remain sharp for a long time so you won't have to sharpen it so frequently. Pay close attention to the type of edge that your knife has, because if the edge is asymmetrical, you should avoid using a knife sharpener that sharpens both sides of the edge at the same time because this would damage the blade of your knife.

The handle of a Japanese knife

Most Japanese knives have handles that are made from beautiful natural materials such as precious woods. For instance, you can find plenty of Japanese knives with handles that are made of honoki wood, chestnut, walnut, and more. Besides the fact that these woods are durable and resistant, they also give a warm, rustic, and beautiful look to the knife. 

Some other Japanese knives have handles that are made from compound materials such as pakka (combination of wood and resin) and micarta (combination of resin and linen). These materials also provide a nice look to the handle, and on top of that, they are also characterised for their resistance to humidity and accidental strokes.

As for the design of Japanese handles, most of them have a D-shaped design that allows you to have a more comfortable grip while holding the knife. This type of handle has a round side and a pointed side, thus it it not symmetrical. Therefore, it is important to take into account that a Japanese knife with a D-shaped handle might not be suitable for both left and right-handed cooks. However, this is not the case for all Japanese knives. Nowadays, you can also find Japanese knives with riveted handles, which is a characteristic more common in Western knives.


      Western Style Kitchen Knives    

Unless you are from an Oriental country, these are the knives that you accostumed to see in your kitchen. When you think of the Western world you probably think of Europe and America, but in terms of cutlery, there are specific countries that manufacture the most known Western knives in the world: Germany and France. On the German side, you find big knife manufacturers such as Wusthof, DICK, and Zwilling. On the French side, you find the popular brand Sabatier with kitchen knives that are appreciated by professional cooks from all around the world. For sure, German knives are not identical to French knives, but they both have the typical Western characteristics that differentiate them from Japanese knives.

The blade of a Western knife

Overall, Western knives have blades that are less hard and strong than Japanese knives. This is because the steel blades of Western knives have a lower carbon content. Indeed, most Western knives only reach a carbon content of 0.5%, but the low content of carbon is usually compensated by a higher content of chrome which might reach up to 15%. Thanks to the chrome content, the blades of Western knives have better stainless properties in comparison to Japanese knives. In addition, just because they are less rigid than Japanese ones, it doesn't mean that Western blades are weak. In fact, they are still considerably solid and that is in part thanks to the combination of molybdenum and vanadium included in the stainless steel.

Unlike traditional Japanese knives, most Western knives (perhaps 99% of them) have blade with symmetrical edges. The greatest advantage of using a blade with symmetrical edge is that it is suitable for everyone! When buying a Western knife, it is almost always assumed that the knife can be used by both left-handed and right-handed cooks. 

Sharpening a chef knifeSharpening a Western knife

It is true that Japanese knives remain sharp for a longer period of time than Western knives do, but on the other hand, sharpening a Wester type of knife is much easier than sharpening a Japanese style knife. The reason is because Western knives can be sharpened at a wider angle. In general, most Western knives require a sharpening angle of between 17° and 20° on each side of the blade (because remember: the edge of Western knives is symmetrical so it needs to be sharpened on both sides).

When choosing the right sharpening accessory for your Western knives, the list of options is wide. You could, for example, use a sharpening steel (also known as sharpening or honing rod), which is the preferred accesory of Western professional chefs and butchers all around the world. If you look for an easier way of sharpening your Western style knives, you could also use an electric or a manual sharpener. In the end, whichever accessory you choose to use, the same principle applies as for Japanese knives: the harder the blade, the finer the grit of your sharpener must be. 

Tha handle of a Western knife

Most Western kitchen knives have handles made of synthetic materials of high quality that characterised for their great durability and resistance. Some of the most used materials are ABS, POM, and polypropylene. In terms of aesthetics, it is clear that the handles of Western knives are simpler and less dazzling than the handles of Japanese knives. However, the big advantage of Western handles is that they easier to wash, because in fact, most of them are dishwasher safe.

Unlike most Japanese knives, the handles of Western knives tend to be fixed with rivets that ensure a great equilibrium and solidity. In some knives, the rivets are just there as part of the look of the handle. However, in other knives such as the ones from Sabatier and Wusthof, the rivets actually play an important role in assuring the balance and stability of the handle, because they cross the body of the handle making sure that its parts remain firmly attached.


And the winner is...

Announcing the winner is in fact your job. Both Western knives and Japanese knives have their advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, choosing the best one will depend on your needs and preferences. However, with all the information that we have given you, it should now be easier for you to know what differentiates ones from the others so that you can make a wiser decision for your kitchen.

Whether you prefer the tradition and history of Japanese cutlery or the efficiency of Western knives, MyChefKnives is your best option for finding the knives of your dreams. Go ahead and have a tour throughout our website; you'll be surprised with the extensive variety of products (Japanese AND Western) to equip your kitchen with the best quality!


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