Learn About Japanese Chef Knives (Hocho)

The Japanese chef knife bears resemblance to swords of the samurai warriors. Crafted with a thin, fine blade unmatched by western stainless steel knives, the Japanese knife is a sushi chef's most prized tool. Said to have a soul (tamashii) instilled by the crafts-person who made the knife, only after mastering the knife will the chef discover the tamashii.

A sushi chef needs good knives and needs to master their use because each dish must delight all five senses - sight, taste, smell, touch and sound. Foods must be cut into bite sized, visually appealing pieces. The qulity of the knife and the chef's skill in using it directly affect the texture and look of the sushi.

True Japanese chef knives are made with a thin blade made of carbon steel. Carbon steel knives (hon-yaki) can hold a sharper edge than knives made with stainless steel blends. Carbon steel is more brittle however and dropping the knife or cutting something hard can result in chipping or breaking the blade.

Another traditional blade is formed of carbon steel and iron, called tanzo. Tanzo blades are more flexible and are less likely to chip or break and they hold their edge longer than the hon-yaki blade.

Because of the lack of stainless steel, Japanese knives need to be frequently washed and dried immediately to reduce staining or rusting. Oil the blade once in a while, particularly if you won't be using the knife for a length of time.

Japanese knives are typically ground on one side of the blade so a right ground blade is for right-handed chefs, slicing from the right edge of the food while a left ground blade is for left handed users.

Types of Japanese Chef Knives:

Yanagiba-bocho - The Sashimi Knife

The sashimi knife is a long, slender knife, shaped like a willow leaf, and are 9 to 12 inches long. When highly sharpened the knife can slice through food with little pressure. This style of knife is a must for slicing sashimi and is also excellent for slicing other meats.

Deba-bocho - The Fish Butchering Knife

This knife is used for filleting fish and cutting chicken and other meats. Made of a heavy blade about 8 inches long, it is the equivalent of the western chef's knife.

Nakiri-bocho - The Vegetable Knife

The nakiri is a thin bladed rectangular knife with a straight blade, sometimes resembling a samurai sword. Indispensable for slicing, peeling and chopping vegetables.

Gyutou-bocho - The Chef Knife

The gyutou knife is a nice general purpose knife that can be used in place of both the deba and nakiri. It has a pointed, one-sided blade and is good for cutting meat, fish and vegatables.