How To Care for Japanese Knives

A knife is one of the many tools one may use in a kitchen. A Japanese kitchen knife is one of the many knives that people would possess in their kitchens.

They are however not like other knives as they come in many different varieties and styles. Many of these best Japanese chef knives under $200 are made using the same hand-forging techniques used to produce Samurai swords.

In traditional Japanese cuisine, it is common to think of a chef of skill as one who shows intricate knife work. To achieve such mastery, Japanese chefs often rely on a variety of knives to prepare food.

However, Japanese knives are different in structure from European knives and require special care which is very important for their long-term use.

What is Japanese Knife?

We think knives made in Japan by skilled Japanese artisans are called Japanese knives. But that is not the case at all.

In the age of globalization, the spread of industrialization has greatly increased, so it has become very important to reduce the price of goods in a competitive market. This is why many Japanese knives are now made outside of Japan.

Although Japanese knives are manufactured outside of Japan, their main components are Japanese steel and the production techniques are the same. So these knives can also be called Japanese knives.

Japanese steel, also known as Hagane, is the major material from which these knives are made. Hagane, a type of carbon steel, which varies in quality and grades is also used to forge Nihontō (samurai swords) as many cutting implements made with Hagane possess a sharp edge.

Why Do Japanese Knives Require Special Care?

Japanese kitchen knives are razor-sharp because the blades are made from Hagane which is relatively soft carbon steel but they are very fragile. Moreover, they have thinner blades than their European counterparts.

That’s why they are to be maintained regularly and properly. A Hagane blade that is not maintained regularly and properly will dull, chip, and rust making it useless.

Proper care and maintenance for these knives will keep them in the best shape and would make them last for a long time. Improper care would cause rusting or chipping.

Overview of Best Way to Maintain Japanese Knife

Depending on what they are made of, the knives would require various levels of care. For special care of the Japanese knives, the following guidelines may need to be followed.

Rule-1: Before Using
Rule-2: Use the Right Knife
Do Not Abuse Your Knives
Rule-4: Use a Cutting Board
Rule-5: Clean and Wash
Rule-6: Store Properly
Rule-7: Sharpen When It Necessary
Rule-8: Prevent Rusting

Rule-1: Before Using the Japanese Knife

Before using the knife for the first time, make sure that the blade is slightly sharpened using a finishing stone. This process is called honbazuke.

Most Japanese knives that are store-bought come with a honbazuke finish. It is recommended to ensure so before purchasing as the knives require sharpening before the initial use.

Rule-2: Use the Right Japanese Knife for Your Work

Each knife is designed for a specific task. Always use the right type of knife for specific tasks. If you need to cut meat and bones, you should use a Japanese meat cleaver instead of a Japanese chef knife.

You should use a light Japanese steak knife or chef knife, or ceramic knife to cut soft food ingredients such as boneless meat, vegetables, or fruits. If you use a heavy or unsuitable Japanese knife for all these tasks, long-time use will definitely cause fatigue in your hands.

Rule-3: Do Not Abuse Your Japanese Knives

Hard or frozen food items such as bones, seeds, or nutshells should not be cut with Japanese slice knives to avoid chipping or other damage to the edge. Use a chef knife or a meat cleaver or other Japanese knives which are designed to cut hard food items.

When cutting with the knife avoid side-to-side movements and use a clean and smooth cut especially while cutting hard food items.

Rule-4: Never Use a Japanese Knife Without an Appropriate Cutting Board

Japanese knives should also not be used on hard surfaces. A proper cutting surface should be used.

Metal and glass surfaces should not be used. Bamboo and polyp boards if used are extremely hard to knife’s edge. The best boards are end-grain wood boards such as Hiba wood or hinoki.

Rule-5: Clean and Wash Your Japanese Knives Wisely

Although the Japanese full-tang knives are made from high carbon stainless steel, they are not completely stain-proof and will rust if not properly cared for.

Being made of stainless steel means that they have a resistance to rusting. The knives are to be washed by hand using mild soapy detergent and water immediately after use and dried neatly with a towel.

Japanese knives are never to be washed in a dishwasher. Doing so ruins the blade’s edges and causes them to chip. The harsh salts, extreme temperatures, and motion of items in the dishwasher have very destructive effects on the knives.

Japanese steel knives with high carbon content may react with acidic food and the food’s color, taste or smell could be changed. The knives are to be wiped dry after use to prevent rusting especially immediately after cutting acidic foods.

Rule-6: Store the Japanese Knives Properly

All Japanese knives should be kept safely in a wood block, knife Saya, sheath or case, or a magnetic rack to protect the knives. A drawer or rack could be added to the kitchen to store the knives.

Knives could also be stored with the leather knife roll. But this is better for the professional chef who travels with his tools and is cumbersome for domestic use.

For long-term storage, a few drops of tsubaki abura (camellia oil) or olive oil can be applied and the knife wrapped in newspaper and stored in a cool, dry place to prevent rusting after use.

They should not be kept in the sink and nothing should be piled on top of them.

Rule-7: Sharpen Your Japanese Knives Only When It Necessary

Traditional Japanese cuisine places a lot of emphasis on food presentation hence a sharp knife is necessary to improve the taste and texture of food.

Typically, a Japanese chef will end their workday by diligently sharpening their knives in a zen-like fashion. Professional chefs have to sharpen and take care of their knives almost every day.

For those who are basically unprofessional chefs, for easy maintenance, the blade should be sharpened as soon as it starts showing signs of dullness.

To ensure that the knives are properly cared for and maintained, it is recommended that a knife is sharpened at least once a month using a whetstone.

A Japanese knife should be sharpened with a high-quality Japanese whetstone. Japanese Whetstones produce the best effects if used correctly.

Japanese whetstones can be categorized into three broad types featuring different grits.

Ara-to “荒砥” (Coarse stone) – 120 to 600 grit. It is typically used first and is best for repairing damaged and very dull knives.

Naka-to “中砥” (Medium stone) – 1000 to 1500 grit. This type of whetstone is necessary to maintain and restore the blade’s edge.

Shiage-to “仕上げ砥” (Finishing stone) – 3000 grit and more. This type of whetstone is used for polishing a blade edge and also to create a sharp edge.

The next best options are pull-through sharpeners which are very easy to use. Although, they will only sharpen the bevel of the knife hence will need to be used more frequently or will not provide good results.

You will be happy to know that some high-quality self-sharpening knife sets have built-in pull-through sharpeners that will keep your precious knives continuously razor sharp.

Finally, a sharpening machine or knife sharpening system can be used when sharpening edges.

Rule-8: Prevent Rusting

Over time, black spots, or a grey patina will develop on the blade’s surface. This process is natural and forms an organic residue. This organic residue will serve as a protective layer for rust prevention.

If the patient appears reddish-brown in color, this is a sign of rust and it should be removed. To remove rust, scrub the knife with steel. For better results, apply the knife’s maintenance oil on the blade before scrubbing the rust.


Kitchen knives are a very important tool in the kitchen and need to be handled properly. There is no magic in the knife but the chef that uses it makes it valuable.

Japanese knives are not like other knives; they will get damaged if not cared for regularly. They would need to be stored, washed, and sharpened wisely.

Did you know that my blog has many kitchen knives related tips articles as well as product review articles too? The knives that have been reviewed on this blog are even far superior to the top products on the market. If you want you can take a look-

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