Traditional Japanese knives are singled-beveled, meaning they are sharpened to an edge on one side only. This style of knife is forged from various steel types and was born from Japan’s sword making tradition. Typically they are made for right-handed use, but can be special ordered for left-handed users. Above all, traditional Japanese knives are designed with a specific task in mind. Here, we’ll discuss the three main traditional knife shapes and their uses.
Deba knives are the perfect tool for butchering fish. They feature broad spines and hefty weight to easily break through bones. Deba knives are the first tools used on a whole fish, and are perfect for removing the head, and turning a whole fish into three segments known as sanmai oroshi. These smaller segments can be removed from the bone in a swift action thanks to the deba’s sharp edge and steep bevel.
Yanagi or yanagiba are long thin slicing knives, named after the shape of a willow leaf. Yanagi knives are commonly used by sushi chefs for the extreme precision they provide in slicing portions of raw fish. The most common type of yanagi features a tapered point. Other variations are takobiki (octopus knife) which features a blunt square tip and kensaki yanagi knives that feature an angular pointed tip that can be used as an additional cutting surface. Aside from slicing raw fish, yanagi knives are also useful on other protein preparations such as beef carpaccio or other soft raw or cooked meats.
Usuba are Japanese vegetable knives. These square cleavers have a very steep bevel that starts about half-way up the blade. Usuba are commonly rectangular in shape but one variation popular in the Western Japan, is called a kamagata usuba and features a rounded tip . They create precise cuts on all varieties of produce, including paper thin sheets of radish or cucumber and perfect batons and square dices on hard root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, or slicing through very hard items like pumpkins.