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In this guide, I’m going to explain the differences between Japanese and German kitchen knives.
You’ll learn how these two popular styles compare in terms of:
- Blade and handle materials
- Design (with lots of side-by-side pictures)
- Much more
So, if you’re shopping for new kitchen knives and unsure whether to buy a Japanese- or German-style set or individual knife, keep reading.
Use the links below to navigate the guide:
- Japanese vs. German Knives: Quick Summary
- Blade and Handle Materials
- Blade Profile
- Blade Thickness
- Blade Finish
- Handle Design
- Bottom Line: Which Type Should You Buy?
Japanese vs. German Knives: Quick Summary
When shopping for new kitchen knives, you’ll realize quickly that the top options fall into two categories: Japanese-style or German-style (also known as Western-style).
Japan and Germany have been at the forefront of culinary knife making since the 1800s, and they both know the secret to making brilliant knives.
Japanese knives receive inspiration from samurai swords, which have been crafted for more than 1,000 years. Extensive forging of Japanese culinary knives began in the 1850s — a tradition of over 170 years.
In Germany, archeologists uncovered evidence that blacksmiths were creating knives more than 2,000 years ago. However, the sturdy and durable German knives, as we know them today, were created in 1731 by Zwilling J.A. Henckels.
Culture and culinary preferences have a significant influence on the difference between Japanese and German knives.
Japanese knives generally are incredibly sharp and light. They’re designed to slice and chop ingredients precisely since traditional Japanese recipes include sushi, sashimi, soups, and vegetables.
Alternatively, German knives are known for their toughness. They’re bulkier and heavier and often contain softer steel. This is primarily due to the food choices of the Germans — denser ingredients and more meats.
However, as the culinary world evolves and more people have a varied diet, the differences between Japanese and German knives are decreasing.
To fill the world’s varied demands, we are beginning to see more crossover between the uses for German and Japanese knives, and knife makers have started to acknowledge the importance of hybrid style knives.
For example, the Wüsthof line includes Japanese-style knives, like the Classic Santoku (available on Amazon). It’s ideal for chopping, slicing, and dicing, unlike the bulkier German knives.
Japanese brands are also adopting more Western styles. Some Global knives (available on Amazon) have adopted certain German aspects with wider silhouettes.
As we delve into the finer details of both Japanese and German knives, keep in mind that these apply to most ― but not all ― brands. Every brand is slightly different in its design.
Speaking of brands, some of the top Japanese kitchen knife brands include:
- Shun: In business for more than 110 years, Shun has been crafting kitchen knives inspired by ancient traditions.
- Global: The company launched in 1985 and handcrafts Japanese knives using the best materials available. Global’s signature steel-handle design is one of a kind.
- Miyabi: Since 2004, Miyabi has combined Japanese craftsmanship with German inspiration to create quality Japanese culinary knives.
- Mac: Mac has delivered razor-sharp knives since 1964. They’re manufactured in Japan and sharpened by expert Japanese craftspeople.
- Takamura: These knives are a favorite among professional chefs, such as Rene Redzepi (a Michelin-rated chef based in Denmark). The company has been producing durable and refined knives for two generations.
- Japana: “Wow” will be your first thought when you see and feel these knives. Made with hand-hammered Damascus steel blades and maple wood handles dried for two years before assembly, Japana knives, known as Sakai Kyuba x Japana, look as amazing as they perform. By the way, these are the Japanese knives pictured in this guide.
There are many other reputable brands, including Nenox, Kurosaki, Haku, and Sakon.
Some of the top German kitchen knife brands include:
- Wüsthof: This iconic company has been making durable and reliable knives since 1814. It’s been family-owned since the beginning.
- Zwilling: Established in 1731, this is one of the oldest existing German knife companies. The master craftspeople combine traditional craftsmanship with innovative technologies to forge premium knives.
- Messermeister: Launched in 1981, this company honors traditional German manufacturing methods while continuously innovating to keep up with modern chefs’ needs.
- Böker: Since 1869, Boker has produced high-quality and innovative kitchen knives. They are also the biggest manufacturer in Europe for sports knives, tactical knives, and collector’s knives.
- F. Dick: In business since 1778, this company began as a manufacturing workshop. Butcherknife production started in 1889, and, since then, they have perfected the German kitchen knife.
- GÜDE: In 1910, this company began creating finely crafted, drop-forged knives using traditions that exist in the present day.
Blade and Handle Materials
One of the significant differences between Japanese and German kitchen knives is the type of steel used to make the blades and the materials used to make the handles.
Typically, Japanese blades are forged with harder steel, scoring between 60 and 63 on the Rockwell scale while German knives feature softer steel averaging 57 on the scale.
Hard steel can tolerate and retain an extremely sharp edge, but it’s more brittle and more likely to chip. This is why Japanese knives are best for vegetables and fish rather than cutting through thick slabs of meat or chopping through bones.
To get the best of both worlds, Japanese knife makers, including Shun, have begun using hard steel called VG-MAX surrounded by 68 layers of Damascus steel cladding. This hard cutting core ensures a razor-sharp edge while the softer upper blade increases its durability.
Similarly, Takamura knives feature R2/SG2 powdered stainless steel, which is hard but flexible. It’s best for slicing fish, vegetables, and fruit, but it still has the strength to chop thick cuts of meat.
German knife blades contain more chromium, which makes the steel softer and less likely to chip or break. A softer steel is also easier to sharpen and more resistant to corrosion and rust. The downside is that it loses its sharp edge quicker than harder Japanese steel.
Traditional Japanese knives are usually built with wood or wood composite handles. They are aesthetically pleasing and light, allowing for maximum precision.
For example, Shun knives are equipped with comfortable PakkaWood handles that are also waterproof to avoid bacteria growth. Miyabi knives offer wooden handles along with synthetic materials as well. Japana knives are made with an extremely limited European maple’s burl that’s stabilized in a dryer room for two years.
Typically German knife handles feature various synthetic materials like polyoxymethylene (POM), black polypropylene, and durable plastic.
German knife handles are typically heftier and thicker. However, every brand is different, and many German brands offer wood as well, such as walnut.
Japanese knives tend to have a straighter edge, which supports an up-and-down motion, which is ideal for chopping, slicing, and dicing. This blade profile makes for clean and easy slices. These knives usually have an acute tip, which helps to puncture your ingredients so that you can cut through them quickly.
German knives have a more rounded blade profile. This curvature allows for a rocking motion making food prep a breeze. German blades often need less pressure when cutting.
Japanese blades are thinner than German blades. Because of this, they’re also sharper, which allows for precise cutting, suitable for vegetables, fruit, and fish.
The thickness remains consistent throughout the blade since most Japanese knives are bolster-free.
Typically, German blades are thicker, wider, and feature a bolster. The bolster is where the blade meets the knife’s handle. The steel widens even further at the bolster, adding weight and balance and providing a smooth transition from handle to blade.
Though it tends to lose its edge quicker, a German knife’s thicker blade is easier and safer to use. If you’re after a workhorse knife, I recommend a German blade.
Though there are always exceptions, the main difference between Japanese and German blade finishes is that German knives are smoother while Japanese knives have more texture. Japanese knives are also more likely to employ patterns, such as a hand-pounded Damascus finish.
For example, the Shun Premier and Sakai Kyuba x Japana collections exhibit a swirly Damascus pattern and a shiny, hammered texture. Not only is this a pleasing aesthetic, but it’s also practical. A hammered texture reduces drag and releases ingredients while you’re chopping.
However, some other Japanese knives, such as Global knives, don’t boast a textured or detailed finish. Like their German competitors, they are plain and simple.
German knives, while plain, shiny, and smooth, offer practical advantages. These blades are often finished by a machine and are dependable and durable.
Typically, Japanese knives are sharper than German knives. The lower the blade angle, the sharper the knife. To share some examples, here is the blade sharpness of a few knives:
- (Japanese) Global Santoku Knife: 25 degrees
- (Japanese) Miyabi Fusion Chef’s Knife: 19 to 24 degrees
- (German) Wüsthof Cook’s Knife: 28 degrees
- (German) Zwilling Pro Chef’s Knife: 30 degrees
The contrast in blade sharpness comes back to the types of food typically prepared in each culture.
Japanese blades are ideal for traditional Japanese diets, including sushi, fruit, and thinly-cut vegetables.
Meanwhile, German knives are perfect for cutting meat, so they don’t need to be as sharp but reliable and durable.
While Japanese knives are also durable, they are more likely to chip or break because they are thinner.
While most eyes gravitate toward the knife’s blade first, it’s important to pay attention to the handle design. After all, this is the part that you’ll hold and plays a significant role in its functioning.
Broadly, Japanese knives have a more cylindrical shape, which is slightly less comfortable than the ergonomic German knife handles. However, the shape of the Japanese knife handles does give you more control.
A Japanese blade tapers inside the handle, making the front of the knife heavier than the handle so that you can make more controlled movements. For intricate and precise chopping and slicing, Japanese knife handles offer extra control.
German knives usually have a full-tang construction, meaning the steel blade runs up the handle, making the knife more durable and stronger. While it won’t give as precise cuts like a Japanese knife, these blades are often coveted for their longevity.
German knife handles are ergonomic and symmetrical to suit both right-handed and left-handed users. All of these factors make German knives the best option for cutting meat and hardy vegetables.
Typically, German knives are more substantial than Japanese knives because of the thicker blade, full-tang construction, and bulkier handle.
The added weight helps you cut through tough vegetables and meat since you don’t have to apply as much pressure, but you might prefer a lighter knife.
Below is a comparison of similar styles of knives and their weight:
- (Japanese) Shun Classic Chef Knife: 7.1 ounces
- (German) Mercer Culinary Chef Knife: 9.2 ounces
- (Japanese) ZHEN Cleaver: 12 ounces
- (German) Wüsthof Cleaver: 30 ounces
- (Japanese) Kai Wasabi Black Paring Knife: 3.5 ounces
- (German) Hammer Stahl Paring Knife: 8 ounces
- (Japanese) Shun Utility Knife: 1.6 ounces
- (German) Wusthof Utility Knife: 3.5 ounces
The price of knives depends greatly on the brand you buy. In general, Japanese knives tend to be more expensive than German knives because the blade is built in layers, and more craftsmanship is involved during the process.
Check the current prices of some of the popular knives below on Amazon.
- Sakai Kyuba x Japana 3-Piece Knife Set
- Shun Cutlery Premier 8 Inch Chef’s Knife
- Global 8 Inch Chef’s Knife
- Miyabi Kaizen Hollow Edge Santoku Knife
- Mac Knife Professional Hollow Edge Chef’s Knife
- Wüsthof Classic 3-Piece Knife Set
- Wüsthof Classic 8 Inch Chef’s Knife
- Wüsthof Grand Prix II 8 Inch Chef’s Knife
- Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Four Star Paring Knife
- Messermeister Petite Santoku Knife
Bottom Line: Should You Buy Japanese or German Kitchen Knives?
Japanese and German knives have notable differences, so choosing the best one depends entirely on your cooking style and design preferences.
However, many brands are adopting elements of both countries and creating hybrid options. So, you can get the best of both styles when you are shopping for a new knife.
Let’s recap the main differences.
Japanese knives utilize harder steel, which is excellent for precisely slicing and chopping fruit, vegetables, and fish, but makes the blades more brittle.
While German knife blades have softer steel, they’re more durable, corrosion-resistant, and better for tough root vegetables and tough meats.
Japanese knives feature straighter, sharper, and thinner blades with a more detailed finish. This is both aesthetically pleasing and allows for clean and easy slices. The hammered exterior reduces drag and helps to release food from the blade.
The curvature of German knives helps with rocking back and forth on the cutting board. But German knives aren’t as sharp or thin. They’re great for dense vegetables and tough meats but don’t offer the same intricacy as Japanese blades.
Japanese handles usually feature wood and have more details. Some brands, such as Japana, feature beautiful handles making the knife a statement piece as well as a practical kitchen utensil.
However, German handles — while usually made with synthetic materials — typically are more ergonomic and comfortable. Plus, they tend to be more suitable for both left-handed and right-handed users.
The final considerations are weight and price. German knives tend to be slightly heavier and a bit cheaper.
Overall, I recommend a Japanese knife if you cook with a lot of seafood or vegetables. If you eat a lot of meat and hardy foods, a German knife might be your best bet.
You can’t go wrong if you choose the right brand. Be sure to check out some of the top brands on Amazon to find the newest addition to your kitchen.
- Shun (Japanese)
- Miyabi (Japanese)
- Mac (Japanese)
- Kai (Japanese)
- Global (Japanese)
- Japana (Japanese)
- Wusthof (German)
- Zwilling (German)
- Gude (German)
- Messermeister (German)
If you found this guide helpful, you should also check out:
- The Definitive Guide to the Best Kitchen Knife Brands
- Wusthof vs. Zwilling J.A. Henckels: In-Depth Kitchen Knife Comparison
- Wusthof vs. Global: How Do Their Kitchen Knives Compare?
- Shun vs. Wusthof: In-Depth Kitchen Knife Comparison
- Shun vs. Global: In-Depth Kitchen Knife Comparison
- Best Chef’s Knife Under $100: Top 6 Compared