Knives for sushi
You might associate "Japanese knife" with "Samurai (Japanese worriers) sward". But you are not wrong. Functionality of Japanese cooking knives had evolved along with Samurai swards (until Samurai-era ends in the mid-19th century).
(Photo provided by Kama-Asa)
Difference between Japanese and Western knife
A traditional Japanese knife is a kitchen knife that pursues maximum sharpness to cut ingredients. It is a crystallization of the craftsmanship to achieve the finely cut surface, to not damage the ingredients, and to provide better tasting food.
Japanese knife's typical feature is that it is single-edged while western kitchen knives are double-edged.
Single edge enables to place the flat surface of the blade directly on the ingredients without any space, which results in the very fine cut. Because the edge bites into the ingredient while slicing, the single-edged blade does not stick to the ingredients which is particularly convenient for sashimi.
Among many types of Japanese knives, Yanagiba knife (also known as sashimi knife) is most suitable for slicing fish for sushi or sashimi because its long blade enables to cut the fish in one stroke.
(Yanagiba knife: photo provided by Kama-Asa)
Another big difference between Japanese and western knife is how to use the knife. Western kitchen knives cut ingredients by pushing the knife, while Japanese knife slices raw fish by pulling the knife down.
If you use a western knife to cut raw fish, fix the angle of the blade and slide it down starting from the edge of the knife.
Make sure it is sharpened well because the steel of western knives is less durable and blades get damaged when slicing a large amount.
Reasonable alternative of a Japanese Yanagiba/sashimi knife is a slicer knife, a type of western kitchen knife to slice thin meat. It has a narrow and long blade like sashimi knives although it is double-edged
It is inferior to a sashimi knife in terms of sharpness but is highly versatile and can be sufficient for all non-professionals for making sushi and sashimi.
How to hold the knife for slicing
Place the index finger on the top, while gripping the handle with your 4 other fingers. This stabilizes the knife and helps cut at an accurate angle.
Basic posture when using Japanese or western knife
A proper grip and posture will help you cut more smoothly and prevent fatigue. The ideal form is to loosen your body, and to use the weight of the knife to cut ingredients.
"Yanagiba" means "leaf of Yanagi-tree" (English name: Willow tree). The long-shaped knife which is usually used to slice the fish is called so because of the shape of the knife looks like the leaf of the Yanagi-tree.
Yanagi tree (Willow tree) and its leaves
If you are interested in purchasing Japanese knives, our recommendation is a shop “KAMA-ASA” located in Tokyo and Paris. KAMA-ASA has a long history handling Japanese knives and other kitchen tools. It is a well-known shop and has been trusted by Japanese and international chefs for a long time. Because of their belief that each knife has a unique characteristic and the best knife is different for every individual, they strongly recommend trying a knife at the shop.
KAMA-ASA website: http://www.kama-asa.co.jp/en/houcho/concept/
(We welcome other shop information on where international chefs can purchase high-quality Japanese knives and receive good pre-/post-purchase support. Please leave comment here or contact us!)