Japanese Kitchen Knife Terminology

   Since Japanese knife terminology isn't all that obvious I've decided to provide some explanation of the terms used in knife reviews. Japanese knives tend to be a lot more specialized for particular type of cutting compared to the western knives. Hence, much wider variety of knives and terms. This section deals with the terms realted to the kitchen and non kitchen knives.

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- Japanese term for the knife chin - G on the Diagram, the corner spot of the blade heel - Hamato - F on the Diagram.

- Generic Japanese term for clad knives. Softer layer Jigane is clad over hard steel core Hagane. There are three types of awase: San-Mai, Warikomi and Ni-Mai.

- Also Ha. Japanese term for knife blade.

- Japanese term for knife, however bocho isn't used by itself, as usual prefixed with particular knife type, e.g. nakiri bocho. See also Hocho.

- Japanese term for knife handle.

- In Japanese means neck - K on the Diagram. Refers to the narrow section of the blade between the blade heel and the handle or machi if it is present, L on the Diagram.

- Japanese term for the cutting edge.

- Japanese term for the knife heel, the last few centimeters of the edge next to the handle, F on the Diagram.

- Typically wavy line, formed on Mizu-Honyaki knives, due to differential tampering.

Hamo No Honekiri
- The slicing process of the Hamo(pike conger), which has a lot of small bones, so removal is not really an option. Instead incisions are made every 1.25mm, or less, to cut bones into small pieces, thus softening up the flesh. Usually performed with a dedicated knife - Hamokiri.

- Inner layer of hard steel forming cutting edge of the blade, supported by outer layer of soft - Jigane in Japanese knives.

- Sashimi slicing technique, the knife is held perpendicular to the fish and pulled back at approximately 45° angle.

- Japanese term for the kitchen knife. See also Bocho.

- The process of grinding the real edge on the knife shipped from the manufacturer without one. Aritsugu knives for example are shipped like that. Read Aritsugu 300mm Honkasumi Yanagiba Knife Review. See also Ura-Oshi.

- Highest grade Kasumi. See also Aritsugu Hon-Kasumi Yanagi Review.

- Translates as "true-forged" from Japanese. Unlike San-Mai knives that have soft layer over harder core Honyaki knives are constructed of single piece of metal, as usual very hard, high-carbon steel. Because of this they are difficult to forge thus their high price. Honyakis have higher hardness and edge holding compared to other types. Because the steel is so hard sharpening this type of knife is rather challenging. Also because of high hardness honyakis are more prone to breaking, chipping and cracking. On the positive side, they can be sharpened to incredibly thin and sharp edges that will hold very long time and cutting performance will be very high. Read Watanabe 270mm Honyaki Gyuto Review.

- Japanese term for blade length, A on the Diagram.

- Roughly translates into Rock Surface. A type of rustic finish, similar to Kuro Uchi, but rougher, with more texture. Very rare in kitchen knives. Moritaka started using it in some of his knives.

- Soft, outer layer of steel supporting inner hard core - Hagane of the knife.

- Japanese term for Burr.

- Japanese term for a bolster collar or ferule. Traditionally made of water buffalo horn, although both, more expensive and cheaper materials can be used, I on the Diagram. This word isn't used often, Katsura or Kazura is more popular.

- Similar to Matsukasa-Giri. Usually done with Yanagiba. Cuts are made with the knife perpendicular to the board.

- In Japanese kasumi means mist. Refers to rather hazy looks of softer jigane next to hard, shiny hagane. Present on Ni-Mai style forged knives, i.e. single beveled Awase knives. See also San-Mai.

Katsura ( 桂 )
- Also Kazura. More widely used term for the ferrule or Kakumaki. I on the Diagram.

Kazura ( 桂 )
- See Katsura.

- Japanese term used to describe knife edge holding ability. In other words, how long it stays sharp. Obviously, higher kirenaga is better.

- Cutter in Japanese, apparently derived from the word cut. Nakiri, Udon-Kiri, etc.

- Literally means blade path - D on the Diagram. Refers to the inclined surface that starts at Shinogi(B on the Diagram), including the cutting edge.

- Japanese term for blade tip - N on the Diagram.

- Multi Layer Jigane. Often referred as damascus. See Shigefusa Kitaeji Gyuto Knife review and Shigefusa Kitaeji Miroshi Deba Kitchen Knife review for photos and detailed information.

- Japanese term for secondary bevel.

- Type of rustic finish on Japanese knives. Blades aren't finished except for the edge, blue blackish color. See Watanabe Nakiri Knife Review and Takeda Cleaver Review.

- Narrow section of metal between the notch at the end of the neck of the blade - L on the Diagram, emoto(K on the Diagram) and the handle, approximately 5mm long. Found on many Japanese knives, never on western knives. In general when the knife has machi, the specified blade length includes all of the knife blade up to the machi notch, not just from the blade Ago(chin, G on the Diagram to the tip. Although, some makers do not include machi in blade length. In the end, it's better to ask if unsure.

- Literally Pine Cone Cut. Usually done with Yanagiba. Fish sliceis cut with angle to create lattice pattern.

- Also mune. Japanese term for blade spine - M on the Diagram.

- Refers to differentially tampered Honyaki knives. Blade spine is covered with mud, which is allowed to dry, then the whole thing is heated to the desired temperature and quenched in water. Spine is softer and springy, giving the blade certain degree of flexibility.

- Japanese term for wood grain pattern Jigane. That includes not only jigane, but various parts of the knife, butt cap, bolster, etc. See Aritsugu Wood Pattern Yanagiba review.

- Also mine. Japanese term for blade spine - M on the Diagram.

- Japanese term for knife tang, portion of the metal to which the handle is attached.

- Literally Spiral Tide Cut. Usually done with Yanagiba. Mainly used for squid. With the knife perpendicular to the board, first, parallel cuts are made onthe square piece of squid, then the piece is turned over, rotated 90° and rolled, well you can insert Shiso leaves in there.

- Awase type forging for the single bevel knife. Cladding is applied only on the cutting edge side of the blade, Ura(back side) is hagane, or hard steel. See Ni-Mai on the diagram

- Edge side of the single bevel knife. See also Ura, Urasuki.

- Technique of welded steel that laminates the hard core of the blade with softer outer layers. Basically, this is Awase on both sides of the Hagane, but not over the spine. See San-Mai on the diagram. Occasionally Warikomi is used interchangeably with San-Mai, but it is a different type of awase(cladding) as you can see from the diagram.

- Wooden sheath, or scabbard for the knife. As usual, identical wood is used for the handle and saya.

- Imperial court or Shinto Shrine ceremony when the fish is filleted without touching it with hands, using special knife called Gishiki-Bocho and silver chopsticks. Shiki-bocho has been performed in some form or other probably since the late Nara period, and certainly since the early Muromachi period. Thus it would be accurate to say that the knife has likely been in use for between 600 and 1000 years.

- Japanese term for the ridge line(B on the Diagram) formed by the flat portion of the blade and the blade path - Kiriba - D on the Diagram.

- In western world it's called Japanese Basil. Shiso leaves have distinc, delicate flavor. Used in may dishes, including sashimi, sala, omlet, etc.

- Sashimi slicing technique, the knife is held at around 40° angle from fish and pulled back.

- Description for damascus pattern knife. See Kobayashi Suminagashi Nakiri Hocho Review.

- Back side of the single bevel knife. Typically, on Japanese single bevel knives Ura is concave, not flat, and referred as Urasuki. See also Omote.

- Japanese term for flattening the back side of the single bevel urasuki type edge.

- Concaved surface on the back side of the single beveled Japanese knives. Helps to reduce the drag during cutting. The last edge on the Knife Edge Grind Type Diagram shows concave back of urasuki edge grind type.

- Sashimi slicing technique, same as Sogizukuri, except the slices are ~1mm thick, translucent slices.

- Cutting method, combination of push cutting, vertically down and slight forward motion. Main cutting technique with Usuba and Nakiri.

- Type of cladding, basically Awase with Jigane applied on the sides and spine of the Hagane, see Warikomi on the diagram. Occasionally Warikomi is used interchangeably with San-Mai, but it is a different type of awase(cladding) as you can see from the diagram.

- Sashimi slicing technique, same as Hirazukuri, used mostly on tougher skinned or textured fish. Slices are narrower Yae in Japanese refers to something multilayer or double.

Thanks & Credits

  • Special thanks to Takeshi Aoki of Aframes Tokyo for help with Japanese terminology.
  • Shinichi Watanabe for help with Japanese terminology, providing photos, and for his excellent knives too.
  • Hiromitsu Nozaki - Author of the book Japanese Kitchen Knives.

Last updated - 05/19/19