Many people are amazed when they see my collection of knives and how well they cut. I carry these high-quality knives with me wherever in the world I am teaching. I also spend considerable time and effort caring for them, sharpening them frequently and storing them properly. If you have a variety of good, sharp Western knives in your kitchen, you can use them in preparing all types of Japanese foods. Japanese knives are easily distinguished from their Western counterparts. Except in the case of vegetable knives [nakkiri bocho) and all-purpose knives ibunka bocho), only one side of the Japanese blade is ground to form the cutting edge. Also, on a Japanese knife the
cutting edge is straight, not curved. Because of these characteristics, Japanese knives make cleaner, quicker cuts.
Most Japanese knife blades are made either entirely of carbon steel or of soft iron and carbon steel hammered together. The latter type is more widely used today, because mixing iron and steel produces blades that are both much more durable and less costly. The allcarbon blade is vulnerable to extreme shock and needs more care in handling and sharp ening. Both types rust quickly, so they must be cleaned, rinsed, and wiped completely dry
with a towel after each use.
Recent technological advances have produced new types of Japanese knife blades.
Some blades are made from a new carbon-steel material that does not rust easily. There are also the new ceramic knives. Made of a mixture of materials, the ceramic blades are very thin and white, and remain sharp a long time. The drawbacks of ceramic knives are that they are vulnerable to shock and need professional sharpening.
No matter which type of knife you choose, never wash it in the dishwasher. After using it, rinse it with hot water and wipe it completely dry before putting it away.
Common Types of Japanese Knives.
Deba Bocho (Heavy-Duty Knife)
This knife has a thicker blade than most others. It is used to chop off fish heads, fillet fish, and cut chicken including the bones. About 7 inches in length, the deba bocho has a pointed tip, to do delicate jobs such as cutting open a fish belly.
Sashimi Bocho (Fish Sheer)
This knife has a long, thin blade, about 10 inches in length and a little more than an inch in width. Sashimi bocho is used to cut filleted fish for sushi and sashimi. With a single, continuous stroke, the long, thin blade produces a clean slice of fish. Prepared foods are also cut with this fine knife before serving.
Nakkiri Bocho (Vegetable Knife)
This knife has a broad, rectangular blade (about 6V2 inches long and almost 2 inches wide). Unlike other Japanese knives, this one has a cutting edge formed by grinding both sides of the blade. The broad, thin blade is perfect for making symmetrical cuts on either side of an item. Nakkiri bocho is one of the most frequently used knives in the home kitchen.
Bunka Bocho (All-Purpose Knife)
In the past, every home was equipped with a nakkiri bocho (vegetable knife) and a debabocho (heavy-duty knife). Since few home cooks today fillet fish and bone chicken, deba bocho knives are disappearing from home kitchens. Cooks’ demand for a new type of nakkiri bocho that does some of the work of a deba bocho created a knife called bunka bocho.
The blade of this knife has a pointed tip and cutting edges on either side, like a nakkiri bocho.
Today many young Japanese home cooks handle all preparations using only this knife. To sharpen Japanese knives, a moistened rectangular whetstone is used. A Japanese whetstone sharpens Western knives as well, and much more thoroughly than a steel. I recommend sharpening your knives at the end of the day, as a last chore in the kitchen. Knives that are sharpened just before use transfer a metallic flavor to the prepared dishes.