When you’re looking at owning a premium and a truly exceptional kitchen knife, you’d be hard-pressed to avoid a Japanese vs German Knives brand. They’re renowned for their attention to detail and consistent quality across the board. While they come with premium prices, if the quality is important to you, then you aren’t going to get much better than these knives.
In this Japanese vs German knife comparison, we’re going to show you what each knife is known for, how they mix, and the kind of user they best suit. Over time, the lines between German and Japanese knives have become increasingly blurred. You can still easily find knives that hold fast to tradition. It’s also easy to find knives that use features from both sides of the spectrum.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clear picture of whether Japanese vs German knives will help you reach your goals in the kitchen. Not only this, but you’ll also be able to decide which hybrid best suits you. Which is especially great if you’re drawn to features from both sides. Let’s take a look!
Japanese vs German Knives: How We Will Compare Them
As we’ve already touched on, there are more options than just your standard Japanese or German knife. You can find product lines and standalone models that use a mix of features from both the German and Japanese sides.
This means you can get the best of both worlds – although this isn’t always a good thing if you don’t choose right. We’ll show you each of the mixed versions compare to the rest and what stands out about them. We’re going to look at 5 different categories here:
- German knives
- German mixed knives (German with a hint of Japanese influence)
- Mixed Kyoto/chef knives (an even blend between German and Japanese)
- Japanese mixed knives (with a hint of German influence)
- Fully Japanese knives
We’ll talk about the primary features of each so you can see how they compare to each of the other categories. Bear in mind that each knife type has its advantages and disadvantages. We’ll try to highlight some of these as we make our way through the guide.
If you’re had a little knife experience before, you probably already have quite a good idea of what type of knife you need for your skills and style. Let’s get started!
Standard German Knives
Standard German knives, such as the Dalstrong 8” chef knife, are incredibly versatile and durable kitchen knives. Generally speaking, German knives use softer steel and are heavier than their Japanese counterparts. Standard German knives usually have an HRC of around 55 or 56. This is quite soft and means that you’re more likely to bend the knife than you are to chip it.
The softer steel is excellent for durability and robustness, letting you easily cut through chicken bones and thick, hard-shelled vegetables. Softer steel also suits the rocking-motion cutting technique – though edge retention isn’t as good as harder steels. You’ll find most of these knives have a full bolster and a heftier handle.
This extra weight helps to balance the taller blade and rocking cutting technique. This heavier handle is usually triple-riveted and very robust. The blade usually curves along both the cutting edge and the spine to further improve its rocking efficiency. Most true German knives are sharpened to an angle anywhere between 15-18°.
This makes them easy to sharpen but won’t slice through delicate food as cleanly and effortlessly as Japanese knives – though it helps them handle heavier-duty cutting without damaging the cutting edge. Overall, if you choose a true German knife then you’ll need to sharpen it more often to keep the cutting edge at its best – but won’t need to worry about chipping or scuffing the blade.
German Hybrid Knives
These are hybrid knives that are almost the same as a true German knife but include some Japanese qualities to help them handle different scenarios better. The main example of this Japanese influence is the removal of the full bolster. German hybrid knives often won’t have a full bolster, but taper off rather steeply from the handle to the blade.
You still get a tall and robust blade (almost the same as a true German knife. But the blade isn’t quite as tall) that helps you handle some heavier cutting and utility work. You’re still getting the same curved profile on the cutting edge and spine of the blade, meaning that these hybrid knives are still excellent for rapid chopping and rocking.
They still use soft steel around 55-56 HRC and get extremely sharp. Due to their softer steel though, they don’t stay this sharp for very long. But can thankfully be sharpened or stropped easily. These German hybrid knives are adept at cutting squash and other hard-shelled vegetables, as well as handling all the work you’d expect from a German knife – with a little extra accuracy.
Hybrid Kyoto/Chef Knives (50/50)
These are your 50/50 hybrid knives, meaning they take equally from Japanese and German traditions and features. They usually have the same flexibility and height that German knives do, while still being extremely sharp. This is done by using harder steel around HRC 62 (a little softer than most true Japanese blades).
Harder steel means you’re getting a slightly more brittle cutting edge, but not by much. If you’re using good-quality cutting boards and have good technique, you probably won’t run into any issues here. Unlike German knives, these hybrids have very thin blades and aren’t great at handling heavy-duty work like cutting through chicken bones.
They make up for this by being more accurate and fantastic at slicing when compared to a standard German blade. You also get less hefty and heavy handles, though they are still easy to use with either hand and have ergonomic designs. The blade still curves along the cutting edge to support rocking while cutting.
And the steel isn’t so hard that you need to worry about chipping while rocking. In terms of aesthetics, these hybrid knives often come with a hammered or Damascus finish to the blade. Other than being visually stunning, it helps to prevent food from sticking to the blade.
Japanese Hybrid Knives
These are knives that closely resemble true Japanese knives while infusing a couple of German features and qualities. Generally speaking, they use hard steel – much harder than German knives. Most of these Japanese hybrids will have an HRC of around 63, sometimes higher. This means that you’re getting excellent edge retention and a knife that can be sharpened to an extremely fine cutting edge.
You’ll start to see quite a stark difference from tradition and standard German knives here, especially when you look at the angle the blades are sharpened at. As we mentioned earlier, most German knives are sharpened to a 15-18° angle. By contrast, these knives (and true Japanese knives) are sharpened to a 10-15° angle.
This means you’re doing minimal damage to your food as you slice through it. The straighter blade also means that chopping is what these blades have designed for. With a combination of the lightweight, bolster-less construction, you can get incredibly thin and accurate slices of fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables.
These knives have solid and ergonomic handles that you’d be familiar with if you’ve ever used a German knife before – just lighter and less hefty. You’ll find these knives to be nimble and incredibly easy to control once you get used to their balance point. They get exceptionally sharp and have fantastic edge retention – at the price of being more brittle and harder to sharpen.
True Japanese Knives
Unless you’ve taken a particular interest in Japanese cuisine or traveled to the country, you’ve probably never handled a true Japanese knife before. These knives use exceptionally hard steel with an HRC rating of around 66. They’re some of the hardest blades you’ll find on the market.
It also means they’re very fragile, and shouldn’t ever be used to cut bones or for any kind of rocking-motion cutting. Their wonderfully shallow 10-12° sharpened blades and a slim, thin profile, make Japanese knives some of the most accurate and intricate on the market.
You can use them to get ultra-thin slices off larger chunks of meat or fish and handle any kind of accurate or intricate kitchen work. Most Japanese knives are designed for right-handed users with the sharpening angle and technique supporting this. You can get left-handed Japanese knives, though you’ll most likely need to have them custom made.
The cutting edge is very straight for its first half and curves upward ever so slightly as you get nearer the tip. These knives have some of the sharpest cutting edges you’ll find, along with class-leading edge retention. They’re fragile and need to be maintained and handled carefully.
Which knife is right for you? Are you enchanted by the unusual and extremely efficient Japanese knives? Or are you leaning toward a more balanced hybrid knife? Luckily for you, there are plenty of high-quality options out there to choose from – regardless of which type you prefer.
Take what you’ve learned here in our Japanese vs German knives breakdown and list down what you’re looking for in your next knife – we’re confident you’ll get a knife that helps you be the chef you want to be!