In the great debate of cutlery, there is the continual battle between which knives are better: Japanese vs German knives.
In this article, we’ll break down the different Japanese and German knife makers and the differences between the knife components. We’ll cover blade thickness, blade sharpness, angle, durability, and steel and handle materials. (Yep, we’ll cover everything.)
By the end of the article, you may have a harder time choosing which style you think is best, but you’ll at least be informed of the pros and cons of each knife style.
What is a German Knife?
Also known as a Western-style knife, a German knife is an all-purpose knife fit for just about anyone to chop just about any food. German knives tend to be heavier in weight, have softer steel, and are more durable than Japanese-style knives. This makes them longer-lasting and less likely to break or chip when dropped or unintentionally mishandled.
When you think of a German knife, two words should come to mind: sturdy and substantial.
List of German Knife Makers
All of the brands mentioned below manufacture their knives out of Solingen, Germany, world-famous for its steel manufacturing. So if you want an authentic, high-quality knife, look for one made in Solingen.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels
Founded in 1731, Zwilling J.A. Henckels is known for being one of the oldest German knife-making companies around, unwavering in its exceptional cutlery even centuries later. Read our Henckels knife review.
Wusthof, another centuries-old knife maker, was and still is a family-owned producer of one of the best German knives available today. Read our Wusthof knife review.
From saber production in 1829 to the development of scissors, pocket knives, and kitchen cutlery in 1869, Boker is an expert in all variations of German blades.
Since its founding in 1910, Gude made a name for itself among German knife makers, creating varying lines that adhere to the unique needs of chefs worldwide.
The youngest of the German knife makers in this article, the California-based Messermeister applies traditional knife forging methods in honor of its German roots.
What is a Japanese Knife?
If sturdy and substantial describe German knives, lightweight and refined describe Japanese knives. A Japanese knife has a sharper edge, thinner blade, a traditional wooden handle, and is known for its precise cutting abilities–perfect for making sushi.
Some of the knives commonly seen in a Japanese home are deba, for filleting fish; nakiri, for cutting vegetables; gyuto, for cutting beef, but can be used to chop anything; and santoku, for chopping, slicing, and dicing meat, fish, and vegetables.
List of Japanese Knife Makers
Solingen, Germany is to German knives as Seki City, Japan is to Japanese knives. Famed for manufacturing the best swords hundreds of years ago, Seki City has evolved its outstanding sword development to kitchen cutlery.
Not all the brands listed here manufacture their knives out of Seki City or the surrounding areas of Japan, but all can be trusted to provide well-made knives.
For more than a century, Shun has dedicated time excelling in the craft of producing sharp knives that are highly durable while maintaining the integrity of a true Japanese knife. Read our Shun knife review.
Owned by Zwilling since 2004, Miyabi is a fusion of German and Japanese components to create a kitchen masterpiece. Read our Miyabi knife review.
Created in 1985, Global knives also borrow some characteristics of German knives to create a Japanese knife that can live up to the same balance and quality as the Samurai swords that inspire the cutlery. Read more in our Global knives review.
Founded in 1964, Mac delivers an all-star knife that delivers on all aspects of a great Japanese knife.
Available in the United States and countries worldwide since 2008, Yoshihiro cutlery has been handcrafting knives in Japan for more than 100 years. Read our Yoshihiro knife review.
Since the release of its first knife in 1955, Tojiro’s focus has been on knives that are more than sharp. Instead, they strive to go beyond tradition and blend modern technology to craft a knife that lasts forever.
Kamikoto is another brand with ancestral ties to sword makers; they’ve evolved the traditional sword-making techniques to apply to the modern kitchen. Read our Kamikoto review for more on them.
Founded in 2016, Japana is a new knife brand inspired by Japanese aesthetics and values, providing a beautiful and unique product to the customer seeking their knives.
What’s the Difference Between German and Japanese Knives?
German knives are forged from one piece of metal with a full tang construction, meaning the blade goes through the handle to the butt of the knife. Japanese knives are made with several layers of steel and are typically partial tang in construction, meaning the blade tapers into the handle.
The difference between full tang and partial tang knives is how the tang construction will affect the knife’s weight and stability. A full tang knife is heavier, for example, because the blade’s steel runs through the full knife. More material naturally adds more weight.
Both styles have similar uses in that they all are great for chopping, slicing, and dicing different foods, whether you’re cutting a protein, vegetable, or fruit. For example, both a chef’s knife and a santoku knife are great tools for slicing the same kinds of food.
Between the two, German knives are best for general utility or cutting through thick portions. Japanese knives are used for intricate, precise work.
Along the knife’s edge, blades are sharpened to a certain angle, determining the degree of sharpness to a knife. Japanese knives are 12-15 degrees, German, 20 to 22 degrees. Both yield a sharp edge, but between the two knives, Japanese knives have a sharper blade because the lower the blade angle, the sharper the blade.
The biggest difference between the two types of kitchen knives is the steel used to construct the blade. Typically, German-style blades are made of stainless steel, whereas Japanese blades are made of high-carbon steel.
A knife constructed with stainless steel is resistant to rust, corrosion and has a lower risk of being damaged, like chipping or breaking. Stainless steel is a softer steel than high-carbon steel, which produces a sharp edge, but one you may need to sharpen more often. On the Rockwell scale of hardness, most stainless steel German blades rate between 56 and 58.
High-carbon steel, on the other hand, is easier to maintain. With a Rockwell scale of at least 60, the steel’s hardness keeps a sharper edge, needing to be sharpened less, but is prone to chipping and becoming brittle. Blade steel is one of the most important parts of a knife to consider when choosing between these two types of knives.
Both styles traditionally offer kitchen knives with a wooden handle. Still, they have adapted to modern technologies by providing a handle made of hard plastic materials like polypropylene or a synthetic blend of wood and either resin or plastic material.
Between the two, the Japanese style sticks to tradition, offering a range of wooden handles, including mahogany, pakkawood, birchwood, ash, and Tagayasan.
Whether wooden or plastic, a knife handle is important in maintaining a knife’s balance. The lighter the material, the lighter the knife, which can offset the heaviness of the metal used for the blade.
Japanese-style knives have thinner blades, which, combined with the harder steel, allow the knife to slice with more precision. However, because the German knife has a thicker blade, it cannot perform the delicate work of chopping thin pieces of food like Japanese brands.
German knives have a smooth blade finish to complete the look, giving it the classic style you tend to see in knives like the chef’s knife. Japanese blades are built in layers, producing an artistic look to the blades depending on the style.
For example, one popular finish in Japanese knives is layering with Damascus steel, which gives a wavy, textured looking finish to the blade that’ll have you wanting to display your cutlery like art pieces.
Do chefs prefer German or Japanese knives?
Like Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi, I think it ultimately depends on a chef’s preference between the two styles of knives.
Some factors can sway a chef to choose one over the other, including what type of food they tend to prepare, or whether they care about looks, design, materials, or how often they need to sharpen the blade. It also depends on whether they want a knife that practically weighs nothing for quick, easy chopping or a knife that is durable enough to withstand cutting through tough meats.
It’s these differences and then some between the two styles that will have chefs choosing a side. Of course, there are chefs out there who will swear by a German knife until the end of time and just as many who will do the same for a Japanese knife.
Why are Japanese knives better?
Those who are team Japanese style would say the Japanese knife is better because it is designed to be an ultimate razor-sharp kitchen tool.
With a blade made of harder steel and cut at a lower angle, Japanese knives are built for sharpness that will last longer than Western-style knives. In addition, a sharp edge combined with a lighter weight overall allows for quicker, more precise cuts.
Are German knives the best?
Depending on who you talk to, one might say German knives are hands down the best kitchen knives your money could buy.
Sure, they may need to be sharpened more often because of the softer steel, but that soft steel and thick blade combined gives a durable knife that can cut through the biggest slabs of meat, which you can’t exactly pull off with the thin high-carbon Japanese steel blade.
Bottom Line: Should You Buy a Japanese or German Kitchen Knife?
Like I mentioned before, in the debate of German vs. Japanese knives, it all comes down to what you prefer in a knife and what can best serve you as a cook or chef.
Between the two knives, German knives have the edge over Japanese knives, in my opinion. I’m a proud member of team German knives because not only are they versatile, they are the style I have become accustomed to and am most comfortable using. So naturally, then, I would say you should buy a German kitchen knife.
Japanese knives are beautiful, incredibly sharp, and make cutting into every surface look like it’s made of butter. The lightweight, balanced design of the knives perfectly suits those who enjoy cooking, especially authentic Japanese cuisine. The plethora of fish and vegetables typically prepared in Japanese cuisine needs a delicate touch that only a Japanese knife can provide. Of course, they aren’t restricted to one cuisine, but you wouldn’t expect to get the same precise cutting for Japanese dishes from the thicker German-style knives.
Japanese-style knives feel too light and borderline fragile for me. I’d rather not use a knife that makes me feel as though I might break it, but for your cooking style, it might be perfect. Either way, now you’re informed about the differences, pros, and cons between Japanese and German knives so you can make the choice that’s best for you.
Click here to see the best Japanese knife sets.
Click here to see the best German knife sets.
This article is written by Serena Valdez.