Let us introduce you to arguably the most popular type of Japanese knife in the western world, the slicer or Yanagi. If you are sitting at a sushi bar in the future, be sure to take a moment to inspect at the knife that they are using. There is a very good chance that the knife is neither a Chef Knife nor a Paring Knife, but rather, a truly special knife, designed specifically for one purpose alone, slicing.
Today we are going to discuss about this very special type of knife, Let’s begin,
Yanagi-ba-bōchō (柳刃包丁), means “Willow” is named after the long, narrow leaf of Willow trees, found predominantly in eastern Japan and the Ryukyu Islands. Each Yanagi Knife has the same features. It is the knife of choice for sushi chefs as it easily slices through fish with ease. In the Edo period (1603 – 1868), this traditional style of Japanese kitchen knife originated in the Kansai region of Japan. Along with the Deba and Usuba, the Yanagi is one of three basic knives used in Japanese cuisine.
Shape and size
In line with its translation of ‘willow leaf blade’, the Yanagiba features a long, thin, narrow blade and a pointed tip. You can use little force and the weight of the knife to pull-cut through the delicate fish flesh using just one long, drawing stroke because of the thinness of the blade.
Traditional Japanese knives have chiseled edges that evoke Japanese cuisine and history. Its single-bevel blade is ground only on one side, creating an incredibly sharp cutting edge. Having a slightly concave side to the blade allows only the cutting edge to contact the fish, creating a smooth sashimi cut while preserving the fish’s natural freshness, flavor, and texture. Yanagiba blades come in several lengths from 210mm to 360mm, but on average, 270mm to 330mm is recommended.
Yanagiba: common variants
Along side regular yanagi, there are a variety of regional and task-specific types of Yanagiba in Japan, including a willow-leaf-shaped Yanagiba from Kansai (Osaka), which is the knife we know. The following are examples:
Kensaki Yanagiba (剣先柳):
In Japan, Kiritsuke Yanagiba can be referred to as Kiritsuke-tip Yanagiba, have a similar profile to the regular Yanagibas, but they have an angled tip that is often referred to as reverse tantos or clipped points, which are useful for precision cutting. Typically, Kensaki Yanagiba knives are single-bevel models with blade lengths ranging from 240 mm to 330 mm.
Takohiki ( 蛸引) Octopus knife:
It features a blunt square tip and a straight spine that make it easier to cut through tough or dense ingredients, such as octopus. Typically, Takohiki blades are lighter, thinner, flatter and shorter than Yanagiba blades. They range from 210mm to 390mm in length, and are single-bevelled.
Fuguhiki (河豚引) Blowfish knife:
An extremely thin slice of delicate flesh fish such as Japanese flounder or blowfish is cut with the Fuguhiki, a variation of the Yanagiba with a thinner, narrower, more flexible blade. It has a single bevel blade ranging from 180mm to 360mm.
The Sujihiki is a type of Japanese knife that is designed to slice boneless proteins. In this knife, the blade is long, narrow, and double-beveled with a short height, making it easy to cut fish and meat. This design allows these knives to cut through meat with the least amount of friction. It can be summed up by saying that Sujihiki is a westernized version of Yanagiba. ‘Sujihiki’ means ‘flesh slicer’, and the knife’s purpose is exactly described in the name. One stroke is all it takes for the long narrow blade to cut through boneless proteins.
From budget-friendly Yanagiba knives to traditional hand-forged Japanese Yanagiba knives that cost well over $500, there is a plethora of options available. You can narrow down your search for the best value Yanagiba knife by setting your own budget. Kai Seki Yanagiba knives are a great entry-level choice for under $50 if you’re looking for tried and tested options. Among our favourites, we recommend Masahiro Stainless Steel Yanagiba Knife and Yoshihiro Shiroko High Carbon Steel Kasumi Yanagi Magnolia Handle Sushi Sashimi Chef Knife, both Japanese renowned brands that consistently produce high-quality knives at a great price for stainless steel or White Steel #2 knives.
With a full understanding of sushi’s most essential tool, you are now ready to start searching for your own. In the same way as all Japanese knives, with proper care and attention, your sushi knife will provide you with clean and easy cuts for decades to come.
Additionally, as these traditional and durable knives have become increasingly affordable to international markets, you are able to bring one into your kitchen wherever you reside. Try your hand at the smooth cutting yanagi blades of Japan’s most respected knife artisans today. Sushi is a fun and tasty hobby to share with family and friends, so why not try it out for yourself?