The 6 Best Japanese Knife Sets

The best Japanese knife sets are made from extremely hard Japanese steels, with blades typically cut to scalpel-like sharpness. I absolutely love Japanese knives, and consider a set to be so worthwhile precisely because so many Japanese knives are in fact quite utilitarian. 

The best Japanese knife sets will include a chef’s knife, a santoku and a utility knife, and some even get into more niche blades like sashimi, nakiri and even kiritsuke knives. The right set for you is certainly out there, and likely to be found on this list. Without further ado, here are the six best japanese knife sets on the market.

High End Pick

Shun Classic 6-piece

My pick for the all around, best Japanese Knife Set.

Budget Pick

Kitchen Damascus Knife Set

My pick for the best Japanese Knife Set under $200.

Value Pick

Damascus Kitchen Knife Set

My pick for the best value for your money.

Shun Classic 6-piece

Most of us only dream of having knives as nice as those included in this knife set by Shun.

Shun is one of the best known and most respected Japanese knife brands out there, and for good reason. The name Shun is synonymous with quality, and those of you who have read about my picks for best chef’s knives, santoku knives and nakiri knives know that Shuns always rank high.

Aesthetically, these knives are simply stunning. The pakkawood handles feel great, and the Damascus-clad blades are of course very cool. But before going into further detail, let me list what comes with this set:

  • 3.5 inch paring knife
  • 7 inch santoku knife
  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 9 inch combination honing steel
  • Multipurpose shears
  • Slim, dark wood knife block

While this is an admittedly small set - just three knives, a honing rod and shears - it’s one that concentrates on the most important knives in the kitchen. The chef’s knife is obviously critical, as is the santoku. Paring knives are also very useful for smaller, delicate tasks. 

But beyond the knives and shears, I’m really excited by the inclusion of a honing rod in this set. That’s because as Japanese steel knives, they really don’t need to be sharpened often. But that said, they always benefit from routine honing - depending on use - and so the honing rod is a smart, convenient addition. 

Speaking of Japanese steel, that really cool looking Damascus-clad blade is made with VG-MAX steel, making it ridiculously sharp and quite strong. Japanese steels are typically harder than Western-style knives, and these have been hardened to a brutal 60 - 61 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.

This incredible level of hardness also allows for these Shun blades to be sharpened at an angle much steeper than the 20 degree facets typical of Western knives. The blades in this set are double-beveled, and angled to 16 degrees on each side. 

And while these blades are incredibly sharp, you’ll probably also need a professional to sharpen them for you. I don’t actually sharpen my Shuns myself - I’ve never had the need - but I do take them to a professional trained in Japanese blades to be sharpened about once every nine months. 

And so while Shuns will hold a very sharp edge for a very long time, improper use or storage could lead to chips. I avoid this by using a knife holster, and more generally by treating my Shuns like a newborn baby. Luckily, this set comes with a beautiful wood block, so you’ll never have to worry about accidentally chipping one in your utility drawer. 

Pros

  • Damascus-clad blade using Shun’s VG-MAX steel, with 34 layers per side.
  • Comes with a honing rod to easily maintain razor sharp edges.
  • Pakkawood handle feels great.
  • Will hold a sharp edge for a very long time.
  • Handcrafted in Japan.
  • Lifetime warranty.

Cons

  • Japanese steel is stronger but also more brittle than Western knives, which can lead to chipping if improperly used.
  • The D-shaped handle is not great for left handed cooks.

Price: 

$$$$

Quality:

DALSTRONG Knife Set

The Dalstrong Shogun Series is as good as it gets when it comes to Japanese knives, and this set is not for the faint of heart.

The Dalstrong Shogun Series knives check all of my boxes, and are surprisingly affordable for what you get in this set. So before going into detail on why I love Dalstrong so much, let’s lay out what’s included: 

  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 7 inch santoku
  • 6 inch utility knife
  • 8 inch bread knife
  • 3.75 inch paring knife 

So right off the bat you can see that this is a true five piece knife set. Adding in a bread knife - really anything with a serrated edge - is nice, as is the six inch utility knife. And the addition of the extra pieces doesn’t in any way mean that Dalstrong is skimping on the quality of its materials. 

These knives are precision forged from a single piece of AUS-10V Japanese steel, and repeatedly heated and nitrogen cooled to increase strength and durability. The steel comes in at a 62+ on the Rockwell Hardness Scale, which is quite impressive. And the steel needs to be super hard in order to maintain the 8 - 12 degree blade angle, which is absurdly sharp. 

To be fair, such a steep angle makes it a bit tough for home cooks to sharpen these knives themselves, so I’d recommend taking this to a professional every nine months or so, depending on use. 

The only thing not included with this set is a honing rod, which I would seriously consider getting if you go with this set. Japanese knives do not need to be sharpened often, but they should be honed regularly. If this is confusing or counterintuitive, see below for more detail on the difference between honing and sharpening. It’s important!

Each knife is wrapped in 67 layers of premium high-carbon stainless steel - giving it that beautiful Damascus pattern - and then hammered, adding even more texture to the blade. The handles are also great. Made from G-10 garolite - a fiberglass epoxy - the handles are super tough (military grade in fact) and triple riveted for strength. 

Each knife is also perfectly balanced, and just feels really great in your hands. I particularly like the stainless steel end caps on the handle, and the enlarged butt for control that keeps everything feeling very safe and secure. 

Finally, Dalstrong is such a fantastic company that they offer a 100% satisfaction or your money back guarantee, as well as a lifetime warranty against defects.

Pros

  • Full tang and precision forged from a single piece of AUS-10V Japanese steel.
  • 67 layer Damascus sharpened and an 8 - 12 degree blade angle that is hand finished for “scalpel-like sharpness.”
  • G-10 handles are tough, ergonomic and non-slip.
  • Made in Japan.
  • 100% satisfaction or money back guarantee.
  • Lifetime warranty against defect.

Cons

  • Difficult to sharpen yourself.

Price: 

$$$

Quality:

Kitchen Damascus Knife Set

The Nanfang Brothers Damascus Steel knife set is both comprehensive and expertly made, and comes in at a surprisingly affordable price.

I look at this strikingly beautiful Damascus steel, nine piece knife set by Nanfang Brothers as a solid mid-range knife set, and one in which you actually get quite a bit for your money. Without further ado, let me list exactly what you do get for that relatively low price tag: 

  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 8 inch slicing knife
  • 8 inch bread knife
  • 7 inch santoku knife
  • 5.5 inch utility knife
  • 3.5 inch paring knife
  • Kitchen shears
  • Honing rod
  • Beechwood knife block

As you can see, Nanfang Brothers really make this set worth your while. And let me be clear up front, since the low price might lead some of you to think that these are poorly made imitations. They’re not. 

These knives are, in fact, the real deal. Each knife is made from a Japanese VG-10 steel core, around which 67 layers of steel form the beautiful Damascus pattern that decorates these knives. 

The Nanfang Brothers knives are also quite hard - right up there with Shun and Dalstrong - with a 60±2 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. And while hardness often translates to brittleness, you can rest assured that these knives are actually built quite tough. 

Each blade is housed - with a full tang - within an ergonomic, non-slip handle made from ABS - acrylonitrile butadiene styrene - a thermoplastic polymer known for strength and durability. And of course, the knife handles are also triple riveted. 

Although I don’t love polymer handles, I do like that these have an enlarged butt for additional control. And speaking of handles, the shears are conveniently designed to be ambidextrous, meaning they can be used comfortably by both righties and lefties. 

And although I’ve said this before, I’m just really impressed with all that’s included in this set. The knives you’d normally expect are clearly here - the chef’s knife, a good paring knife and a utility knife - but the fact that there are also multiple serrated knives (a bread knife AND a serrated utility knife) is pretty cool and quite convenient. 

And if you aren’t convinced by the price, the inclusion of basically everything you might need in a knife set, and the sheer quality of these knives, then maybe this will convince you: this knife set also comes with a lifetime warranty!

Pros

  • Knives are crafted around a Japanese VG-10 steel core, and feature 67 layers of superior Damascus steel.
  • Exceptionally hard - rated a 60±2 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.
  • Ergonomic, non-slip handles are triple riveted around a full tang for stability and strength.
  • Ambidextrous shears.
  • Lifetime warranty.

Cons

  • Handles are made from ABS - Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene - a thermoplastic polymer.
  • Made in China, not Japan. 

Price: 

$$

Quality:

Findking-Dynasty

The African rosewood handles and Damascus steel edges on Findking’s Dynasty Series knives are aesthetically stunning. These beautiful knives are sure to stand out in any kitchen.

The Findking Dynasty Series 4 Piece Knife Set is a beautiful little mid-range option for someone looking to dip their toes into the world of Japanese cutlery. I’m actually a big fan of these limited sets - those with three to four knives - because fewer knives keep the cost down, and really save you from overdoing it with a bunch of cutlery that you don’t actually use. 

Before going into each piece, let’s take a look inside:

  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 9 inch kiritsuke knife
  • 7.5 inch nakiri knife
  • 5 inch utility knife

These are all great knife types, all of which I’ve covered in detail in others posts, except for the kiritsuke. So what is a kiritsuke? And what is it for? 

Kiritsuke knives come in single and double-bevel options, and each is really a hybrid of two Japanese knives - usubas (used for vegetables) and yanagibas (traditionally used to prepare raw fish for sushi). Because the kiritisuke combines these two styles, it’s generally thought of as an all purpose knife. 

Like the nakiri knife though, kiritsuke knives have a relatively flat “belly,” making them less than ideal for rocking. Instead, these knives should be used for “push cutting” and “pull cutting.” 

The kiritsuke knife that comes in this set is double-beveled, which is good, since single-bevel kiritsuke knives are notoriously difficult to use. In fact, you’ll often only see master chef’s using a single-bevel kiritsuke - given the skill needed to use them correctly - a sign of prestige. 

All of the knives in this set are quite hard (around 60 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale), which can easily support the 16 degree double-bevel blade angle. So in addition to being beautiful, these things are quite sharp, and exceptionally well balanced. 

In fact, it’s interesting that, despite the relative hardness of these knives, they aren’t sharpened to a lower angle, since the blade hardness could support an even finer edge. That said, the higher angle cutting edge means they will be easier to hone and sharpen yourself, saving you a trip to the knife sharpener. 

Lastly, the handles on these knives are a clear stand out. Made from African rosewood, the unique handles are dark and subtle and have an octagonal, rather than rounded grip, with a slightly darker bolster. Holding these pieces in your hands, you can feel the exceptional craftsmanship - another excellent value for the price.

Pros

  • Forged from extremely hard (60 +/- RHC) stainless steel.
  • Handle is made from beautiful African rosewood.
  • Sharpened to a 16 degree edge with a double-bevel.
  • Well balanced, with a full tang.
  • Comes in an elegant gift box.

Cons

  • The comfort of the octagonal handle shape is a matter of preference.

Price: 

$

Quality:

TUO Knife Block Set

The TUO Falcon Series 17 Piece Knife Set is the knife set you get if you want to flex - it has, quite literally, everything. 

The Tuo Cutlery Falcon Series knife set certainly includes quite a few pieces, so it’s best to just list them before going into greater detail. Starting from the largest knife and going down from there, this set includes: 

  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 8 inch bread knife
  • Honing steel
  • 7 inch santoku
  • 7 inch boning knife
  • Chicken scissor/shears
  • 5 inch tomato knife
  • 5 inch serrated steak knife (6)
  • 5 inch utility knife
  • 3.5 inch paring knife
  • 2.75 inch, convex paring knife

Alright, that’s a lot of knives. And thankfully, they come with a natural rubber wood block to hold them all. That said, the knives are slightly too long for the block - a definite design flaw - and hang out ever so slightly. 

The knives themselves are forged from high quality German steel and hardened to be about a 56 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. I’ve got two small problems here - one is the fact that these Japanese style knives are made with German, rather than Japanese steel, and two that they aren’t quite hard enough. 

The relatively “soft” steel may have more trouble holding an edge, especially if you want to achieve the 10 - 14 degree blade angle typical of most Japanese cutlery. 

But on the plus side, these knives are very affordable, coming in at under $400 for 17 pieces! If you’re stocking a new kitchen, or perhaps gifting someone a new knife set for an otherwise sparse kitchen, this Falcon Series set by TUO may just be the set for you.

Pros

  • Forged from high quality German stainless steel, hardened to 56±2 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.
  • Luxurious, textured pakkawood handle with full tang.
  • Extremely comprehensive - includes every knife you may ever need.
  • Very affordable for what you get. 

Cons

  • Relatively soft steel may have trouble holding a sharp edge.
  • The blades hang slightly outside of the block.

Price: 

$$

Quality:

Damascus Kitchen Knife Set

These Yarenh knives are made from Japanese high carbon stainless steel, have beautiful wood handles, and come with their own whetstone! 

This Professional 8 Piece Japanese Knife set from Yarenh is really something, and an absolute score in terms of value. Let me count the ways for you by first laying out exactly what you get: 

  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 8 inch bread knife
  • 7 inch santoku knife
  • 8 inch sashimi knife
  • 5 inch utility knife
  • Kitchen shears
  • Whetstone and sharpening guide
  • Walnut knife block

The knives themselves are great quality, and I really like that both a santoku and sashimi knife is included in this set, as well as a utility knife and of course, a chef’s knife - the workhorse of the kitchen. Each is made from high carbon Japanese steel, hardened to be about a 60 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. 

The hardness is great for keeping these things sharp, and the construction itself is pretty exceptional for such an affordable set. There are 73 layers of steel wrapped around each knife, and hammered to get that beautiful, Damascus pattern. 

Another obvious standout would be the handles, which are made not from the traditional pakkawood, but instead dalbergia, which is a natural hardwood and one that produces a brighter, almost auburn glow. The handles also enclose a full tang for added strength and durability. 

Lastly, this is the only set on this list that comes with its own whetstone, which is extremely convenient, and has me wondering why more knife companies don’t do the same. This isn’t a super high end whetstone by any means, but it will certainly get the job done and leave your knives with scalpel-like edges. 

The whetstone is made from professional grade white corundum, and is double sided to included two different grit levels, #1000 and #6000. And the whetstone even comes with a handy bamboo base to hold the stone during use, and a small angle guide to keep your blade positioned just right.

Pros

  • Made from high carbon Japanese steel, hardened to a 60 ± 2 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.
  • Dalbergia wood handles are bright, textured and fit perfectly in your hand.
  • Blades are made from 73 layers to create a beautiful, hammered Damascus pattern.
  • Includes a whetstone.
  • One month satisfaction or your money back guarantee.

Cons

  • Made in China. 

Price: 

$$$

Quality:

Final Thoughts

The first decision you’ll need to make in picking the perfect Japanese knife set is establishing exactly how many knives you actually want. These knife sets really run the gamut, from the limited, exclusive set with just three or four knives to the fully stocked, 15+ toolkit.  

My first bit of advice is always to take stock of what you already have in your kitchen. Already have steak knives? A chef’s knife or santoku? These are things to take into consideration, because why buy something you don’t need?  

Next, it’s important to remember a few things about Japanese knives. I’ve gone into detail about this above, but it’s worth reminding yourself that Japanese knives are made from harder steels than most Western-style knives, and that’s often so that they can be sharpened to a more severe angle. 

While many western knives will have a double-beveled edge, sharpened to about 16 - 20 degrees, Japanese edges can be anywhere from 10 - 14 degrees, which is far more acute. This is great for precision cutting, especially vegetables and raw fish, but they do take a bit more care to maintain. 

These knives can also, as a result of their hardness, be slightly more brittle than your average knife, and for that reason I always recommend treating them with even more care than you normally would. Always keep them in their proper storage, and never, ever put them in the dishwasher. 

And lastly, because the knives are so hard with such an acute angle, sharpening is going to be a different experience. I wouldn’t recommend using pre-set sharpeners, as these are generally designed for Western-style knives with lower blade angles, and will absolutely destroy your Japanese blades.  

Instead, you’ll want to hone regularly - using a steel, or even, as I recently learned, the bottom of a ceramic plate - rather than sharpen. I only sharpened my Japanese knives about once every six to nine months. They’re so hard, they simply don’t need sharpening any more than that!

Sharpening vs. Honing

So, what is the difference between sharpening and honing?  

When you sharpen your knife, you use the whetstone to remove material from a dull blade, literally grinding it down to produce a new edge. On the other hand, honing is for blades that are already sharp, but need to be maintained. Rather than removing material, honing simply realigns that edge in place.  

If you need to sharpen your knives, you’ll want to use a whetstone with a relatively coarse grit before moving on to finer - or softer - stones for finishing. Using the wrong grit can ruin your knife by unnecessarily wearing down your edge. Sharpen too often and you’ll slowly see your knife disappear.

For more on sharpening, honing, and everything to do with whetstones, see my review for the best sharpening stones on the market here!

Terminology

Bolster - The bolster is what connects the blade to the handle of the knife. Usually made from material that transitions seamlessly into the blade, it also often extends down to the heel. The bolster is also used to adjust weight for appropriate knife balance.

Tang - The tang is like the “root” of the knife blade, and extends into the handle. Depending on handle design, you may see a strip of the tang on either the top or bottom of the handle, or it may be hidden entirely. 

Heel - The heel is the section of the blade edge that comes closest to bolster and handle. 

Handle - The handle is what wraps around the knife tang, and is used for grip.

Rivet - Rivets are often used to secure the handle on either side to the internal knife tang.

Butt - The butt of the knife is located at the extreme end of the handle, and may or may not be slightly larger than the rest of the grip. 

(Cutting) edge - The edge is the sharpened part of the blade that does the actual cutting. Depending on your knife, the edge may be beveled on one or both sides, and at varying angles. 

Tip - Despite being called the “tip,” the tip is not actually the end of the knife. Rather, the tip refers to the end portion of the cutting edge.

Point - The point is the true end of the knife. 

Spine - The spine is the wider, back side of the blade, opposite the cutting edge.

Specification jargon

HRC  - HRC is shorthand for the Rockwell Hardness Scale C, and refers to the hardness of steel or alloyed materials. It is measured by pressing a specially shaped indenter against a surface with a specific force. 

It is important to note that a high HRC value does not always translate to actual strength, since harder steels can also be stiffer and thus more brittle. This accounts for the relative ease with which harder steel blades often chip. 

Edge degree - Edge degree refers to the angle at which the blade is sharpened. Measured against the blade itself, the lower the degree often translates to sharpness. That said, lower degree blades may have difficulty holding an edge, so you’ll want to ensure that lower degree blades are composed of a very hard steel. 

Full tang - “Full tang” means that the knife tang extends all the way into the handle, essentially that your knife has been made from a single piece of steel. Full tang knives are far more durable than knives composed of multiple pieces. 

Stamped vs. forged - This refers to the method of manufacture. Forged knives are made from a single piece of steel which is typically heated and then pounded into shape. Heating and cooling during the forging process also enhance blade strength. 

Stamped knives, on the other hand, are usually cut out - think of a cookie cutter - from a larger sheet of style, before being sharpened and honed. You can usually tell a forged knife from the bolster, which will be wider and more substantial than is possible on stamped knives.

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