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What is a Bunka Knife?

The Bunka is a versatile general-purpose Japanese knife and a common variation of the widely popular Santoku knife. It is regarded as a multi-use knife that is adept at cutting, chopping, slicing, dicing and mincing foods such as meat, fish, vegetables and herbs.

The Bunka, along with the Gyuto and the Santoku, is often recommended as a stylish alternative to the classic western chef’s knife. Compared to a western chef’s knife, the Bunka is shorter, lighter, thinner and uses harder steel to retain its sharp edge for longer.

The Bunka typically shares the same features as a Santoku knife, such as a predominantly straight cutting edge and a wide blade. However, the Bunka is different from the Santoku knife with its signature ‘reverse-tanto’ angled tip, also known as a ‘k-tip’ point.

The pointed tip of a Bunka makes it superior at doing intricate precision work such as brunoise cuts or scoring vegetables, and is also great at getting under the fat and sinew of meat when performing light butchering work.

The flat profile of the Bunka is well suited for tap-chopping or push-cutting techniques, but limits the use of a rock-cutting motion due to the absence of a curve at the front edge of the blade. The Bunka typically has a double bevel blade.

What does Bunka mean?

Literally translated, ‘Bunka’ in Japanese means ‘culture’ and ‘Bocho’ means ‘kitchen knife’, making the Bunka a ‘cultural knife’. The name derives from its traditional use of making cultural cuisine in Japanese homes.

These days, the Bunka is often referred to as ‘Banno’ Bunka Bocho. ‘Banno’ means ‘Multi-purpose’ or ‘Convenient’, and highlights its versatility in use. Therefore, the Bunka knife is better loosely translated as a ‘convenient cultural knife’.

What is a Bunka knife best for?

Similar to the Santoku knife, the Bunka knife is best for chopping, dicing and mincing food such as meat, fish and vegetables. The sharp, thin blade combined with the Bunka’s straight cutting edge makes it the ideal tool for executing swift clean cuts in an up-and-down motion or using a tap-chop or a push-cut.

The tall and flat profile of the Bunka is complimented by its angled ‘reverse tanto’ tip, and helps the Bunka to excel at easily chopping thin slices of meat, seafood, cheese, fruits, and vegetables. The sharp ‘reverse tanto’ tip also makes the Bunka an ideal tool to perform delicate precision work such as brunoise cuts and scoring vegetables, or to get under the fat and sinew of meat when performing light butchering work. The wide blade is handy for scooping food off the cutting board.

The Bunka is a double bevel knife, but maintains the signature sharp edge of Japanese knives as the blade is ground at a much more acute angle (usually 10-15 degrees) than a western chef’s knife.

Because the Bunka knife is usually shorter in length compared to a western chef’s knife, it is considerably lighter and easier to handle — especially for those with small hands, or those with a smaller and limited workspace.

Bunka knife characteristics

Size

The Bunka is relatively shorter than a standard western chef’s knife, with most blade lengths ranging between 120-180mm in length — about the length of an average female adult’s hand.

Its compact length combined with the thinness of the blade makes the Bunka smaller and lighter than a chef’s knife, making it an ideal choice for those with smaller hands or for minimizing fatigue and strain when using the knife for extended periods of time.

A 165mm blade is recommended as the most suitable blade length for home cooks and professionals alike, as it’s a comfortable size for handling most types of produce while keeping the knife compact and easy to wield.

Shape

The Bunka is characterized by its predominantly straight cutting edge, wide blade and a straight, sloping spine that leads to its signature ‘reverse tanto’ angled tip, also known as a ‘k-tip’ point.

The flat profile of the Bunka makes it great for a swift downward chop and well suited for tap-chopping, push-cutting and pull-cutting techniques, however the absence of a curve on its straight-edged front blade does not allow for a rock-cutting motion. The ‘reverse tanto’ angled allows for delicate precision work such as brunoise cuts and scoring vegetables, or to get under the fat and sinew of meat when performing light butchering work.

Edge

The Bunka typically features a double bevel blade, but maintains the signature sharp edge of Japanese knives as the blade is ground at a much more acute angle (10-15 degrees) than those of a western chef’s knife. The double bevel Bunka is also ambidextrous, allowing use for both left-handed and right-handed users.

Handle

Bunka knife handles can be categorized into two categories: the traditional Japanese ‘Wa-Handle’, or a Western-style handle.

The most common wa-handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal. While some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, the choice of the handle comes down to personal preference.

How are Bunka knives made?

To understand how Bunka knives are made and to decode the common phrases that are found in knife descriptions, it’s best to look at traditional Japanese knife forging methods and the materials used.

There are two basic categories of Japanese knives - honyaki and kasumi - which are defined by the materials and methods used in their forging.

honyaki (“true-forged”) knives are manually forged by hand following traditional Japanese blacksmithing techniques, and are created entirely out of one single material: high-carbon steel (hagane). The hagane is typically a type of White Steel (Shirogami) or Blue Steel (Aogami), and this style of knife blade is also called a mono steel blade.

The method of creating a honyaki knife is similar to how Katanas (Japanese traditional swords) were made in the past. Forging a Bunka knife is a lengthy and difficult manual process that begins with a single high-carbon steel blank, and involves multiple rounds of heat treatment, steel hammering, kilning, polishing and sharpening. This is done manually in the hands of skilled blacksmiths in Japanese cities famous for their knife production, such as Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu), and Echizen (in Fukui).

Because honyaki knives are forged from high-carbon steel, its blade is extremely hard and can be sharpened to incredibly thin and sharp edges that will remain sharp for a long time. However, they are challenging to resharpen and prone to chipping, cracking, or breaking if used improperly. Due to the small-scale production and the highly-skilled artisan nature of the blacksmiths, honyaki knives are more expensive, and recommended for experienced and professional chefs who can maintain them.

On the other hand, kasumi (“mist”) knives are made by joining together a piece of soft iron (jigane) with a piece of high-carbon steel (hagane) to create a laminated blade. After forging, hammering and shaping, the carbon steel (hagane) forms the core and cutting edge, while the soft iron (jigane) clads the body and spine of the blade. The hazy appearance of the soft iron in contrast with the glossy carbon steel gives kasumi its signature ‘mist’ appearance, as referenced by its name. Thanks to the added soft iron, kasumi blades have reduced brittleness overall, and are cheaper and easier to sharpen than honyaki knives.

In relation to kasumi knives, Hon Kasumi or Hongasumi knives are also commonly found, and refers to a higher grade of kasumi knives. Although Hongasumi knives are made in the same way as kasumi knives, they are often made from higher quality materials and involve extra attention and steps in its forging, tempering, polishing and finishing processes.

For more information on how Japanese knives are made and the types of steels used, check out our blog on how Japanese knives are made. (link coming soon)

What are common variations of the Bunka knife?

A common variation of the Bunka knife is the Ko-Bunka.

Ko-Bunka Bōchō (小-文化包丁)

The Ko-Bunka is a smaller version of the classic Bunka knife. ‘Ko’ means ‘small’ in Japanese.

A Ko-Bunka has the same profile as a regular sized Bunka knife with its signature ‘reverse tanto’ tip (also known as a k-tip), but are useful for in-hand cutting of smaller produce or as a general-purpose utility knife on the chopping board to chop herbs, prepare vegetables, and even clean, dress and cut smaller types of meats, fish and poultry. The most popular blade length size of Ko-Bunkas is around 130mm.

What are popular Bunka knife brands?

Bunka knives are originally from Japan. To this day, traditional Japanese blacksmiths continue to forge Bunka knives manually by hand in cities famous for their knife production such as Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu) and Echizen (in Fukui), although some Japanese manufacturers offer their own versions of the Bunka knife as well.

Some of the more popular Bunka knife brands include:

  • Anryu
  • Yoshihiro
  • Tojiro
  • Shun
  • Masamoto
  • Global
  • Sakai Takayuki

How to choose a Bunka knife

If you’re in the market for a Bunka knife, it can seem difficult to figure out which particular one will be perfect for you, especially if you haven’t had the chance to try out a few models in person to get a feel for what size and style of the Bunka knife feels the most balanced and stable in your hand.

You can see our best recommendations here, but here are some factors to first consider that will help you to choose your Bunka knife:

  • Types of steel
  • Handle styles
  • Ideal size
  • Your budget

Which steel should I choose for my Bunka knife?

Generally speaking, you have a choice between carbon steel and stainless steel when buying a Bunka knife. The type of steel you choose will determine the knife’s edge retention, how easy it is to sharpen, level of resistance to corrosion and rusting, and its overall durability. You can first evaluate which of these factors are the most important to you, and narrow it down from there.

Carbon-steel blades are easier to sharpen and maintain their sharp edges for longer, but require more maintenance as it is prone to rust and corrosion. Over time, a dark patina will form on a carbon-steel knife. Popular high-carbon steel options include White Steel (Shirogami) and Blue Steel (Aogami).

stainless steel blades are generally less expensive, tougher, less likely to chip and more corrosion-resistant, however are harder to sharpen and tend to dull quicker. Popular stainless steel options include VG-10, SG-2, AUS-10, Gingami #3 and Swedish stainless steel.

What is the best handle for a Bunka knife?

The handle of your Bunka knife will determine how comfortable it feels to use in your hand.

Consider your usual grip on a knife. If you mostly hold the knife by the handle, a shaped or tapered Western-style handle will feel most comfortable and familiar to you.

If you hold the knife using a pinch grip, a Bunka knife with a traditional Japanese-style handle (‘wa-handle’) will feel great in your hand. The most common wa-handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal, and while some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, it all comes down to personal preference.

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How do I take care of a Bunka knife?

When purchasing a Bunka knife, it’s important to think about how you will care for and maintain your Bunka knife. Bunka knives should be sharpened with water whetstones, and always hand washed and dried after use to prevent rusting and corrosion.

There are lots of detailed videos on YouTube that show you step-by-step how to sharpen your Bunka knife. Otherwise, some Bunka knife sellers offer a paid sharpening service by trained Japanese knife sharpeners, which can be an easier option.

How much should I spend on a Bunka knife?

There are countless options for a Bunka knife, starting with budget-friendly Bunka knives to traditionally hand-forged honyaki Bunka knives that will set you back a few hundred dollars. Setting your own spending limit will help narrow down your hunt for the best value Bunka knife.

If you’re looking for some tried and tested Bunka knife recommendations, this Damascus Santoku Knife 7 Inch is a steal for a blade with VG-10 core at under $60. If you’re able to invest a little more, our pick is the Enso HD Hammered Damascus 8-inch Kiritsuke Knife direct from Seki city, a town renowned in Japan for their superior hand-forged craftsmanship.

Frequently asked questions

Should I buy a Bunka knife?

The Bunka knife is a definite eye-catcher and a stylistic and functional choice if you’re in the market for a smaller general-purpose knife. If you already own a Santoku, you may find that the only main difference between the Santoku and a Bunka is the angled ‘reverse tanto’ tip (also known as a ‘k-tip’), and not much more.

However, if you’re new to the world of Japanese knives or looking for a handy do-it-all knife, the Bunka is highly recommended as a fantastic option to utilize the compact size of a Santoku with the additional advantage of a pointed tip to allow for intricate, detailed work from time to time. The Bunka is also suggested for those who find the Gyuto knife too large or unwieldy as the Bunka is shorter and lighter, making it much easier to handle.

How do you sharpen a Bunka knife?

As a rule, the Bunka knife should only be sharpened using a whetstone when necessary. Here’s an easy to follow video on how to sharpen a Bunka knife:

For more tips, insights and tricks, visit our page on how to sharpen Japanese knives. (link coming soon)

Who makes the best Bunka knife?

At Japanese Knives Guide, we believe that the best Bunka knife is one that fits your budget, grip style, expected steel type and your chosen size of the blade. Of course, everybody will have different resources and requirements, so our ‘best’ recommendations are always those which present great value for money.

If you’re new to the world of Japanese knives, our foolproof recommendation is this: before jumping at the first chance to own an expensive, high-end Bunka knife, why not try your hand at a budget-friendly Bunka knife to see if it’s the right fit for you?

Traditionally hand-forged and high-carbon steel Bunka knives can easily cost a fortune, and although beautiful, they require some training to get used to the high-maintenance care routine that’s required to keep them in their pristine original condition. It’s always better to first get a feel for the specific qualities of a specialized knife before committing to invest more. That way, you can spend some time mastering different chopping and handling techniques without the fear of damaging your expensive investment piece.

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with plenty of Bunka knife options, a transparent customer review section and an incredibly generous returns policy, which makes it the perfect hassle-free and worry-free option for your first Bunka knife purchase. There are many specialized smaller retailers out there, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that can provide as much peace of mind with the same level of service and returns policy as Amazon.

With that said, our favorite entry-level Bunka knife at under $60 is the Damascus Santoku Knife 7 Inch. With VG-10 stainless steel at its core, it’s great value for a knife that will hold its edge well. If you’re able to invest a little further, the Enso HD Hammered Damascus 8-inch Kiritsuke Knife is a handmade beauty from Seki city in Japan, an area that’s renowned for their blacksmiths’ craftsmanship. The extremely thin 2mm blade features a razor-sharp 12 degree beveled edge, which will cut through even tougher produce with no problem at all.

Where to buy a Bunka knife

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with many Bunka knives on offer. They also have a very generous returns policy for extra peace of mind.

At $60, our best entry-level pick is this Damascus Santoku Knife 7 Inch with its ‘reverse tanto’ tip or ‘k-tip’ point and a slightly curved edge, which will help you to ease into the up-and-down cutting technique of Japanese knives but leave a little wiggle room in case you’d like to rock-chop your way to dinner after a long day. With Japanese VG-10 stainless steel forming the blade, it’s the best bang for your buck and a great gateway into the world of Japanese knives.

For beginner Japanese knife enthusiasts with a little more budget, we highly recommend the hand-crafted Enso HD 5.5" Prep Knife - Made in Japan - VG10 Hammered Damascus Stainless Steel Utility Knife as a Ko-Bunka option or the Enso HD Hammered Damascus 8-inch Kiritsuke Knife for your first Bunka knife, as these knives are hand-forged in Seki city, an area that’s well known for their expert blacksmithing craftsmanship. The Enso knives are extremely thin at just 2mm behind the heel, and are as sharp as they come with the blade sharpened at an acute 12 degrees to the edge. These knives offer great value for money for VG-10 hammered damascus steel, and are sure to catch the attention of everybody who steps into your kitchen.

Bunka Knife

Name: 
文化包丁 (ぶんかぼうちょう)
Rōmaji:
Bunka Bōchō
Best for:
Sizing:
120-240mm
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