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What is a Yanagiba (Sashimi) Knife?

The Yanagiba is a traditional-style Japanese sashimi knife with a thin and long blade that is mainly used to slice boneless fish fillets for sashimi or nigiri sushi. The Yanagiba is also used to fillet small to medium-sized fish or to skin fish. The long and narrow blade typically features a pointed tip and a single bevel edge, making it extremely sharp and perfect for slicing raw fish in one single, long stroke by using a pulling motion from the heel to the tip of the knife.

The Yanagiba is one of the three basic knives of Japanese cuisine, along with the Deba and Usuba. The Yanagiba is a staple for sushi connoisseurs, as the uniquely long and narrow blade with its ultra-sharp edge results in very little cellular damage to the surface of the cut fish when used correctly. This is especially important for raw fish dishes such as sashimi, because it helps to preserve the original flavor and texture of the fish.

What does Yanagiba mean?

Literally translated, ‘Yanagiba’ in Japanese means ‘willow leaf blade’, and refers to the long and slender leaf-shaped blade of the Yanagiba knife. Similarly, the Yanagiba is also sometimes referred to by its alternative name from the Kansai region, ‘Shobu’ meaning ‘iris leaf’, thanks to its resemblance to the spear-shaped leaves of the iris plant.

What is a Yanagiba knife best for?

The Yanagiba knife is best for slicing raw fish, especially for the preparation of sashimi and nigiri sushi dishes where the goal is to have cut surfaces that are smooth, shiny and perfectly even in order to highlight the delicate flavors and textures of the fish.
The characteristically long blade of the Yanagiba allows you to cut through the flesh of the fish in one single swift stroke, using a ‘pulling’ motion that begins at the heel of the knife and ends at the tip. The thinness of the blade means that the knife can be pulled with very little force, which helps to avoid tearing or bruising the flesh of the fish and saves you from ruining the delicate flavor and soft texture of sashimi or nigiri sushi.

Like most traditional Japanese knives, Yanagibas are single bevel knives, meaning that only one side of the blade is ground to form a razor-sharp edge. The other side of the blade is slightly concave, which gives the Yanagiba an unique non-stick property that allows the perfectly smooth and glossy slices of fish to be removed easily without sticking to the blade.

Some common sashimi cutting techniques that can be mastered with a Yanagiba knife include:

  • Hirazukuri (to pull-cut vertically): this perpendicular cut is used for fatty fish such as tuna or salmon, and results in a thicker cut to deliver a satisfying mouthful.
  • Usuzukuri (to pull-cut thin vertically): this style of cut literally means ‘fine cuts’, and is achieved by using the knife to cut extremely thin slices of white fish to emphasize its translucence. The Usuzukuri cut is mostly used for white fish, as the thinner cuts allow you to appreciate the bouncy texture of the white fish flesh that would otherwise be lost with a thicker cut.
  • Sogizukuri (to pull-cut at an angle): this clean cut is achieved by using the knife at a 45 degree angle tilt, and is a common cut for most types of sushi.

Take a look at how master sushi chef Hiroyuki Terada uses his Yanagiba knife to expertly slice salmon, tuna and hamachi for sushi and sashimi.

Yanagiba knife characteristics

Size

The Yanagiba knife is specially designed for slicing raw fish in order to prepare sashimi and nigiri sushi. In order to achieve clean cuts that are smooth, shiny and even to maximise the taste, the Yanagiba features a long, thin and narrow blade that allows the user to cut through a fish fillet using just one single long stroke rather than “sawing” back and forth, saving the flesh from being damaged with a serrated cross section.
The Yanagiba is available in several blade lengths from 210mm to 360mm, but on average, a blade length of 270mm to 330mm is most recommended.

Shape

True to its translation of ‘willow leaf blade’, the Yanagiba has a long, thin and narrow blade with a pointed tip that closely resembles the shape of a willow leaf. The thinness of the blade allows you to pull-cut cleanly through the delicate fish flesh with very little force, using mostly only the weight of the knife in one long, drawing stroke. This makes the Yanagiba ideal for achieving perfect glossy sashimi slices with no bruises, as using more force or a thicker blade would lead to tearing and damaging the delicate flesh of the fish.

Edge

The chiseled edge of the Yanagiba’s blade is a distinct feature of traditional Japanese knives, which pays homage to Japanese cuisine and history. Traditional Japanese cuisine aims to preserve and accentuate the true flavors of fresh and seasonal ingredients, which requires the sharpest possible edge to make a smooth, gliding cut.

The Yanagiba’s single-bevel blade is uniquely ground on only one side to achieve a fine and extremely sharp cutting edge. The other side of the blade is slightly concave, which means that only the cutting edge of the blade lightly touches the fish, making it ideal for achieving a smooth sashimi cut that preserves the natural freshness, flavor and texture of the fish.

If you’re new to Japanese knives or haven’t tried using a single bevel knife yet, bear in mind that there is a learning process involved to master cutting straight with this “handed” knife. Right-handed Yanagibas tend to pull to the left while cutting, whereas left-handed Yanagibas tend to pull to the right. It should also be noted that most single bevel knives are created for right-handed use, so if you are left-handed, be sure to look for a left-handed Yanagiba knife.

Handle

Yanagiba knife handles can be categorized into two categories: the traditional Japanese ‘Wa-Handle’, or a Western-style handle. Most Yanagiba knives feature a wooden Wa-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 Yanagiba knives made?

Yanagiba knives with their signature long, narrow blade and pointed tip originate from the Kansai region, near the city of Osaka in Western Japan. Traditionally, sushi chefs in West Japan and East Japan used different knives, due to the difference in food culture and local produce.

Those in the Kansai region favored the common Yanagiba with a pointed tip, while those in the Kanto region favored the flat front-tip of a Takohiki knife, which is a variation of the Yanagiba knife that is now primarily used for handling octopus. Nowadays, it is common to see the Yanagiba knife being used by dedicated sushi and sashimi chefs not only in all of Japan, but in the Western world as well due to its impressive slicing abilities.

To understand how exactly these impressive Yanagiba knives are made and to decode the common phrases that are found in descriptions of Yanagiba knives, it’s necessary 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 generally 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 Yanagiba 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 - all done manually by the hands of skilled Japanese blacksmiths in traditional knife-making cities 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, which 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) becomes the cutting edge and backside of the blade, while the soft iron (jigane) forms the body and spine of the blade. The hazy appearance of the soft iron body of the blade 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 variants of Yanagiba knives?

Although the willow leaf-shaped Yanagiba from the Kansai (Osaka) region of Japan is the most commonly used, a variety of regional and task-specific variations of the Yanagiba exist. These include:

Kensaki Yanagiba (剣先柳) - also known as Kiritsuke Yanagiba or Kiritsuke-tip Yanagiba

The Kensaki Yanagiba, also known as the Kiritsuke Yanagiba, has a very similar profile to the regular Yanagiba but has an angled tip that is often called ‘reverse tanto’ or ‘clipped point’ which is useful for precision cutting. The Kensaki Yanagiba is typically a single-bevel knife, and has a blade length ranging from 240mm to 330mm. They are generally slightly heavier than the common Yanagiba.

Takohiki ( 蛸引| Octopus knife) - also known as Takobiki

The Takohiki is a variant of the Yanagiba, and features a blunt, square tip and a straight spine that makes it easier to cut through tough and dense ingredients, such as octopus (called ‘Tako’ in Japanese, hence the name). Takohiki originates from the Kanto region, and is usually lighter, thinner, flatter and shorter in blade height than the Yanagiba. The blade is typically single bevel, and the length usually ranges from 210mm to 390mm.

Sakimaru Takohiki (先丸蛸引 | Round-tipped octopus knife)

The Sakimaru Takohiki is a variation of the Yanagiba and Takohiki knives that is similarly used for achieving clean and precise sushi and sashimi cuts. However, the Sakimaru Takohiki features a slightly rounded tip in a similar shape to those found on a Katana (traditional Japanese samurai sword), which gives it its unique style. The straight spine of the Takohiki and the slightly curved edge like the Yanagiba makes this single-bevel knife a stylish combination of the two. Its blade length ranges from 210mm to 390mm.

Fuguhiki (河豚引 | Blowfish knife) - also known as Fugubiki

The Fuguhiki is a variation of the Yanagiba, but with a thinner, narrower and slightly more flexible blade that is designed to cut extremely thin slices of delicate flesh fish, such as Japanese flounder (hirame) or blowfish (‘fugu’ in Japanese, hence the name). The extremely thin cuts of blowfish made by using a Fuguhiki knife are typically served on a painted plate, so that the design of the plate can be seen through the thin sliced pieces. The single bevel blade ranges from 180mm to 360mm in length.

What are popular Yanagiba knife brands?


The Yanagiba knife originates from the Kansai region near Osaka, and to this day, traditional blacksmiths in Japan still forge Yanagiba knives manually by hand. However, with its rising popularity among sushi chefs, many Japanese and Western knife manufacturers now also offer their own version of the Yanagiba knife as well. The most famous cities in Japan for their knives include Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu), and Echizen (in Fukui).

Some popular Yanagiba makers include:

  • Tojiro
  • Masamoto
  • Yoshihiro
  • Sakai Takiyuki
  • Gesshin Uraku
  • Mercer Culinary
  • Shun

How to choose a Yanagiba knife

If you’re in the market for a Yanagiba knife, it can seem difficult to figure out which particular Yanagiba knife 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 weight of the Yanagiba 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 Yanagiba knife:

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

Which steel should I choose for my Yanagiba knife?

Generally speaking, you have a choice between carbon steel and stainless steel when buying a Yanagiba knife.

carbon steel is made by adding carbon to steel that is made from iron ore. Compared to stainless steel blades, carbon steel blades are easier to sharpen and also retain their sharp edge for longer. However, carbon steel blades require regular maintenance and oiling, as they are vulnerable to rust and stains.

Over time, a dark patina will form on a carbon-steel knife, and may rust or corrode if the blade is not dried, cleaned and lubricated properly after use. Popular options include White Steel (Shirogami) and Blue Steel (Aogami).

stainless steel is made in the same way as carbon steel, but adds chrome to the mix to prevent the material from rusting. stainless steel blades are generally tougher, less likely to chip, inexpensive and corrosion-resistant than carbon steel.

However, stainless steel blades typically tend to be harder to sharpen and do not retain their sharp edge as well as carbon steel blades. Popular options include VG-10, SG-2, AUS-10, Gingami #3 and Swedish stainless steel.

What is the best handle for a Yanagiba knife?

The handle of your Yanagiba knife will determine how balanced the knife feels in your hand and how comfortable it feels to use.

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 more comfortable and familiar to you.

If you hold the knife by using a pinch grip, a traditional Japanese-style handle (also called a ‘wa-handle’) will feel great in your hand. 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, it all comes down to personal preference.

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How do I take care of a Yanagiba knife?

When purchasing a Yanagi knife, it’s important to think about how you will care for and maintain the Yanagi knife. Yanagi knives should only 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 Yanagiba knife. Otherwise, some Yanagiba knife sellers offer a paid sharpening service by trained Japanese knife sharpeners, which can be a wise option to preserve the sharpness of the single bevel blade.

How much should I spend on a Yanagiba knife?


There are countless options for a Yanagiba knife, starting with budget-end Yanagiba knives to traditionally hand-forged Japanese Yanagiba knives for over $500. Setting your own spending limit will help narrow down your hunt for the best value Yanagiba knife.

If you’re looking for some tried and tested Yanagiba knife recommendations, this Kai Seki Magoroku Kinju AK-1106 240mm Yanagiba knife is a great entry-level choice for under $50. If you’re able to invest a little more, our favourites include the Masahiro Stainless Steel 240mm Yanagiba Knife and the Yoshihiro Shiroko High Carbon Steel Kasumi Yanagi Magnolia Handle Sushi Sashimi Chef Knife because they are reputable brands from Japan that consistently produce high-quality knives which are great value for stainless steel and White Steel #2 respectively.

Frequently asked questions

Should I buy a Yanagiba knife?

Like all Japanese knives, the Yanagiba performs best when doing what it was designed to do: fine slicing perfect cuts of raw fish for sashimi and sushi. If you’re a budding sushi connoisseur who likes to prepare sashimi or sushi, the Yanagiba is sure to be a delightful addition to your sushi-making set as it is the best slicer for raw fish. However, if you’re searching for a more versatile general slicer that is not just for fish, the Sujihiki (see below) may be more suitable.


What is the difference between Sujihiki and Yanagiba?

If you’ve been researching about the Yanagiba knife, chances are you’ve also heard of another kind of Japanese knife, the Sujihiki. Simply put, the Sujihiki is similar to a Yanagiba knife, but features a double bevel blade like most Western-style knives, meaning that the cutting edge is ground on both sides.

The name Sujihiki literally translates to ‘flesh slicer’, and its long blade length combined with its thinness makes it an excellent choice for cutting very thin and straight slices of meat and fish. It is most similar to a Western-style carving knife, but is usually much thinner and sharper.

The Yanagiba knife is single bevel, and is still much better suited than the Sujihiki for slicing raw fish into delicate slices for sashimi and sushi as its edge is sharper, and causes less damage to the cells of the fish flesh. However, the single bevel nature of the Yanagiba means that there is a bigger learning curve to master its proper usage, so the Sujihiki is recommended for those who prefer a double bevel blade and wish to also slice meat into thin pieces as well as fish.

How do you sharpen a Yanagiba knife?

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

How To Sharpen Your Yanagiba

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

Who makes the best Yanagiba knife?

At Japanese Knives Guide, we believe that the best Yanagiba 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 Yanagiba knife, be realistic about the learning curve that is involved for using and caring for Japanese knives.

While the exquisite hand-crafted Yanagiba knives with the hardest and most expensive steel may catch your attention, it’ll become quite a different story when you realize that the hefty price tag also comes with the need to re-learn the basics of cutting straight with a single bevel blade, as well as the high-maintenance care routine that is required for the finest Japanese knives. Rather than dish out a few hundred dollars from the beginning without much experience, why not try your hand with a budget-friendly Yanagiba knife to see if it’s the right fit for you?

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with plenty of Yanagiba 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 first-time buyers of the Yanagiba knife. 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 in mind, this Kai Seki Magoroku Kinju AK-1106 240mm Yanagiba knife is a great entry-level choice for under $50. If you’d like to invest a little more, our favourites include the Masahiro Stainless Steel 240mm Yanagiba Knife and the Yoshihiro Shiroko High Carbon Steel Kasumi Yanagi Magnolia Handle Sushi Sashimi Chef Knife because they are reputable brands from Japan that consistently produce high-quality knives which are great value for stainless steel and White Steel #2 respectively.

Where to buy a Yanagiba knife

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with many Yanagiba knife brands, and offers a very generous returns policy for extra peace of mind.

For under $50, our favourites include the Seki Gold Kotobuki St Sashimi Knife 240mm Ak-1106 and the Kai Wasabi Black Yanagiba Knife which are made in Japan with exceptionally sharp single bevel edges to achieve smooth and glossy slices of fish.

For beginner Japanese knife enthusiasts with a little more budget, we highly recommend the hand-crafted Yoshihiro VGYA240SH Hongasumi VG-10 Stainless Steel Yanagiba as a great high-quality stainless steel option, or the Yoshihiro Shiroko High Carbon Steel Kasumi Yanagiba for outstanding value for White Steel #2. The Yoshihiro brand is renowned for their hand-crafted knives by traditional Japanese artisans, and are known for their durable, high-quality knives that stand the test of time with exceptional performance and value.

Yanagiba (Sashimi) Knife

Name: 
柳刃包丁 (やなぎば)
Rōmaji:
Yanagi-ba Bōchō
Best for:
Sizing:
210-360mm
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