An Introduction to the Japanese Yanagiba Knife

Aaah yes, that ancient, classic, and timeless Yanagiba knife, or as it is appropriately called the Yanagi-ba-bocho, which in Japanese means the “willow blade.”

The long and slim blade was designed to maximize the taste and texture of the classic Japanese sashimi and nigiri sushi. It does this by producing very thin, smooth, and shiny cuts which optimize the taste and texture of the fish.

This article will briefly go over the main characteristics of a Yanagiba knife, as well as the different styles and compositions that it is available in. We will also discuss how other non-Japanese cultures are using this knife today!

So What Characterizes a Yanagiba Knife?

As we have already learned, Yanagiba (also known as hobu-bochu) is a long, slender, and incredibly sharp blade commonly used for slicing raw fish. This knife is also characterized by its single bevel and thin blade profile. This allows the back face (urasuki) to easily detach the blade from the substance being cut.

Cuts made with this knife are meant to be pulled in one direction, beginning at the heel and finishing at the tip, allowing for thin slices of fish to be cut in one smooth motion.

professional chef cutting strips of red meat on a wooden cutting boardIn Japan, sushi and sashimi is a very serious business and the rigorous standards that the sushi is held to are even more severe. The slices of sashimi must be shiny and smooth when viewed under a microscope. This kind of precision is only accomplished with the sharpness of a Yanagiba blade. These are just a couple of the reasons that Yanagiba typically make the best sushi knives. This is why the blade profile of Yanagiba’s are longer than other blades. It allows cuts of meat to be sliced in a single stroke, instead of the typical “sawing” back and forth motion that is used with other knives. This single stroke provides an ultra-clean cut and prevents more delicate (fish) meat from tearing, which makes the cuts much more presentable.

Composition and Blade Styles

As with most things in life, there is plenty of discussion surrounding which kinds of methodologies are best.

When it comes to which sort of steel to use for Yanagiba knives (and all knives in general) the best kind of steel seems to be a matter of debate. There are basically three different types of steel used to make a Yanagiba, but they actually apply to the Deba and Usuba also.

  • Carbon Steel
  • Stainless Steel
  • Composite Steel

The composite steel knives that hold a sharper edge than stainless steel and are less susceptible to rust but can be quite costly. For more detailed information about steel components, their hardness and other traits, check this guide.

Growing Popularity Among Western Chefs

One thing that might surprise you is that this knife isn’t just reserved for sushi. Please be warned; This might offend some of the more traditional Japanese Knife Crafters and Sushi Chefs. But… The Yanagiba is an incredibly agile tool to have in the kitchen, and because it was flawlessly designed to be such a precise tool, it’s perfectly capable of producing more than just razor-thin slices of fish.

One example of this is the popularity of the Yanagiba among meat butchers in North America and other parts of Europe. The rigidity of the blade allows for such precise cuts to be made, especially when making harder cuts around joints of large animals.

professional chef cutting strips of meat from a cured ham leg 

Other Uses...

In can also be used to produce extremely thin slices of meat, for more delicate and luxurious dishes, such as Hot Pots or for that luxurious rib-eye Philly cheesesteak sandwich! Oh, and don’t forget that you can also use it to chop vegetables too.