Anyone who appreciates the artistry and skill behind Japanese food understands the virtues of specialist Japanese kitchen tools and the sheer excitement and pleasure of perfect slices of fresh and premier quality fish.
Sweetly perfumed of the sea, delicately sized and glistening with healthy fats and oils, a masterpiece of fish carvery put onto the plate or into the rice bowl delights the palate and the discerning diner.
In this article you can look forward to learning all you need to know about the Yanagiba, Japan’s specialist knife for the skinning, trimming, slicing, and filleting of fish.
The Yanagiba is an essential tool in any environment where raw fish is processed for serving and we’re also going to compare the Yanagiba to other Japanese knives, just to give you a sound understanding of this exciting knife sales market and the products involved.
As a niche product, the Yanagiba excels in the tasks for which it was designed and it has so much to offer the raw fish devotee and those working with fish processing, sushi, sashimi, nigiri and so on.
Let’s dive right in!
What is a Yanagiba?
The Yanagiba knife is a knife developed specifically and ONLY for the preparation of raw fish and as such is a foundation tool in the sushi or sashimi chef’s knife collection.
The Yanagiba belongs to the ‘family’ of Japanese knives that are made for fish, or for sushi preparation generally, and we’ll look at these too as we go.
In design the Yanagiba is long and slender in shape, which makes it look like the ‘willow leaf blade’ that its Japanese name translates to in English. This poetic name belies its sharpness and cutting prowess: it’s one of the sharpest knives a Japanese chef will use, and its finely honed edge is made to slice through delicate and expensive fish with ease and precision every time.
In length this knife will measure from 8 to 14 inches and every inch of that is crafted from high quality knife materials like premium high carbon steel for the blade, and beautiful knife handles of skillful manufacture made from lustrous ebony, walnut, bone or pakkawood for example.
The Yanagiba is a single bevel (single blade edge) knife that’s sleek and pointy in design, like a shark moving through the water. It’s made this way to conform comfortably to the user’s hand and to move smoothly in a fluid ‘pull cutting’ motion through a piece of fish that may be large and require a long blade.
The origin of the Yanagiba sushi knife
The Japanese have a long, illustrious tradition of knife making and today that reputation stands as traditional Japanese knives remain at the forefront of both the Asian market and foreign buyers export market.
The Yanagiba knife specifically came to wider use in Osaka, Japan, from the 1500s onwards as Japanese knife artisans started adapting their traditional blades for European or non – Japanese customers.
The very same skills that crafted rare and prized Samurai swords and fighting tools were used by Japanese artisans to design and forge knives for kitchen or personal usage like the Japanese knife for raw fish – the Yanagiba.
The key characteristics of the Yanagiba sushi knife
Now we’re going to look in some detail at what makes a Yanagiba knife both appealing and highly functional.
The Yanagiba blade
One knife enthusiast describes using a Yanagiba as ‘like cutting fish with a large razor blade’ and that description is so accurate and largely based on the Yanagiba’s superb blade design.
The Yanagiba knife blade as we’ve said before is long and thin and is best made from premium grade high carbon steel like Shirogami. A Yanagiba blade usually has a pointed tip to it.
The blade profile will taper in the last 1/3 of the blade towards the tip, giving the blade its signature ‘willow leaf’ shape. A blade length of around 10 inches is the most popular size although size can vary depending on the needs of the buyer.
The Yanagiba’s single bevel edge
What’s interesting about the Yanagiba is its single bevel edge surface. This allows for the blade to be sharpened down on one side and on the other side (the back) to have a hollow called in Japanese an ‘ura’.
This unique concavity means that sticky or wet fish (or rice) doesn’t stick to the side of the blade as the user cuts, it falls away from the blade and does not impede the progress or fluidity of the work.
Only one side of the blade surface being honed down gives incredible sharpness of a standard needed for expert work.
A single bevel knife edge is quicker to sharpen than a double beveled edge but requires its own technique that is easily learnt via practice.
Just as a note for those purchasing, a single bevel Yanagiba blade is appropriate for right – handed users but lefties will find it difficult to master. For this reason, single bevel Yanagibas specifically for left – handed users are made.
The Yanagiba’s handle
A Yanagiba handle can be either long and smoothly tapered in the Western style or in a distinctive Japanese style called a wa handle which has shaping (often octagonal) to the sides of the handle.
Either style of handle is appropriate for this specialist knife if the buyer likes the shape, ergonomics, look and balance of the handle in the hand.
It’s important also that a Yanagiba handle is made from durable material that will stand the test of time and add beauty and elegance to its surroundings.
The key uses of the Yanagiba knife
The Yanagiba was designed and is sold for usage on raw fish and sushi preparation. Dishes like fresh and tantalizing slices of fish (sashimi); sliced fish and rice (nigiri) and assorted types of maki rolls like the California style maki pictured above.
What makes the Yanagiba such an excellent sushi knife?
With its razor – sharp single bevel blade, the Yanagiba can slice through even big pieces of fish without the blade edge catching on the fragile fish fibers.
This is what makes the Yanagiba a raw fish and seafood star! The blade cuts through very delicate items like precious abalone or expensive grade salmon without ruining its texture or appearance.
Because the cut is so surgically precise and quick, the fish is not exposed to the air for very long, which maintains its freshness. The rapid cutting given by the Yanagiba also keeps the fish juices in, preserves the shine on the surface of the cut fish, and avoids any ragged edges or unsightly tears in these stunning ingredients.
The Yanagiba is indeed the ultimate sushi knife available. This makes it a ‘must have’ buy because anyone spending on good quality seafood will want a knife that will treat those pricey and luxurious ingredients with respect and care. This makes the Yanagiba a smart and necessary investment for the sushi or fish chef, whether a professional or in the home kitchen environment.
Variations on the Yanagiba knife
This Yanagiba is very long, thin, and shaped like a thin rectangle with a blunted, square edged tip to it. It’s used for cutting up octopi and other tough seafood items like squid or tube clams.
The blade edge is straight and single beveled and ranges from 8 to 15 inches in length.
This Yanagiba is used for the luxury ingredient fugu fish which requires extremely precise cutting as some of its parts are deadly poisonous.
Fish like fugu or blowfish are served in translucently thin slices, which requires a thin, narrow, and slightly flexible blade such as the Fuguhiki knife offers.
Fuguhiki knives are single bevel, and their size ranges from 7 to 14 inches in length.
Kiritsuke or Kiritsuke Bocho knife
This knife is a design mixture of the Yanagiba and the Usuba (Japanese vegetable knife).
This knife has a long straight edged blade with a ‘clipped point’ tip and measures typically from 9.5 to 13 inches in length.
The Kiritsuke knife is used mainly for chicken, vegetables, fish, and herbs cutting and prep, so it offers some versatility in the kitchen. The Kiritsuke is not a specialist raw fish knife though, that title belongs only to the Yanagiba!
The Yanagiba compared to other popular Japanese knives
Let’s have a helpful look see at an easily understood table, we’ll put the Yanagiba and other Japanese knives side by side for easy informational reference!
|FEATURE||YANAGIBA KNIFE||USUBA KNIFE||DEBA KNIFE|
|Usage||Sushi & Sashimi||Vegetables||Fish and Meat|
|Length||8 to 14 inches||6.5 to 9.5 inches||6 to 13 inches|
|Weight||Around 10 ounces||Usually 10 ounces upwards||Usually 10 ounces upwards|
|Blade Shape||Long, thin and tapered towards tip||Rectangular, squared off end to blade, straight blade edge||Wide asymmetrical blade, tapers thinner towards pointed tip|
As you can see these Japanese knives do share some areas of overlap but are diversified to cover specific clients needs or dietary habits.
Lee Knives have an interesting guide to the Deba knife for your information and further comparison.
What’s the best steel for a Yanagiba knife?
Industry experts and knife collectors all appreciate the importance of a quality knife steel and for a Yanagiba this translates into Shirogami steel which is a high carbon steel that gets wickedly sharp.
This steel allows for a Yanagiba that can hold an edge for longer, thereby making sharpening only an occasional concern. Carbon steel knives also offer a long life span which offers value for money to the consumer.
Although carbon steel knives can be prone to rust if not looked after properly, the smart Yanagiba buyer will keep their treasured purchase dry and properly stored and will follow the manufacturer’s care instructions to make their purchase a resilient one.
Are Yanagiba knives good products for a knife store?
The Yanagiba range of knives are definitely a good inclusion into a well – stocked knife store. Particularly in coastal areas where a lot of seafood is processed and eaten, the Yanagiba knife goes from nice- to- have to essential for the chef or cook that prepares a lot of fish and seafood regularly.
Sushi and sashimi restaurants as well as Japanese cuisine generally have a large and devoted following today and new eating establishments open daily to feed this trend.
For customers that expect a good supply of specialist kitchenware, the Yanagiba knife simply must be part of that product offering. With the increase in individuals learning the fun and healthy techniques of sushi preparation in the home, what better gift than a beautifully presented Yanagiba knife to take their hobby to the next level?
For pro fish master or home dabbler, sushi and Japanese food are here to stay, and the savvy marketer would do well to have products on hand to satisfy that demand.
By offering the Yanagiba knife for sale you’re not just offering a premium steel, high performance tool that’s essential for fish, you also offering your buyer a piece of the exotic East with an aesthetic and design standard to show off.
The Yanagiba and other Japanese knife beauties await you in our broad range of gorgeous knife products.
Do explore some more on the Lee Knives blog as there’s loads of super informative articles and resources to help your knife business along.
Need a fast and painless quote? We’d love to help you out with that too, so do visit our quote portal. Until we meet again, stay sharp dear friends!