|What is the difference between Japanese and Western knives?|
Japanese knives typically have lighter, thinner blades than their Western counterparts, and are sharpened to a very fine edge, so that the blade does the work and very little force is needed to cut through most foods. Japan does of course have a long history of producing high-quality blades. Just as important, perhaps, is the emphasis on presentation in Japanese food. To achieve this, the chef needs tools that can cut very cleanly and accurately.
What is the difference between double-bevel and single-bevel blades?
Nearly all Western knives have a double-bevel cutting edge, which is angled on both sides to give a V-shape to the tip of the blade. Traditionally, many Japanese knives, especially those used for preparing sushi and sashimi, have single-bevel blades, in which the blade edge is angled on the right side only. This gives the cleanest cut, as there is no bevel on the left side of the blade to crush the food. However, they are only really good for right-handed cooks (though special left-handed versions are sometimes available), and they need to be kept sharp, as the asymmetrical shape of the blade edge means it can have a tendency to skew if used blunt.
What are the common Japanese knife styles and what are they used for?
The santoku, or Japanese chef's knife, is the workhorse of the Japanese kitchen, and can be used for a variety of slicing, dicing and chopping tasks. The main difference between the santoku and the Western chef's knife is that, whereas a typical Western chef's knife has a blade that curves all the way from the heel, the blade of a santoku runs straight for a short distance from the heel before curving. This means it can be used for fine chopping of e.g. parsley without having to rock the blade.
The usuba, also known as a nakkiri bocho, has a rectangular blade that looks rather like a cleaver. Unlike a cleaver, however, the usuba's blade is very thin. It is designed for very fine, accurate chopping of vegetables.
The yanagiba is the main tool of the sushi chef. Its long, narrow blade traditionally has a single bevel, and is used to slice fish fillets for sushi and sashimi. A variation of the yanagiba is the takobiki, which has a squared chisel end to the blade rather than the yanagiba's pointed tip.
Unlike other Japanese knife styles, the deba has a thick, heavy blade. It is used primarily for filleting fish.
Several of your knife ranges have laminated blades. Why is this?
To take and hold a very sharp edge, knife steel needs to be hard. Hard steel tends to be brittle, although modern alloys are much tougher than they used to be. To protect and cushion the core blade, Japanese knifemakers developed the technique of cladding it in softer steel leaving just the cutting edge exposed. For double-bevel blades, both sides of the blade are normally clad in softer steel, so the blade has three layers (sanmai). For single-bevel blades, only the right-hand, bevelled side will be protected, so the blade has two layers (awase).