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What Is A Usuba Knife Used For: Find Out!

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Perhaps you’ve heard of this iconic Japanese kitchen knife, but do you know what a usuba knife is used for? Whether you do or not, you can benefit from reading this article. We’re going deep into the dos and donts of one of the most loved Japanese kitchen knives on the culinary market.

By the end of this meaty review, you will know much more about how to use your usuba knife. However, we’re also looking at what you want to avoid, how it weighs up against other knives and even some interesting trivia about the usuba.


What is an usuba?

what is a usuba knife

The easiest way to describe an usuba knife is a Japanese vegetable knife with a thin blade and a straight cutting edge. It is a single-bevel knife that resembles a vegetable cleaver, with a visual resemblance to the Japanese nakiri knife.

The usuba knife is primarily used for chopping vegetables into fine slices that do not damage the ingredient’s cells.

Related: The Best Japanese Knife Set: Our top picks!


A brief background of the usuba knife

a history of the usuba knife

The usuba knife is a traditional Japanese knife for highly skilled professional chefs. It capitalizes on each chef’s culinary skills to bring out the full potential of this single-bevel blade. However, single-bevel knives can be pretty challenging, only offering one blade side for cutting. This produces unpredictable results for those lacking expert skills.

Usuba knives are made with a chisel ground and an “urusaki” knife indentation on the backside.

The height and straight edge of the usuba make it a specialized knife that is ideal for shaving vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers. This process is known as “katsuramuki” in Japanese and has been practiced by professional chefs and home cooks in Japan for decades.

The “kataba” design of the usuba knife is the single bevel edge design that is sharpened only on one side. Therefore, it allows for better cuts and thinner slices than can be achieved by the nakiri or ryoba knives.

Nowadays, there are many variations of the usuba knife. These include the Kansai Kamagata usuba variation that incorporates an arch where the spine meets the pointed tip of the edge. In addition, the Kanto variation of the usuba knife features a square blunt tip that gives off the appearance of a small meat cleaver.

Generally speaking, usuba knives are most common in the Kyoto region of Japan (1). Mainly because of their landlocked location, which results in higher produce and a greater demand to prepare vegetables.


Features of the usuba knife

features of the usuba knife

 The usuba knife is known for its flat edge, allowing plenty of knuckle clearance for safe use and seamless chopping against the cutting board. Literally translated to mean “thin blade,” the usuba bōchō knife is made for delicate work. It enables the user to make precise cuts of dense vegetables.

The versatile pointed tip of the usuba blade is a personal preference among professional chefs. It can tackle large ingredients and reduce them to fine slices for high-end dining.

Coming in at about 7-8 inches in length, the usuba knife features a rather tall blade with a sharpened chisel on one side. It is made of premium Japanese high-carbon steel hardened to a Hardness Rockwell Scale (HRC) score of about 60 or more.

While this improves the blade’s cutting power, it can make it slightly more prone to cracking and chipping under high pressure. Like most knives in the Japanese culinary collections, the usuba knife is made with a D-shaped handle made of a wood material such as Pakkawood or Tagayasan.

Fortunately, modern usuba knives now offer wa-handles as an option. That is, western handles made with synthetic grips and riveted construction. This makes it easier for some users, particularly a nonprofessional user, to cut vegetables effectively.

The flat side of the blade also makes it easy to perform decorative carving for cutting straight thin sheets of firm vegetables. The best usuba knife is incredibly sharp and features a long blade for cutting vegetables and performing rotary peeling tasks.

These characteristics make the usuba knife ideal for preparing Japanese cuisine dishes that are heavy in vegetables. In addition, unlike other Japanese vegetable knives with thicker blades, the usuba sports a thin edge with a single bevel for intricately and precisely slicing veggies.

Related: Type Of Knife Edges: How Do They Work?


Pros of the usuba knife

the pros of a usuba knife

Exceptional cuts

The main selling point of usuba knives is the sharp blade edge that allows for elegant cutting and slicing vegetables. The flat blade edge lets you symmetrically chop vegetables to get consistent results with your ingredients.

This is great for aesthetics and presentation, a core element of fine dining and professional restaurant establishments.

The cutting prowess of the usuba knife is a double-edged sword (no pun intended). The straight edges and single-bevel knife design are responsible for its excellent results. However, that is also why it can be difficult for many.

The usuba is ultra sharp and highly durable with most Japanese knives. This provides fantastic cutting results and lasts a lifetime with proper care.



Despite its long blade, the usuba is a relatively thin Japanese knife, making it quite lightweight. For many users, this is a significant bonus that promotes ease of use and reduces strains on hands and wrists. In addition, the single bevel blade of the usuba is also available in alternate chisel angles, appealing to left-handed and right-handed users.


Rust and corrosion resistant

Another benefit of the usuba knife is its high resistance to rust and corrosion due to its high chromium content. This means they are typically safe for dishwasher use, though you should avoid doing so if your knife comes with wooden Japanese handles.

Regardless, it helps to know that you can cut through wet ingredients, such as just washed vegetables, without worrying if the metal will rust.


Cons of the usuba knife

the cons of a usuba knife

Difficult to use

As mentioned, the catch-22 of the usuba is its unique design and construction (2). Yes, this allows it to produce exceptional cutting results, but it is also the reason it is tough to use. Professional chefs in top-grade restaurants prefer the single-bevel knife design but not so much by the average Joe in the common household kitchen.

To make matters worse, these knives mostly come with wooden D-shaped handles, which are not the most ergonomically-friendly design.


Only available in single bevel

Some knives, like the nakiri knife, are available in single and double-bevel edge designs, but the usuba is not among such knives. As such, this almost restricts the everyday home cook from enjoying the benefits of the usuba knife.

That said, if one is willing to learn the correct techniques, one could reap the rewards of perfect vegetable cutting.


Hard to maintain

In addition to being hard to use, usuba knives can be just as challenging to maintain. To properly maintain your usuba knife, you will need a whetstone designed explicitly for single-bevel blades. If your usuba knife comes with a wooden handle, it eliminates the ability to wash it with your dishwasher.


Usuba vs chef knife

the usuba knife vs a chef's knife

The western chef knife is an all-purpose knife with a wide blade and a curved edge. It typically features a synthetic riveted handle with a finger lock for safety and ergonomics. While the chef knife can sufficiently cut vegetables in addition to meats and fish, it cannot do so with the same level of precision as the usuba knife.

There are differences in the blade design, including the curvature of the edge, the thickness of the blade, and the design of the bevel.

As such, the chef knife remains the all-purpose knife for the everyday homeowner. This is due to its ease of use and multi-dimensional facets. However, among professional culinary chefs, the usuba is the preferred choice for elegantly cutting up vegetables.

On that note, you’d likely be better off going for the western chef knife as a homeowner unless you are trying to achieve specific recipes. That, or you wish to experience the precision of usuba’s elite vegetable-cutting prowess.


Usuba vs nakiri knife

Usuba knife vs nakiri knife

The nakiri knife is the Japanese version of a vegetable cleaver, featuring a square-shaped blade with a long and thick stature. Nakiri knives are designed to take on large vegetables as they have the necessary firepower.

Furthermore, the blade is blunter than an usuba knife as it strives to deliver high cutting power at the expense of precision and delicacy.

As you may expect, the nakiri knife is widespread in household kitchens. It comes with an easy-to-use double-bevel knife design and can tackle various ingredients. It resembles the usuba knife in appearance, but you can easily tell them apart based on the width of the blades.

Regarding precision cutting and fine slicing of vegetables, the usuba is still the preferred choice, especially for the professional chef.

Related: What Is A Nakiri Knife Used For? and The Best Nakiri Knife Review 


What is an Usuba Knife FAQ

FAQ of a usuba knife

Is a Nakiri knife worth it?

The nakiri knife is a popular choice among Japanese and global home kitchens. They offer multi-purpose vegetable-cutting functionality. This knife has a thick and wide blade, making it ideal for cutting large vegetables with tough exteriors to a good standard.


What is a Honyaki knife?

A honyaki knife is an abnormally tall kitchen knife almost the length of a samurai sword. Elite-level chefs typically use it after demonstrating their competence with a series of predecessor blades.


What are Nakiri knives good for?

Nakiri knives are great for cutting just about any vegetable to a satisfactory level, offering enough force to penetrate the toughest shells. They can chop, dice, mince, and slice vegetables and are great for tedious tasks.


What is a Sujihiki knife used for?

The sujihiki knife is essentially a Japanese butcher’s knife that excels in cutting large pieces of meat or fish due to its long blade and slight curvature of the edge. Ideally, the sujihiki is used for trimming away fat from meats or finely slicing or filleting a fish from the bone. This makes it the preferred knife among butchers and some homeowners.


What is the difference between Nakiri and Usuba?

Despite their striking resemblance, there are some significant differences between the nakiri and the usuba. Most notably, the nakiri uses a thicker double-bevel knife design. On the other hand, the usuba uses a thinner single-bevel, meaning that the former is suitable for large-volume vegetable cutting. At the same time, the latter excels in delicate work and precision vegetable cutting.

Everything you need to know about the usuba knife

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