I picked this bad boy up in Kappabashi last summer. It’s a nakiri-bocho, or vegetable cutting knife. At first, it might not sound so useful because it’s just for cutting vegetables… not as versatile as a chef’s knife. However, I find that I use it almost every night. Vegetables are probably the thing that you cut most, and this knife does it well. It’s super sharp and thin, so you can get nice, even slices. It does a great job cutting crisp vegetables like lotus roots that tend to split when you cut them with a thicker chef’s knife. And the lightness and flat cutting edge allow you to get into a really fast cutting rhythm (just watch your fingers). It really shines when cutting an herb chiffonade or whisper thin rings of green onion. The thin blade, however, means it’s not for cutting really hard things like kabocha or other winter squash. I also reserve this knife just for fruits and vegetables (though I don’t thing the shape would be very good for cutting meat anyways).
Since I only cut fruits and vegetables with it, cleanup is just a quick rinse and dry. Even though it’s “stainless,” it can’t be left sitting around wet or with vegetables stuck on it, as it will rust on the cutting edge. But with just a little care, it stays in fine condition. I also take time to sharpen it on a whetstone occasionally (about once every month or two). A regular high-carbon steel knife will have more of a tendency to rust, so it is even more important to wash and dry it right away after using it.
Another benefit of a nakiri-bocho is that unlike many Japanese knives which have single-edged blades, the nakiri-bocho is sharpened on both sides, so it can be used by both left- and right-handers (which is handy in my kitchen since I’m left-handed and Alex is right handed).
I bought mine at Kama-Asa Shoten in Kappabashi. As a service, they’ll also engrave your name on your knife. My knife is 速月桂樹 (hayai-gekkeiju), which is my last and first name translated into Japanese. My students always get a good laugh when I tell them they can remember my name as hayai-gekkeiju; I suppose the mental image of a branch of laurel running by quickly is pretty funny.
So if you’re looking to add a traditional Japanese knife to your collection, I highly recommend a nakiri-bocho.