nakiri vs usuba

Nakiri vs Usuba:  What’s the Difference?

By Bobby B.  |  March 7, 2020  | Japanese Knives

These two rectangular veggies knives have no point, in the literal sense, and can easily get confused, especially in our Western culture.  Both are Japanese style chopping knives that look very similar to the untrained eye.  Both have a straight blade edge and are primarily made for cutting vegetables, but that’s really where the similarities end.

If you’re considering buying one of these knives, it’s critical that you don’t get them mixed up.  One of them, the usuba knife, actually requires great skill to use it properly, whereas the nakiri is a perfect veggie chopper for just about anyone.  Here are some more details about both of these fantastic Japanese vegetable knives.

Nakiri Knife

The nakiri knife has a straight blade and a flat front (no tip).  It’s almost exclusively used for chopping veggies in a vertical-only fashion.  No pushing, no pulling, just chop chop.  Like most Japanese-style knives, a nakiri has a thin, sharp, ultra hard blade that requires little effort when used for the job.

Nakiri knives commonly come in lengths of 5-7 inches and their shape is perfect for the chopping motion because it allows ample room for your knuckles so they don’t get smashed.  That being said, it’s a great all around knife, but not a good tool for heavy duty cutting or work around bones.  For that, you’ll need a Japanese meat cleaver.   

Usuba Knife

The usuba knife also has a straight blade and flat front.  The word “usuba” actually translates to thin blade, which tells you a bit more about it.  Not only is thin, but uniquely, it’s only sharpened on one side of the blade.  This is called a single-bevel knife.  This type of blade is also common on a good sushi knife.

Only being ground on one side of the blade means a special knife for left-handers vs righties.  They also don’t cut straight without some training.  Right-handed knives tend to pull to the left and visa-versa.  This is why most usuba knives are used by professional Japanese chefs rather than standard home cooks.  

Whats the difference between nakiri and usuba knives

What are the Differences Between Nakiri and Usuba Knives?

While both knives look similar and are both great knives for cutting vegetables, they do have several differences, including one that really sets them apart.  Because of this, they really aren’t even used by the same type of people typically.  Let’s learn more about each…

Nakiri Knife Characteristics:

  • Thin Blade
  • Perfect for Up and Down Chopping
  • Average Price 
  • Well-Rounded Knife
  • Double Bevel Blade
  • Suitable For All
  • Easy To Sharpen

Usuba Knife Characteristics:

  • Heavy Spine
  • Expensive
  • Exclusively for Finesse Work on Veggies
  • Ultra-sharp, Delicate Blade Edge
  • Single Bevel Knife
  • Must Choose Right or Left Hand
  • Only Suitable for Professional Chefs
  • Requires Additional Skill to Sharpen Blade

Which is Better:  Nakiri or Usuba?

This is really subjective and depends on who’s asking.  For the bulk of the population, there’s no question.  You should be looking at buying a nakiri knife for chopping your veggies.  They’re perfect for this job, safe and easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and well, quite cool-looking and unique.

Where does the usuba knife fit well you might ask?  Its place is in a professional kitchen and with a chef that’s been trained to used it.  It’s ultra-sharp and hand-dependent.  With the thin cuts and often hand-held work it’s meant to perform, it could be dangerous in the wrong hands.  Not sure what we mean?  Check out this video of a professional chef using an usuba… pretty amazing! 

As you can see in the video this chef has clearly practiced this task many many times in the past and is uber-careful when roto-peeling.  It’s easy to see how this could get dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.  For those professional chefs out there that are looking for an usuba, we really like the 6-1/2″ Shun Pro Usuba.  It’s a work of functional art.  It’s both beautiful and high-performance!