Japan has long been known for its amazing blade craft, whether it’s the katana or the kitchen knife.
Seki, dubbed the City of Blades, has all the raw materials that the job requires: coal, clay, and rivers.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that big names in the industry hail from here including Shun and Miyabi.
Choosing between the aforementioned brands is hard.
But this short yet comprehensive review will give you the information you need to get to a final choice.
Shun: Continuing the Tradition of Japanese Craftsmanship
Saijiro Endo started his business in 1908 in Seki, making folding knives and razors.
His decision to shift to cutlery has proven to be lucrative for him in the decades that followed.
The company was renamed Kai under Koji Endo, Saijiro’s direct descendant.
The next bold idea was to bring Seki’s pride to the Western market.
In 2002, they formally introduced their blades to the US.
This scheme paid off immediately as they get accolades and the respect of professional chefs all over the world.
Creating the Knife
Shun has been using traditional processes in their production but looked for better steel formulation to eliminate the main problem in Japanese high carbon steel: breakability.
However, the VG Max which is made by and for Shun has a high carbon content for strength but also has other elements to make it resistant to corrosion and sudden impacts.
They also make use of precision forging technology so that layering different types of steel will be easier and more accurate.
Shun blades have that recognizable Japanese look: these have a thin spine and an almost straight belly.
Almost all have that pointy tip except for the Santoku.
But whichever variant you get, you can be assured the 15-degree angle sharpened edge.
All have a full but narrow tang that extends after the handle and partial bolsters.
Shun’s handles are made from these three, depending on the variant: Tagayasan, PakkaWood, or basic TPE.
But the detail that truly makes this brand stand is the pattern on the face of the blade.
This tells you the story of how intricately the knife was made and what a really special tool you’ve got.
- Durable and flexible
- Stays sharp for a long time
- Beautifully made
- The entry-level variant is quite affordable
- The rest of the series is quite expensive
Best Selling Variant: The Classic Series
This is made of VG-Max (HRC 60-61) and forged with 68 layers so you’ll see that wonderful wavy pattern.
The D-shaped handle is made of an almost evenly-colored PakkaWood, the tang runs completely through it.
It is very sharp with a 16-degree edge angle on both sides.
Miyabi: Marriage of Japanese Tradition and German Engineering
This brand is Zwilling J.A. Henckel’s nod to Japanese innovation when it comes to blade craft.
Compared to other cutlers in Seki, Miyabi’s factory is still quite small, employing a little over 200 people.
But each and one is a skilled artisan who understands Japanese craftsmanship.
Miyabi’s are completely handmade from start to finish.
One knife takes 42 days to make so it’s not a wonder why the company only makes a million or so in a year.
This makes a Miyabi a real gem.
Creating the Knife
Japanese steel is high in carbon which makes the blades hard, durable, and sharp but brittle and easily breakable.
So Miyabi decided on layering different kinds of steel before forging it into one solid material to eradicate the foreseen flaw.
There are three steel formulas that the company uses: MC 63 (Microcarbide Powder with HRC 63), CMV 60 (Cobalt Molybdenum Vanadium with HRC 60), and Zwilling’s special steel formulation with HRC 57.
Their forging methodology follows the traditional Japanese method.
However, Zwilling’s Cryodur technology of hardening the steel has been incorporated to give flexibility and corrosion resistance to the steel.
Like Shun’s, Miyabi’s also has that distinct Japanese appearance with a thin spine and straight belly.
The difference is in the hand-sharpened edge: 9 degrees!
Besides the accurate slicing, this is virtually sharp for a lifetime.
It also has a full, narrow tang that runs past the handle.
Besides their basic variants which use triple-riveted POM handles, the rest has authentic hardwood: Birchwood, Black Ash, or PakkaWood, to name just a few.
These have the Damascus pattern on the blade, as well as several layers of steel, were used.
However, the amazing attention to detail can be seen in every part of the knife: thin yet rounded out edges on the spine, steel mosaic pin on the handle, and the carved (not stamped) logo.
- Durable yet flexible
- Amazingly sharp edge
- Does not require re-sharpening
- Elegant overall look
- Completely handmade
- Extremely expensive
Best Selling Variant: Kaizen Series
This is made of VG10 steel (HRC 60) and forged with 64 layers so you will also get that Damascus style on the face of the blade.
The D-shaped handle is made of Micarta so it will have those natural wood lines as well.
It is full-tang, extending out the handle.
Perhaps the best part of this knife is the 9.5-degree edge angle on both sides, making this brilliantly sharp.
While the two are nearly at par in all aspects, the fact that Miyabi is practically hand-made cannot be ignored.
You can see the difference in the tiniest details – the rounded-off spine, the smooth feel of the handle, and even the intricate logo carving.
This also makes Zwilling’s Japanese brand a bit more expensive.
Then again, it all boils down to the user.
The best thing for you to do is go out there and hold the knife in your hand.
Both can do wonders in the kitchen so you will have to settle for which feels good in your hand and your budget.