What to know before buying a Hocho - Japanese Cooking Knives

Have you ever tried to make Sushi and failed in cutting the fish with a Hocho 包丁,  Japanese cooking knife? If someone asked me so, my answer is Yes. What a shame my sushi making ended up making minced fish balls. It is surely not so easy to filet a fish in pieces without a skill. Besides, the choice of what types of knives to use is crucial.

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There are several types of Hocho knives, equipped depending on the purpose of use, to cut veges, fish etc.

To cut fish, there are two types of Japanese cooking knives, Deba-bocho 出刃包丁 and Sashimi-bocho 刺身包丁, defined as traditional Japanese cooking knives (=Wabocho). Deba-bocho is used to clean fish and chop them in pieces, enables you to filet the fish along the backbone finely. Sashimi-bocho is for making Sashimi or Sushi, allows to slice filet shapely with a gentle touch. These knives are essential for professionals working at Japanese restaurants.

Traditional Japanese cooking knives are right-handed.

Another thing to know about these traditional Japanese cooking knives is that they are right-handed, the same as Samurai swords. These traditional cooking knives for left-handed are hard to come by.

The all-purpose knife “Santoku-bocho” is handy.

For use at home, it is not always necessary to provide all types of knives as long as you don’t often make specific dishes, Sushi or Sashimi, instead, having just one all-purpose knife "Santoku-bocho" will do. The Santoku-bocho is most commonly used at home in Japan and often sold at home center and even at supermarkets. There are basically for both right/left handed.

Steel Hocho vs Stainless Steel Hocho

The advantage of steel-made Hocho knife is that it is solid and durable, and is excellent in sharpness compared to stainless-steel Hocho. On the other hand, steel-made Hocho rust so easily and care should be taken to keep them up dry. This is why chefs at Sushi restaurants frequently wipe their Hocho with a towel. Stainless-steel Hocho is much more easily taken care of and all you have to do is just clean and wipe off the water once after cooking.

How to maintain the sharpness of your home-use Hocho knives

Even a super quality, authentic Hocho knife can easily be as dull as a cheap one if sharpening is not done properly. Buying a whetstone at home center allows you to try sharpening your Hocho by yourself, but it can actually be much more "challenging” than you expect, and this is the way many people spoil their Hocho in a short term. To keep/improve the sharpness of your Hocho, it is better to ask at a Hocho shop for their help. The sharpening fee will be somewhere between 600 JP Yen and 1500 JP Yen.

If you are a chef working at a Japanese restaurant, you must be skilled to sharpen Hocho knives with a whetstone all by yourself. For home users, using knife sharpener for daily care will help the Hocho knife last sharp long. Just rub the edge of the Hocho with the sharpener for a few times before using, and it will dramatically make a difference in the life span of the edge. If you don’t have a sharpener, just try rubbing the edge (sliding the edge aside) at the bottom of a tea cup or a small dish that is actually an alternative way the Japanese often take as a last resort, especially when living outside of Japan where finding a Hocho shop is so hard.