Yanagi-ba-bōchō (柳刃包丁 - literally willow blade knife), yanagi ba, or yanagi, is a long, thin knife used in Japanese cooking. It is the typical example of the sashimi bōchō (Japanese: 刺身包丁) used to prepare sashimi and nigiri sushi. They are part of the typical blades you can find in the Japanese knife collection.
When preparing sashimi and nigiri sushi, the goal is usually to have cut surfaces that are smooth, shiny and even in order to maximize the taste. The construction of the yanagi ba is designed with this in mind. They are particularly useful for slicing small to large fish fillets but are also used for skinning fish.
The narrow blade and relatively sharp cutting angle of the Yanagiba are features that greatly reduce the effort required to cut the ingredients.
As with the Sujihiki, the long blade allows the fish to be cut in a single pulling motion, from heel to toe.
Yanagiba are available in various blade lengths, typically ranging from 210mm to 360mm, with the 270mm, 300mm and 330mm sizes being particularly popular.
The combination of cutting technique, sharp blade angle and cutting edge results in very little cellular deterioration of the cutting surface. This is especially important for dishes where the fish is eaten raw, as it helps preserve the original flavor and texture of the fish.
Yanagi-ba roughly translates into English as "willow blade", a comparison that perfectly describes the long, thin, leaf-shaped blade of the knife. Similarly, the knife is sometimes called Shobu, because the blade resembles the spear-shaped leaves of the iris plant.
What other knives are used for sashimi?
There are mainly three types of Sashimi knives for slicing fish fillet: Yanagiba, Takohiki and Fuguhiki. However, the leaf-shaped Yanagiba, which originates from the Kansai (Ōsaka) region of Japan, is the most widely used.
A Sashimi knife, for cutting and filleting fish or ham by pulling on it. Thin blade shaped like a willow leaf or Katana (sword). The long, narrow blade is suitable for slicing tasks. Especially for preparing fresh raw fish (sashimi) of good and beautiful shape. Yanagiba is called "Shobu" and is popular in western Japan (around Osaka and Kyoto).
Square shape, longer blade of Sashimi knife, designed for the same purpose as Yanagiba. Not for slicing "Tako" (octopus), but for making Sashimi. The cutting line is almost straight, while the cutting line of the Yanagiba knife is more curved towards the tip of the blade. Takohiki was popular in eastern Japan (around Tokyo).
A special purpose sashimi knife, originally designed for cutting, slicing Tessa (Blowfish Sashimi). Its blade shape is similar to that of Yanagiba, but its width is narrower and its blade thinner. It is designed for finer cutting and slicing tasks.