Japanese and Western style kitchen knives have distinct differences in terms of design, material, and usage. Japanese knives are known for their sharpness and precision, and are often made from harder steel. They tend to be lighter and have a thinner blade, which allows for more precise cutting. Western style kitchen knives, on the other hand, tend to be heavier and have a thicker blade. While a Japanese knife focus is on precision cutting and sharpness the focus of a Western knife is more on its robustness. This is because a Western knife is built to cut through bones while Japanese knife users cut a lot of chicken, fish and beef but not bones. The overall build up and structure is also different. While Western Knives often have a full tang meaning that the part of the blade which extends into the handle goes through the entire handle, Japanese knives usually extend into the handle without covering the entire handle.
As Western knives are made to cut through bones they usually use softer steel to prevent the blade from chipping. This is why you rarely see any Western knife with a rockwell hardness above 60 HRC. Learn more about the rockwell hardness of kitchen knives here. One of the main advantages of a Japanese knife over a Western knife is that they require less sharpening. Japanese knives are made of harder steel, so they stay sharp longer.
As Japanese knives have a thinner blade compared to their Western counterparts they usually allow for a sharper edge - usually around 15-16 degrees, compared to around 20 degrees for Western knives. Western knives are usually made by machines while Japanese knives are almost alway handcrafted. The edge of the blade also translates into the way these knives are used. Japanese knives are often used in a slicing motion while Western knives are usually used in a rocking motion. See Western knives here and Japanese knives here.
In conclusion, Japanese and Western style kitchen knives have distinct differences in terms of design, material, and usage. Japanese knives are known for their sharpness and precision, while Western knives are known for their robustness. While both types of knives can be used for a variety of tasks, they are best suited for different types of foods and cutting styles. It's all about personal preference, and what is comfortable for the user.
For a detailed guide with everything you need to know about (Japanese) kitchen knives read our ultimate kitchen knife guide here.