You may have seen a lot of japanese knives being called western style. We wrote this article to hopefully clarify the topic, and give you more clarity to make wiser choices for your kitchen.
Let's clarify a few things...
Usually when people refer to western knives, they refer to German knives. Heavy duty, thick and reliable, German knives are made to withstand anything from filleting to crashing bones. The term ''western knife'' doesn't really apply to custom knives, made for specific purposes, as this is a relatively new trend in european and american bladesmithing.
Japanese knives are light, thin and made using much stronger steels. The result is that they are more precise, agile to work with and less tiring because of their lightness.
Now, let's dive into it...
Western knives have a double bevel, also called the V-shape. This means that the knife is sharpened at the same angle from both sides of the blade to achieve a good edge. You can see the first cross-section in the picture below. Japanese bladesmiths have a variety of sharpening techniques shown on the right of the V-shape. When they do a V-shape sharpening, they call those knives western style.
So when we talk about the western style Japanese knife we refer to the blade, and not the handle. A western style handle will be explicitly mentioned if applicable.
The reason the Japanese call double beveled knives western is because in the west we only do this kind of sharpening where as they traditionally do single bevel sharpening.
Which one is better?
There are no good and bad sharpening techniques. Each knife has a purpose. To filet fish a single side knife is better. For general uses a double bevel will do the job perfectly. If a knife is to be used by both left and right handed people any kind of double bevel is better.
To crash bones you should go for a German knife. For any other home use a japanese knife will make your cooking experience much more fun, exciting and less tiring. A sharper edge makes us all feel a little more chefy!