Japan vs. the West: Kitchens I J-Life International

Japanese vs. Western Kitchens

Japanese kitchens are central to the home.  In Japanese the kitchen is called the kamado.  Not only is this space important for food preparation but it is, also, thought to be a symbol of the house and of the family.  As with many parts of the traditional Japanese home, there are many distinct differences between Japanese kitchens and those found in the West.  One of the most famous differences is between the knives used.  In Japan knives are much sharper than those normally used in the West.  Furthermore, in Japan the designs of knives are much more specific than those in the West, even in a normal home.  Each knife has a specific purpose, unlike most western knives where they are much more multifunctional.  Additionally, one of the biggest differences is that in the West kitchen knives are usually honed on both sides while the edges of Japanese knives have less prominent belly curves to them.  

Japan vs. the West: Kitchens I J-Life International
Japan vs. the West: Kitchens I J-Life International

Another fundamental difference are the utensils used in day to day meals.  In the West we typically use knives, forks, and spoons while in Japan the most common utensils are chopsticks.  Chopsticks in Japan go back hundreds of years and have a very interesting history.  In Japan chopsticks are used to eat almost everything from rice to noodles!

Japan vs. the West: Kitchens I J-Life International

Additionally, one major item you will see in almost every Japanese kitchen is a rice cooker.  Since rice is a staple of almost every meal (including breakfast) you will find rice cookers on at least one counter in almost every Japanese home.  That being said, an item you will not commonly see is a dishwasher.  In the West most families are accustomed to having their own dishwasher.  When homes do not come with one, it is usually added later.  However, in Japan it is extremely rare to see a family with a dishwasher and most dishes are simply cleaned by hand.  

Japanese vs. the West: Kitchens I J-Life International

Another item you are less likely to find in Japan is an oven.  People in Japan are much more likely to use small electric grills rather than the traditional oven used in the West.  In the West we commonly use large ovens to cook substantial meals for events like family gatherings- think Thanksgiving in the United States.  If there is an oven in a Japanese home it is usually much smaller than its western counterpart.  Finally, another common appliance that is different in Japan are their cutting boards.  In Japan cutting boards are much thinner and more durable.  Many Japanese cutting boards are made of a synthetic rubber that is extremely resistant and much better to use with their sharp knives.

Japan vs. the West: Kitchens

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I spent lots of time in Kurashiki, Japan, where my daughters’ grandparents live. The other things I noticed were lower countertop heights, dishes mostly came in sets of five, and what I really wish we had here in America is the built in storage under the floor for tsukemono (pickles) and other foods to keep them cool without refrigeration.

Kyle Samejima

Hi, I love this article. I am a Natural Foods Chef,trained in Macrobiotcs as well as other styles. I agree with what you wrote, and would add that the Chef was held in high esteem and there was good feng shui to the set up. Not sure about the cutting boards. Keep up this great addition, it adds a great dimension to the art of cooking and chopping!

Best wishes,


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