Japanese kitchen knives have a worldwide reputation for excellent quality and artistic beauty. The trouble is, there's so much mythology and romance surrounding them, not to mention a bewilderingly wide range of prices and types, that it can be difficult to make a choice.

The first thing you should ask yourself is how much time and effort you're willing to put into taking care of your knives. The answer to this will dictate the knife material you should choose.

Japanese knives are traditionally made with a type of carbon steel called hagane, which comes in various gradations. Cutting implements made with hagane can hold an extremely sharp edge, which is why this material was also used to forge Nihontō (samurai swords). However, hagane is a relatively soft steel that's meant to be maintained regularly; professional chefs sharpen and take care of their knives every day, but a hagane blade that's not maintained regularly will dull, chip and rust.