Efficient generation of hydrogen from water-splitting is an underpinning chemistry to realize the hydrogen economy. Low cost, transition metals such as nickel and iron-based oxides/hydroxides have been regarded as promising catalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction in alkaline media with overpotentials as low as ~200 mV to achieve 10 mA cm−2, however, they are generally unsuitable for the hydrogen evolution reaction. Herein, we show a Janus nanoparticle catalyst with a nickel–iron oxide interface and multi-site functionality for a highly efficient hydrogen evolution reaction with a comparable performance to the benchmark platinum on carbon catalyst. Density functional theory calculations reveal that the hydrogen evolution reaction catalytic activity of the nanoparticle is induced by the strong electronic coupling effect between the iron oxide and the nickel at the interface. Remarkably, the catalyst also exhibits extraordinary oxygen evolution reaction activity, enabling an active and stable bi-functional catalyst for whole cell water-splitting with, to the best of our knowledge, the highest energy efficiency (83.7%) reported to date.