Currently, the main cities producing knives in Japan, starting from the Eastern region, are:
- Tsubame and Sanjo, Niigata Province;
- Seki, Gifu Province;
- Echizen, Fukui Province;
- Sakai; Osaka Province;
- Miki, Hyogo Province;
- Yasuki, Shimane Province;
- Kami, Kochi Province.
All these cities have been developing under forging instruments with soft iron and steel, in the furnace heat. Then, these instruments are molded using the hammer, appling the inherited technique from the craftsmen that have made the Japanese swords.
From these cities, Sakai is highlighted, once that produces 90% of the professional kitchen knives in Japan. Famous brands that are known abroad, like SAKAI TAKAYUKI (Aoki Hamono Co., Ltd.), SUISIN (Knife Systems Co., Ltd.), YOSHIHIRO (Yamawaki Cutlery MFG Ltd.), its knives makers are all located in this city.
The blades that are made in Sakai are called as “Sakai Hamono” or “Sakai-uchi Hamono”, and the cut precision and its durability are recognized by chefs not only from Japan but worldwide.
History of Sakai
Two thousand years ago, the village of Sakai used to use stone knives. In the eastern side of the Sakai Hills has been built the largest tomb in the world, the “Daisenryou Kofun”, which must have required an unimaginable civil engineering work at that time. There are also imperial tombs and others graves, whose construction has led to the village formation by the arrival of people who have come to produce plows and hoes. Thus the basis for the casting technique has been developed.
As of 1543, the revolver and the cigarette were introduced in Japan. Thus, Sakai’s technology was taken advantage during the period of the Japanese civil war, known as “Sengoku jidai” (15th century-final to the 16th century-final), assuming the important function of weapons production.
During this period, Sakai was also an important commercial port, and a moat was built around the village to protect it from invaders. Sakai became an autonomous city, run by commercial class representatives, which was common in the Middle Ages. But, the financial power and the casting technique aroused the interest of the authorities that ended up taking over the Sakai’s administration.
The ceremony tea art has been realized by Sennorikyu, a merchant of Sakai. As of 1573, Sakai began producing knives for chopping cigarette sheets. The Tokugawa Shogunato, which ruled at this period, have created and monopolized the Sakai trademark, spreading the fame of the city’s blades across the Japanese territory.
Sakai’s division of labour, traditional craftsman
In general terms, the manufacturing process of “Sakai-uchi Hamono” products is divided into:
1) Kaji (forge);
2) Togi (sharpening);
3) Etsuke (cable fixation).
Each process is performed by specialized professionals. During forging process, the base metal (soft iron) and blade metal (steel) are fused in an operation called “haganezuke”. The formed base (soft iron mass and steel) is gradually cooled (yakinamashi), then it is heated to 750 ~ 800°C (1472°F) and immediately dipped into the water to be rapidly cooled (yakiire). Again, it is heated to 160 ~ 180°C (356 °F) – yakimodoshi – increasing the hardness of the blade and its accuracy, while applying forging techniques to give viscosity to the base metal and to prevent the corroding.
There are specialists that master the technique for each process. The Japanese government endorses the title of “Traditional Craftsman” (dento kougeishi) for those that stand out. The knife makers, mentioned above, actually, act as general producers once they choose the steel type, size, design and they order the production from skilled professionals that shape the product.
These blades are extremely precise, made from fire, iron, water and human labor. Each step is carefully made. It can be said that these knives are pieces of art and soul. Sakai and its unbroken 600 years of tradition, continues proudly producing its worldwide known art, “Sakai Hamono.”
From the left: Tatsuya Aoki (from SUISIN), Keiti Miura (from Miura Knives website) and Yoshikazu Ikeda, chairman of Sakai Traditional Knives Craftsmen Association.
If you come to Japan, how about visiting Sakai that is not so far from Kyoto and Osaka?
From Kyoto to Sakai
- About 52 minutes
- JR Tokaido Honsen Line (Kyoto→Osaka) ⇒ JR Kanku Line・Yamatoji Kaisoku (Osaka→Shin-Imamiya) ⇒ Nankai Kouyasen Line (Shin-Imamiya→Sakai Higashi)
- About 48 minutes
- JR Tokaido Honsen Line (Kyoto→Osaka) ⇒ Osaka Shiei Chikatetsu Midousujisen Line (Umeda→Namba) ⇒ Nankai Kouyasen Line (Namba→Sakai Higashi)
From Shin-Osaka to Sakai
- About 24 minutes
- JR Tokaido Honsen Line (Shin-Osaka→Osaka) ⇒ JR Kanku Line・Yamatoji Kaisoku (Osaka→Shin-Imamiya) ⇒ Nankai Kouyasen Line (Shin-Imamiya→Sakai Higashi)
- About 27 minutes
- Osaka Shiei Chikatetsu Midousujisen Line (Shin-Osaka→Namba) ⇒ Nankai Kouyasen Line (Namba→Sakai Higashi)
Edition: Keiti Miura
CEO of a company that exports products from Japan to worldwide. This is his e-commerce website of knives: MIURA KNIVES http://miuraknives.com/