Japanese swords and knives are very popular blades, mainly because of their remarkably sharp blades and stunning designs. That’s a given, considering that Japanese blacksmiths have a long history of samurai crafting. However, the knife-making culture in Japan wasn’t concentrated in only one particular. Instead, it was the combined knowledge, skills, and expertise of different knife-making communities of Japan, honed through centuries of experience, that brought about the Japanese knives we know of today. Thus, it is only imperative that we take a closer look at these different communities in order to fully understand Japan’s knife-making history and culture.
The Knife Makers of Sakai, Osaka
Sakai is a port town in Osaka, Japan, and has been a popular destination for Portuguese vessels back in the 1500s, where they traded tobacco and guns with the locals. It was then that Japanese farmers started to become acquainted with tobacco, and soon after they started cultivating the said crop in their farms. Because tobacco was reserved for the members of the higher society who smoked in pipes, they had to be finely chopped, so tobacco manufacturers needed a sharp and effective knife for the task. It was then that blacksmiths started to develop knife-making methods that provided for the needs of these tobacco manufacturers. The end result was knives that looked pretty much like a cleaver, which quickly became popular and earned the Sakai knife makers a place in Japanese knife-making history.
In those days, knives weren’t completed in a single shop – rather, they were manufactured through a network of shops that specialized in different areas. There is one shop that took care of the forging process, another shop did the grinding and sharpening, and then another shop was responsible for crafting the knives’ handles. There is also another artisan who was tasked with the engraving. This is actually one knife-making process that is still employed to this day.
Sakai knives became a top-notch tradable item back then, and although they were sold under different brand names, genuine Sakai knives all bore the Sakai Wazashu seal – the symbol for quality.
The Knife Making History of Takefu Village
The Takefu Village (now known as the city of Echizen in the Fukui Prefecture) has been manufacturing agricultural implements for a long time, but it was only seven centuries ago that it started to become a popular supplier of the said items. The story goes that a sword maker in the name of Kuniyasu Chizuru took residence in the village, and during his stay crafted swords and sickles for the farmers. These tools were quickly recognized for their fine quality, which prompted peddlers to sell them throughout Japan. Whenever these peddlers would return, they always carried with them more orders for the said items.
Knife Making in Seki, Gifu
Fast forward to today, the city of Seki in the Gifu Prefecture is considered to be the knife-making hotspot in Japan, as it is the home of many knife makers and manufacturers who create high-quality knives (albeit focusing more kitchen knives) that is popular all over the world. Manufacturers here merge the traditional and modern aspects of knife making together with the aid of technology, which enables them to craft excellent stainless and laminated steel knives that are seen in many kitchens (residential or commercial wise) and are used by many professional chefs today.
The knife-making history of Japan spans several centuries, and although there are at present a multitude of knife makers around the world, it cannot be denied that Japanese knives will always be revered as one of the best knives ever made.