A Bit of History
Sakai city of the Osaka prefecture is known for its forged knives (aka. 堺打刃物 sakai-uchi-hamono). It is fair to make the connection between Osaka, the famous “nation’s kitchen”/the food capital of Japan, to Sakai city, where the kitchen knives are produced; however, the history of blacksmithing in Sakai goes way back.
The tomb of Emperor Nintoku is situated in the eastern part of Sakai city. To build such large scale tomb, hoes and plows were produced in large quantities in Sakai city.
When the Portuguese brought guns into Japan in 1543, Sakai city started producing guns during the age of Warring States and quickly became the major supplier in Japan.
Starting in Edo Period, due to the decreasing demand on guns, the blacksmiths in Sakai city shifted their focus onto producing tobacco knives and later kitchen knives.
Through such long history, Sakai forged knives are well known for its toughness and sharpness, achieved by combining a softer steel and a harder steel in the knife-making process. The softer steel makes the majority of the blade, and the harder steel forms the edge. It is said that 90% of all the professional kitchen knives being used by chefs in Japan are manufactured in Sakai city.
Similar to blade forging, knife sharpening and handle installation are handled by separate groups of craftsmen in Sakai city. Specialization in different parts of the knife-making process guarantees the high quality of Sakai forged knives.
Sakai Knife Museum (堺刃物ミュージアム)
Opened in Oct 2010, Sakai Knife Museum is on the second floor of Sakai Traditional Industry Center.
Displayed in the museum, the samples throughout the knife-making stages, from the iron ores to the polished blades, are one of the most interesting to see. There are also exhibits on rare knives as well as shops for high-end/professional kitchen knives.
Since Sakai forged knives are well-known in Japan, some knives shops in Sakai city buy the knives from other prefectures, sharpen them in store, and label them as “Sakai knives” in order to fetch high prices. The “Sakai forged knives” seal does not always guarantee the origin of the maker; please make sure to confirm with the staff before you make purchase.
Other Things to Do
- Knife forging shows, knife sharpening experience lessons: http://www.pref.osaka.lg.jp/mono/seizo/kobo-01.html
- Shop Sakai knives in English at Tower Knives: http://www.towerknives.com/osaka.html
- Try to find 堺 直次郎 (Sakai Naojiro)’s store: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7CyBHeAcYE