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Japanese knives and swords are extremely popular due to the high levels of craftsmanship, stunning designs, and versatility and sharpness of the blades. Considering the long history of Japanese sword making, which dates back to the days of ancient Japan and the beginnings of Samurai, it’s hardly a surprise why they’re still popular today in the 21st century. In fact, the Japanese knives we know of today is the culmination of centuries of skills, knowledge, and expertise from many different sword-making communities across Japan. Because of this, it’s important to take a closer look at the different communities in order to fully understand Japan’s knife-making history and culture.
The Knife Makers of Sakai, Osaka
Sakai, a port town located in Osaka Prefecture, Japan was a popular destination for Portuguese vessels back in the 1500s. Portuguese traders mainly traded tobacco and firearms with locals, and it was around that time when Japanese farmers would begin to become acquainted with tobacco. Soon after, they would start cultivating tobacco themselves. At first, tobacco was reserved for members of high society who smoked in pipes, therefore the tobacco had to be finely chopped. Tobacco manufacturers would need sharp and effective knives for this task. Knowing this, blacksmiths started to develop knives made specifically for cutting fine tobacco. These knives looked very similar to a cleaver, and quickly became popular and earned Sakai its reputation as one of Japan’s knife-making capitals.
Interestingly, in those days, knives weren’t completed manufactured in a single shop or by a single blacksmith. Rather, they were manufactured through a network of shops or blacksmiths that had different specialties. One shop would complete the forging process, while another would take care of the grinding and sharpening. Another shop would be responsible for crafting and attaching the handles, and lastly, there would be an artisan who would do the engraving. This process of passing off different parts of the production process to specialists still happens today in knife manufacturing, however it is rare.
Due to the quality of the Sakai knives, they quickly became a popular trading item back then and were sold under various brand names. Genuine Sakai knives all bore the Sakai Wazashu seal, which was the symbol for quality.
The Knife Making History of Takefu Village
Takefu Village, known today as Echizen, is located in the Fukui Prefecture and had been manufacturing agricultural implements for quite some time. However, it wasn’t until seven centuries ago when it started to become a popular supplier of these items. The story goes that approximately 700 years ago, a sword craftsman from Kyoto named Kuniyasu Chizuru traveled to Echizen and began crafting swords and sickles for the local farmers. These tools were recognized for their fine quality and were being sold by peddlers throughout Japan. Whenever these peddlers would return, they would always order more and more.
Knife Making in Seki, Gifu
Now we fast forward to present-day, and Seki City, located in Gifu Prefecture, is now the knife-making hotspot in Japan. The city is home to many blacksmiths and manufacturers who create high-quality knives that have become popular all around the world. While today’s production focuses on kitchen knives as opposed to swords and sickles, manufacturers still utilize traditional crafting techniques with the help of modern technology which enables them to craft excellent stainless steel and laminated steel knives that are seen and used in kitchens and by chefs of all skill levels.
The knife-making history of Japan is truly a wonderful story that exemplifies ingenuity, purpose, and innovation. While there are many great knife makers around the world, the history and the quality of the knives that still come from Japan today means the country will always be considered one of the world’s knife-making hotspots.