The city of Sakai is situated by the Osaka bay at the Japanese main island. It is said that the foundations for knife making were laid down as early as the fifth century AD , when the great mounds, the kofun, were built. This required excellent tools, which were manufactured by local craftsmen.
During the 14th century Sakai became the capital of the samurai sword making. The city kept its position during the centuries to come, and in the late 16th century they started making knives according to the same methods as the famous sakai swords.
The making of knives was a result of the Portuguese introduction of tobacco in Japan. The demand for quality knives to cut the tobacco exploded. The first tobacco knives were made in Sakai, and they were soon renowned all over the country for their unique sharpness.
The so called Meiji Restoration took place in the late 1860’s. The shogunate lost its powers, the empire was reintroduced and efforts were made to modernize Japan.
The samurai class lost some of its privileges and was no longer allowed to carry swords. Even though the army still needed swords, the demand sank and many of the manufacturers started making knives instead.
Traditional Japanese knife making includes several steps which all require great skills. The smith forging (hizukuri), when the metal is heated an hammered to its shape, the sharpening and honing (hazuke or togi), when the blade gets it sharp edge and finally the hafting (ezuke), when the blade is attached to a haft, or a handle, of magnolia wood. Today’s processes uses the same technique as the masters of old did. Sakai cutlery consists of layers of soft ferrite and hard steel, heated to 1300 ° C and hammered together. The most difficult aspect of the process is maintaining the heart at the exact temperature; too hot and the blade will chip easily, too cool and the steel and the ferrite will fail to bond properly.
The blade is heated, hammered and cooled in different steps and at different temperatures. Asymmetries are not accepted and the blade is meticulously treated with hammers of different size to make it no less than perfect. It takes long practice and great skill to make an excellent blade.
The blade is then sharpened and any remaining asymmetries removed by using increasingly finer whetstones, giving the edge its right angle and sharpness. The last step is to carefully hammer the blade into a haft of rot-resistant magnolia wood, marked with the manufacturers seal. A high quality piece of Japanese culture and skills is ready for shipping.
Japanese style knives have a beveled edge on just one side, the other side of the blade remains flat. Japanese style knives often maintain their sharp edge much longer than Western style knives.
Western style knife the cutting edge is typically beveled on both sides. Western style knives are more practical on tough foods, like beef, especially to get them down to manageable size.