Sakai, a satellite city of Osaka that is located to its south, has been promoted as a city of beginnings due to the numerous technologies and cultural achievements it has produced.
The city flourished as a center of trade and commerce and as a leading cultural region during the medieval era, at which time it also served as the birthplace of incense within Japan.
Among the numerous additional products that originated in Sakai are the shamisen (three-stringed traditional instrument), umbrella, yokyoku (traditional Noh music), silver coin foundries, traditional cotton textile dyeing, bicycles, and wooden lighthouses.
Continuing to receive high acclaim are knives and other cutting tools produced in Sakai, which are overwhelmingly favored by professional chefs today, and are said to comprise 90% of market shares for commercial knives.
The history of Sakai blades stretches back long into Japan's history.
The mausoleum of Emperor Nintoku—one of the three largest historical burial tombs, along with Khufu’s pyramid and the tomb of Qin Shi Huang from China’s Qin dynasty—is estimated to have been built in eastern Sakai around the middle of the fifth century over a period of more than 20 years.
Constructing the world’s largest burial mound—with a total surface area of 470,000 square meters—required an enormous number of spades, hoes and other working tools. Accordingly, blacksmiths from all across Japan converged in Sakai, where they are said to have built and settled in a village in order to complete the project.
he craftsmanship of Sakai blacksmiths was again put into practice during a much later era, when the Portuguese introduced guns and tobacco in 1543, and Sakai became a center of production for guns, as well as knives to chop tobacco leaves.
During the Edo period, the Shogunate (feudal government) had a monopoly on knives sold with the official Sakai Kiwame stamp, resulting in resounding popularity of the Sakai knives and their slicing capabilities throughout the entire nation. Sakai knives were additionally utilized during the production of kombu that was later shipped from Hokkaido via the kitamaebune shipping route.
Tororo kombu (grated kombu) and oboro kombu (dried kombu in thin, wide strips) are examples of Osaka specialty products that would never have been created without the exceptional quality of Sakai knives. The techniques of forging and sharpening have been passed down in Sakai from master to student via a division of labor-based system for the past 600 years. Sakai’s unique traditional method of striking together steel and metal is a registered trademark under the name Sakai Blades.
Featuring perfect edges created via fire, iron, water and artisanal techniques, these knives remain unrivaled in superiority. The designation of Japanese cuisine as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage likely owes in part to this 600-year history of disciplined practice among Sakai craftspeople.
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