Knives are essential to food preparation. It has been said that everything originates from Sakai, and while Sakai was among the first places to manufacture guns and textiles, it is the development of Sakai blades from the late 16th century to the early 17th century for which the town is truly famous.
Akita knives, which are used to shave kombu into oboro topping, have slightly curved blades. These knives must be sharp, while retaining the flexibility to maintain consistent contact with kombu. Six hundred years of traditional knife-making techniques ensures Sakai’s blade manufacturers continue to meet these challenges. Meanwhile, visitors to Osaka can experience this history and tradition at the Sakai Hamono Museum, located inside the Sakai City Traditional Crafts Museum.
The ritual of Japanese tea, where matcha (powdered green tea) is served to guests, is one of Japan’s much-loved traditional arts.
Matcha, which was brought to Japan from China during the Kamakura era by the Japanese Buddhist priest Eisai, began to be distributed primarily via Zen Buddhist temples—and knowledge regarding tea leaf cultivation, steaming methods, etc. also began to spread. During the mid-to-late 1300s, events where people gathered to identify tea—known as tocha— were popular among the warrior class. The influence of Zen philosophy on this tea culture, with its strong emphasis on leisure, in turn gave rise to the minimalist wabi-cha style of tea that emphasized a seclusion from secular life. The origin of the wabi-cha style was the concept of sazen-ichimi (whose literal meaning is “tea and zen: one taste”).
This was conceptualized by Murata Juko, who first incorporated earthy Japanese tea bowl wares such as Shigaraki and Iga into the repertoire of tea-related implements, which had previously been exclusively imported from China. Merchants in Sakai who had profited handsomely from international trade were open to this idea, which consequently began to spread. Sen no Rikyu (a student of local Sakai leader Takeno Jouou) perfected the style of wabi-cha, which became popular among the warrior class and led to today’s ceremonial practice of chado (literally, the “way of tea”).
Sakai, where the culture of the tea ceremony was developed, became well-known for tea-related refreshments and confectionery, with some Japanese sweets shops still in business today after more than 400 years. The city has also passed an ordinance to spread the spirit of omotenashi (hospitality) through chanoyu.
Sen no Rikyu
※Portrait of Sen-no-Rikyu
(from the collection of the Sakai City Museum)
Tea expert Sen no Rikyu, who perfected the wabi-cha style in the late 1500s—earning him the moniker “tea saint”—was born into a merchant family in the marine warehousing business along the Sakai harbor. He began studying under Takeno Jouou at age 19, and spent the next 51 years following the way of tea until his dramatic death at age 70.
Sen no Rikyu served as a tea master for powerful men of the time, including Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and was known for having an exceptional command over the ceremony of tea. He maintained that expensive objects and products were unnecessary, and set about stripping away unessential elements. Advocating an austere approach to the tea ritual, he created an even smaller tea house than had existed previously—a thatched cottage that resembled a tiny hut. Sen no Rikyu is also famous for developing the philosophy of ichigo ichie, which advocates appreciating individual encounters and moments as something that will never again occur, as well as for developing the tea ceremony as a comprehensive art. Sen no Rikyu’s reach also extended beyond the tea ceremony to go deeply into Japanese cultural traditions. Chopsticks, a mousy-gray color, and a type of food grilling method are among the diverse elements that have been named after him, and the small teahouse that he developed went on to have a profound influence on Japanese architecture. The wabi-cha style of tea, on which Sen no Rikyu put the finishing touches, greatly influenced the tea ceremony—continuing today as three separate major schools that are all descended from his thought.
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