What do the Portuguese and tobacco have to do with Sakai knife making tradition in the Sakai region? Plenty. Osaka/Sakai is a port town and the Portuguese sailed to this area and began trading guns and tobacco to the Japanese starting in 1543. The Japanese took well to both items and Japanese farmers began tobacco farming soon thereafter. Initially, most of the production was made for the elite classes of society. The tobacco leaves were cut finely and smoked in pipes. Of course they needed a good sharp knife to process the leaves and some entrepreneurial blacksmiths developed the necessary techniques to manufacturer a high quality tobacco knife for the task. The knife resembled a tall cleaver. The photo to the left is an example of one of these knives. These knives quickly became famous for their cutting performance and the Sakai name became synonymous with quality blacksmith production of steel cutting tools.
The makers of these knives developed a network of small artisan shops that focused exclusively on different tasks of the knife making process, such as grinding, handle making, and engraving. These artisans co-operated with dealers that acted as general contractors for the production of knives under many different brand names but all used the Sakai Wazashu seal of quality. Blacksmiths would do the initial forging, hammering, and heat treating of the blades, then the grinders would grind and sharpen the edge. Next the knives would be sent to the handlers, then engraved by the knife distributor who sold the knives to other dealers under their family names. Astonishingly, this method of production survives to this day. This unique, collaborative feature of the Sakai knife makers is partly responsible for the high quality knives produced. Below we offer several knife makers that all produce knives from Sakai artisans in this same fashion.