Japanese knives (hocho) are one of the most well-known traditional Japanese crafts in the world. In particular, the “Sakai Hamono” or “Sakai Knives”that we will introduce today are characterized by the high level of craftsmanship required to beat the softened steel into the proper shape. The sharpness of the resulting blade is far superior to stainless steel or other types of knives. Sakai, Osaka flourished as a town of katana (Japanese sword) blacksmiths in the past, and even now is one of the most prominent areas for Japanese cutlery production, boasting particular popularity among professional chefs. In this article, we will introduce the knives from Yamawaki Cutlery, a maker that continues to advance the development of knives in Sakai.
About Yamawaki Cutlery
The Pride of Go Umanosuke Yoshihiro: One of the Three Legendary Swordsmiths of Japan
Established in 1927, Yamawaki Cutlery focuses on creating high-quality knives as its main business. They have created and sold knives for a wide range of uses, including household use, cooking schools, and more.
The company’s main brand of knives are named after Go Umanosuke Yoshihiro, a famous swordsmith from the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) and one of the Three Legendary Swordsmiths of Japan. It is often said that the Three Legendary Swordsmiths of Japan were Soshu Goronyudo Masamune, Awataguchi Toshiro Yoshimitsu, and Go Umanosuke Yoshihiro.
Yamawaki Cutlery helped start the recent Japanese knife boom overseas, where its knives have received high praise. In the Sakai cutlery industry, specialization is standard. Though Yamawaki Cutlery initially only specialized in knife handles, they were quick to establish an in-house blade sharpening division, leading the high-end Japanese knife field in sharpening quality with its honyaki (made only with steel) blades.
The History and Characteristics of Sakai Knives
Blending Traditional and Cutting-Edge Techniques
It is believed that the production of Sakai knives began in the 15th century when a group of knife blacksmiths descending from swordsmiths moved to Sakai from Kaga Province (now known as Ishikawa Prefecture).
There are generally two kinds of knives: those pounded by hand (called “uchi hamono”), and those that are punched mechanically from a mold. Sakai knives are made the former way, by heating softened iron or steel until it glows red before using tools like a hammer to pound and shape the metal, a process called “tanzo” (forging) in Japanese (pictured above). Pounding the metal causes the molecules to bunch together, increasing the density and strength while making it more malleable. The result is a beautiful work of art that’s extraordinarily sharp and durable.
It’s easy to imagine just how sharp, durable, and sophisticated these knives are when you consider that around 98% of the professional chefs in Japan use them today.
Knives created through the “uchi hamono” hand-forging process are works of art born of fire, iron, and water. The production process can be largely split into three sections: forging, sharpening, and knife handle attachment. Each of these tasks are typically handled by different craftsmen, meaning that every part of the production process is handled by an expert. As each craftsman is able to polish their specific skill to the maximum, an extreme level of quality is maintained that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
Yamawaki Cutlery is rare among Sakai knife producers because it specializes in both sharpening and knife handle attachment.
The exquisite Japanese knives that come out of Yamawaki’s in-house blade sharpening workshop are the pride of their craftsmen, with uncompromised sharpness and beauty. The company has supported many knife specialty stores over the course of many years, helping dealers develop the ability to discern true quality and identify knives that are the real deal.
Furthermore, the company puts a great deal of effort into training its craftsmen so that the notoriously difficult blade forging process of “mizuyaki honyaki” (a traditional water-quenching forging technique used to manufacture professional-grade, high-quality cooking knives) can become more commonly used.
A Note for Potential Customers
Protecting the Food Culture and Passing Down Techniques
Yamawaki Cutlery does not cut any corners, and focuses not only on sharpness, but also the beauty of the finished product, paying equally close attention to other aspects of the knife such as the wooden handle. The company hopes to be able to share its knives with the entire world, as knives are one of the important everyday tools used when preparing all sorts of cuisine, including Japanese cuisine.
Sakai knives have a history of 600 years, and Yamawaki Cutlery continues to innovate in ways that honor the name of the craft, contributing to the field and passing down techniques while leading Sakai’s high-end knife industry.
With the catchphrase “Knife is Life,” the company hopes to cross international borders and support cooking culture all over the world.
Yamawaki Cutlery continues to protect the techniques used to make Sakai knives, passed down for over 600 years, as well as the Japanese food culture that has been created with the help of Sakai knives.
[Sakai Cutlery] Cobalt Stainless Warikomi 69 Layer Damascus Cleaver 240mm Oak Octagonal Patterned Handle – Persimmon Tannin Stain
Primarily using the recently developed ZA18 cobalt stainless steel (with an estimated hardness of 63 HRC), this versatile and easy-to-use cleaver features a 68-layer (34 layers per side) surface of stainless soft iron crafted using the “warikomi” (split-and-insert) method. The addition of new ZA21 steel, which features a high degree of hardness and excellent wear resistance, ensures that the outstanding sharpness will not dull easily. Additionally, it has a higher percentage of chromium than other cutlery, making it more resistant to rust.
The persimmon-stained octagonal handle is solid and comfortable to use, regardless of one’s hand dominance. Persimmon tannin is a natural stain that has been used in Japan since ancient times, and is known for its antibacterial, waterproof, and preservative properties.
[Sakai Cutlery] SLD Steel Warikomi Damascus Petty Knife 150 mm
A beautiful Damascus-patterned petty knife made primarily of SLD steel with a high degree of hardness, capable of maintaining sharpness for a long time.
The handle is made from rose (sandalwood) that is quite water resistant and beautiful. With metal also decorating the end of the handle, it is a unique piece that is sure to liven up your kitchen.
[Sakai Knife] Go Umanosuke Yoshihiro Shironiko Mizuyaki Honyaki Yanagiba Knife 300 mm Mirror Finish with Wave/Fuller Senbon Kurokaki Persimmon Handle Sheath
A yanagiba sashimi knife that is part of the Go Umanosuke Yoshihiro-inspired “Mizuyaki Honyaki Series.” The flat part of the water-quenched Shironiko Honyaki blade has a mirror finish with a traditional “hamon” design and an accentuating fuller (blade groove).
The blade, exquisitely crafted using the ultimate Sakai cutlery techniques, is paired with the wood of an ancient, precious tree called the Senbon Kurokaki persimmon. This wood is used for the handle and sheath, creating one of the finest Japanese knives available. It comes in a wooden box and makes for the ultimate present.
Awards & Distinctions
2014 Sakai Wazashu Acknowledgement (Sakai Chamber of Commerce and Industry)
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you’d really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer’s website for more information.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.