The Knifemaking Legacy of Seki

2 minute read

Seki (sometimes Romanized as Sakai) is the home of the top knifemakers in all of Japan.  This knifemaking legacy actually draws its roots from a surprising source: swordmaking.  As we are all about swords here at BladesPro, we thought we’d investigate and see how this unique historical influence affected Seki’s knives.

Seki lies in an excellent location for metal crafting.  It has lots of iron nearby for the steel, clay and pine charcoal for the forges, and river water for quenching.  In 450 AD, the kofun (burial tomb) of Emperor Ninfoku was constructed in Seki: a project so great that Japan scoured the land for blacksmiths and brought them there.  Because of the excellent location and the long period of construction, when the tomb was completed, most of the metalworkers never left, beginning the long tradition of metal crafting in Seki.

A Mass of Swords

Swordmaking was established in Seki by, at the latest, the 14th century, as we still have actual swords crafted then that survive today.  At first, individual swords were produced for the nobility, but as wars broke out, demand greatly increased, and swords began to be mass-produced. 

The opening of Japan to China and the constant wars meant the demand for swords did not lower for centuries, providing Seki with excellent business opportunities.  They exported hundreds of thousands of swords to China and supplied innumerable swords to the various warring factions throughout Japan.

A Culinary Change

A purchasable high-quality knife from Seki Japan

After 1876, the government limited the production of Katana swords, but by that time Seki had been known for centuries not only for swords, but also firearms and knives.  Its knives were so highly prized, that the Japanese government in 1570 proclaimed that only knives crafted in Seki could be used for tobacco harvesting. In order to make such knives, a prospective knife-maker usually underwent (and even today undergoes) an apprenticeship, same as a swordsmith. Today, Seki’s knives are used in homes and restaurants all across the world and are known to be world-class. The best of such knives bear the mark of the Master Magoroku.