The City of Craftsmanship
Today the city of Sakai thrives as the most populated suburb of Osaka, the nation’s second largest city that evolved as a major merchant city since the 14th century. But the city’s history is strongly connected to Osaka’s merchant culture, and Sakai is known for a very active merchant community. Among many business merchandises, Sakai people keep their commitment to a few key industries that still remains important and fundamental for Japanese culture and lifestyle. Visiting Sakai is to peek into how they have developed and craftsmanship still lives to this date.
The Birthplace of Japanese Tea Ceremony
It may seem out of place in this historic merchant community, but Sakai is the birthplace of the ceremonial tea master Sen-No Rikyu. Born in the early 16th century in a merchant family of Sakai city, and he took over his family’s merchant business, but was much more into the tea world, and developed tea drinking occasions into a ceremonial activity. He taught how to enjoy and appreciate Wabi Sabi, the emptiness and nothingness, and created the idea of Ichi-go Ichi-e, one time one meeting, both of which influenced the Japanese scene of beauty and value. He is the most sacred ceremonial tea legend in Japan, and many people visit the original location of his residence in Sakai. At his birthplace location is an old well, into which he allegedly dropped a coal piece made from a camellia tree to make special clean water for tea. Sakai cherishes his enormous cultural development and his heritage, and created the environment to develop other tea-related industries in Sakai such as incense and confectionary. The tea ceremony house Shin-an in Daisen Park showcases Sakai’s ceremonial tea scenes, serving a superior quality of tea ceremony to all visitors. Open from 9:30am to 4:30pm, Tuesday through Sunday (open holiday Mondays). Admissions for tea ceremony range from 10,000 yen to 30,000 yen per session (depending on the hour).
Ancient Burial Mount
The thriving Sakai had already started in ancient time: back from the 4th century, the country’s highest ranked figures were privileged a large mounted cemetery, and Emperor Nintoku, the 16th emperor who reigned the country from 313 to 399, rests in Sakai today. Besides Nintoku-Ryo (the Nintoku Tumulus), 47 ancient tumulus are scattered around within 2.5 mile radius. Although the shape of the tumulus is very unique and is one of the largest burial grounds in the world following the Egyptian Pyramids, the tumulus all look like woody mounds from the ground and serve as park spaces for the locals.
Japan’s quality for cooking knives has been widely recognized beyond culinary professionals these days for sharpness, durability and multi-purpose design. After the western style matchlock gun was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese who landed on one of the southern small islands of Japan in the 15th century, the gun manufacturing technique was brought to Sakai, and later was extended to sword making, which took common materials and methods. During the Japanese samurai swords culture, the Tokugawa Shogunate branded Sakai’s highly crafted knives as the nation’s best, and the blacksmith techniques from Sakai still exist and their craftsmanship is becoming more and more recognized worldwide for superior professional kitchen knives. Sakai’s knives were gradually introduced to general cooking enthusiasts, and along with the popularity of Japanese food culture in the world, Sakai’s knives became known. Today, some of Sakai’s blacksmith houses are open for public viewing, exhibiting the history of the techniques, tools and evolution of the products. Not to mention fabulous first-hand shopping with experts and actual craftsmen, some blacksmith houses take custom-made orders for kitchen knives along Hankai Streetcar that runs through the historic district of Sakai city.
The Home of the World’s Top Bicycle
The gunsmith tradition landed in Sakai was not only applied to knife manufacturing: Bicycles are a Western invention, which has been getting into the spotlight for eco-friendly and energy efficient urban life, and detailed and precise bicycle parts are also Sakai’s local industry. Shimano, the world’s top manufacturer of bicycle brakes, reels and gears, is from this city, and Sakai’s Cycle Center exhibits the history of Sakai bicycles in the museum section. They also rent bicycles to visitors for eco-friendly tourism. For more information, go to the Center’s website at http://www.h4.dion.ne.jp/~bikemuse/index0.html (Japanese only).
Access to Sakai: There are a few commuter trains that connect Sakai and Osaka within 40 minutes. From Kansai International Airport (KIX), take Nankai Airport Express to Sakai Station (32 minutes). For more information on Sakai City, go to http://www.sakai-tcb.or.jp/english/.
——– Nori Akashi : Public Relations Manager at the New York Office of JNTO
Japan National Tourism Organization New York Office