From Japan Seki to Divertimenti – A Journey in search of Yaxell knives

Our Journey Begins…

Divertimenti began its relationship with the Yaxell Corporation in 2013 and we have long dreamed of visiting them at their headquarters in Seki City in Gifu Prefecture north of Nagoya on the main island of Honshu in central Japan. Since becoming the exclusive UK importer and retailer of these fantastic knives, Divertimenti’s enthusiasm for Yaxell has resulted in us becoming Yaxell’s no.1 customer in the world – a fact that they and we are very proud of. To celebrate, we paid a 3 day ‘flying visit’ to their home town to learn more about what makes these knives so special.

Yaxell is a family-run company, like Divertimenti, and have been manufacturing wonderful knives since 1932.  A long history indeed, however, the history of blade-making in Seki goes back much further - to an ancient tradition of Samurai craftsmanship that is now practised by only a few master swordsmiths, or Tosho, in modern-day Japan. The whole area around Seki city remains very much devoted to skilled knife making, with Yaxell able to draw on artisan craftsmen who have been in knife making families for generations – there is even a museum dedicated to sword and knife making.

Our visit started with a two-hour journey from London to Helsinki and a short stopover followed by a ten-hour flight to Nagoya. A train connection took us from Nagoya Central Airport through to Gifu City.

Gifu is steeped in history and one of its most enduring symbols is Gifu Castle which was first built early in the 13th century.

Woven within the history of the area was the tradition of the samurai and the production of their swords through the ceremonial katana forging process. The katana sword making process dates back to the 12th century and its rise in popularity stemmed from the curvature of the blade and the ease with which it could be drawn during close quarter combat. Invariably katana swords were made from special Japanese steel called tamahagene or jewel steel which was hugely expensive and involved a very labour intensive process.


When a sword is finally finished after many hours of work, it is sheathed in a beautiful magnolia case, of which no two are ever the same. This is due to the unique curvature of the blade, examples of which are shown below: 

The picture below shows the forge laid out with the apprentices waiting for Ogana-san to summon them to do their part. This would only happen when he was sure the steel was hot enough to work with. Their focus during the process (they were required to wait on his commands for a couple of hours at a time) and their precision when striking the steel was hugely impressive.


In search of Samurai….

In regular Japanese households, a knife is a familiar cooking utensil and each home has at least one, but the knives used by professional chefs hold a special significance. Behind that significance lies the unique history the development of knives has taken. On this part of the trip, we got to experience this first hand.

The Katana Forging Ceremony has been part of Japan’s history for many hundreds of years.  This devotion to producing a blade of outstanding quality is reflected in the founding principles for the techniques and standards of the Yaxell knives that we know and prize in our stores today.

Katana Forging Ceremony

The forging process can take many weeks or months depending on the intricacy of the sword commission for the tosho. One sword that we saw when we were in Seki had taken six months to produce and had 27,000 layers of folded steel in it. We could have purchased it for approximately 6,000,000 yen or £44,000 should we have so desired! The pictures below give you some idea of the traditional and highly skilled process that goes into creating the piece of layered steel that eventually becomes a sword of incredible strength, sharpness and beauty.

We were extremely lucky and honoured to witness this ceremony, as it is normally only held at certain times of the year including during the Seki Knife Festival, held every October. It was a measure of the high regard in which Yaxell is held in Seki that this very special ‘one-off’ ceremony took place – the swordsmith was a personal friend of Yaxell’s president and we were their very favoured customers!

The swordsmith, Master Ogana trained for many years to reach his current level of standing as a sought-after katana sword maker. The young man on the right of the picture hammering the steel was in the 5th year of his apprenticeship. The timing that was needed to move and turn the piece of steel and then position it in the right place for the apprentice to hit it correctly was quite something to see.

These swords are said to be so strong that they are able to cut a bullet in half and all of that strength comes from the forging process. The temperature in the forge (hodo) itself has to be raised to something in the region of 1500°c. Master Ogana used traditional bellows to add oxygen whilst turning the steel in the forge making sure it was at the required temperature to begin the layering process.

The strength of the sword comes from combining steel of different carbon contents to ensure that a unique blade is created using a process called Tanren. A piece of steel is heated, beaten and folded to ensure that impurities and therefore the weakness in the steel is removed. This will also generate an even distribution of carbon throughout the steel and create the raw material that eventually becomes a multi-layered Japanese sword.

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