Kelp, fruit of the north, crossed the sea to Sakai to be processed exquisitely by skilled craftsmen.
Kombu Road and Sakai’s kombu
It is believed that growth of the kombu (kelp) processing industry in Sakai is closely related to the transport route of kelp from Hokkaido.
The route, called the Kombu Road, is a sea route from Hokkaido via Tsuruga, Obama and Shimonoseki to Osaka and Sakai through the Sea of Japan, where waves are gentle.
Originally, kelp was unloaded at Tsuruga or Obama and transported to Otsu by road and then went down the Yodogawa River to Osaka. However, in the 17th century, the sea route to Osaka and Sakai was opened and a large amount of kelp started being unloaded at the Port of Sakai.
It is believed that around this time, full-scale development of the kombu processing industry in Sakai was in progress.
The kombu processing industry reached its peak in Sakai from the early to mid-20th century, when Sakai became a major production center with approximately 150 kombu processing workshops.
There are mainly two types of kombu that are produced in Sakai: tororo and oboro, both of which are finely shaven kombu. Tororo kombu is produced by machine; however, Oboro kombu is hand-shaven by skilled craftsmen in order to maintain its high quality.
Types of kombu and their characteristics
- Ma Kombu
- This is brown, thick and wide, with a delicate flavor. It is the highest-quality kombu.
- Rishiri Kombu
- This is blackish brown and relatively firmer than Ma Kombu. Clear and savory stock can be prepared from this kombu.
- Rausu Kombu
- This is dark brown. The stock from this kombu is cloudy, but fragrant and rich.
- Mitsuishi Kombu/Hidaka Kombu
- This is dark green. Since it cooks quickly and is soft, it is often used as an ingredient for kelp rolls and other stewed meals.
- Naga (long) Kombu
- This is grayish black, 6 to 15 meters long. It is the most commonly produced kelp in Japan.
- Atsuba (thick) Kombu
- This is black, with white sections. It tastes bitter rather than sweet, and has thickness.
- Hosome (thin) Kombu
- This is black, also with white sections. Its sweetness fades quickly.