日本での一年間

January 4, 2011

Tatara Iron Making

Filed under: Chuugoku, Domestic, Events, Iron — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 1:10 am

The tatara iron making technique has been used  in Japan since the 6th century.  Iron sands taken from local rivers were put into special furnaces made by layering sand and charcoal and heated to extreme temperatures. To build and use the furnace takes over a week. Special foot bellows were used to stoke the fire throughout the process. The iron produced with this method is supposedly of very high quality and is used to make Japanese swords, knives and other things. Most of the tatara production was done in the Chugoku mountains in the Okuizumo region where iron sand was plentiful in the rivers. The last old tatara furnace stopped production in 1921 and was in this region, in Yoshida town. The people who worked the furnace all lived together in a little isolated iron town, quite off the beaten path from the major cities.

If you’ve seen the Studio Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke, then you’ve seen Tatara iron making before. If you’ve seen the movie, do you remember the women powering the bellows, pressing down together on a wooden plank while holding onto ropes? That’s tatara iron production. Hayao Miyazaki and his animation team came to this region and learned about the iron making process and the life in the iron town when designing the iron town in the building. (Although they scouted a different place for the location, yakushima island in Kagoshima prefecture.)

In the past few years there has been a push to preserve this old iron making technique. All the old iron workers from the iron town were sought out and interviewed. They questioned them in detail about the entire process of making the iron and also about life in the iron town. There are now tatara furnaces producing metal once again. But they have modernized it a little bit. No more foot bellows. They now use machines. These new tatara furnaces, called modern tatara (現代たたら), are restricted to a few locations and in most places, furnaces are only built once, maybe twice a year. The furnace we saw is put into use once a year, in November.  You can’t tell from my pictures but the area I was standing in was crowded with people who had come to see the magic. I was actually standing there wondering why they let so many people come and watch because it was pretty dangerous and we were just getting in the way the whole time.  But I feel very lucky that I was able to see it.

furnace

The face of the Tatara furnace. And the arms coming off the furnace's head attach to the mechanic bellows.

iron worker

One of the people in charge of the furnace watches over. His shirt says 'tatara.' Other people working their had shirts on which all the different tatara furnaces they had helped with were listed.

taking off the top

Taking off the top of the furnace. These people worked all through the night and probably for a long time before that, but we just showed up at the end to watch the finale.

exposed fire

Without the top, the fire is fully exposed!

iron?

Can you see the iron? Can you?

removal

Gotta remove the charcoal to get down to the iron, which ends up looking like a lump, called a kera. A big black lump. It was kind of anticlimactic really... But I guess this lump of metal will become a fine sword or some nice knives one day.

HA LAE

This is where they make the iron, HA LAE (Yoshida Village).

village of iron history

THE ILLAGE OF RO HSOR (The village of iron history). I think they need to consider making new signs.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] in January, I wrote a post about seeing Tatara Iron making. Turns out that the Tarara iron making I saw wasn’t the real deal. Well, some people […]

    Pingback by Sugaya Tatara Iron Town « 日本での一年間 — March 24, 2011 @ 12:10 am


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