Showing posts with label tatara. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tatara. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Sakurai Family Samurai Mansion


The Sakurai were a samurai family who controlled iron production in an area of Okuizumo in the Chugoku Mountains of Shimane.

Originally from what is now Hiroshima, the family moved here in 1644 from the Kabe district and so were known locally as Kabeya.

Just below the old manor is a modern museum called Kabeya Shuseikan displaying artifacts from the family history.

The main house was built in 1738. The main residence sometimes served as a honjin, a guesthouse for when the Daimyo was traveling in the area

The most notable feature of the manor is the garden, and that will get a full post next....

There were several other samurai families controlling iron production in the region, probably the most important iron-producing region in Japan.

Down the mountains, the Itohara Family Residence is another big samurai manor with a garden and also a museum devoted to tatara iron making.

Near to the Sakurai Residence is more modern version of a tatara forge, and in the town of Yokota is a big museum devoted to tatara and samurai swords

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Okuizumo Tatara Sword Museum


In the remote Chugoku Mountains of Shimane is a museum featuring many Japanese swords, apparently quite a popular topic for many visitors to Japan, yet few, if any, swords were actually made in this area.

However, this is one of the most important areas for the main ingredient in a sword, iron. Japan had little in the way of iron ore deposits, and for centuries most iron was imported.

However, once the technique of smelting iron sand was introduced,  domestic iron and steel production flourished, and the Okuizumo area became a major exporter to other areas of Japan.

The museum showcases the history of the tatara forges that produced this iron. Perhaps the most intriguing is that the result of a tatara forge includes a small quantity of something called tamahagane, which is one of several types of metal that are vital to producing an authentic Japanese sword. Modern science and technology have been unable to find another way to make tamahagane.

Some days have demonstrations of working a small piece of iron in a modern forge, and members of the public are given the chance to try their hand. Also occasionally there are demonstrations of tamegishiri, sword testing, which I will show in the next post in this series.

Though having no interest in samurai swords I still found the museum intriguing, and, being so remote, is never crowded.

The previous post in this series on Okuizumo was on the sculpture of Yamata no Orochi in front of the museum. The ancient iron industry was so important to the area that there are numerous other tourist sites about it. Nearby is the Itohara Memorial Museum which I would recommend.

A few kilometers from the museum is a modern factory building that contains the only working tatara forge in Japan. It is the only source of tamahagane in Japan, so all, true Japanese swords made nowadays must buy from here. It is thought to be the inspiration for Irontown, a setting in the anime Princess Mononoke.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Kakuro Tatara Museum

Japan Museums

Tatara are the traditional type of forge used to smelt iron in historical Japan. They used charcoal and iron sand rather than coal and iron ore.

The first iron used in Japan was all imported from the Korean countries on the peninsula, which begs the question what they paid for this fundamental resource. One historian suggests mercenaries which would make sense of the Japanese military involvement on the peninsula in ancient times.

Later iron sand was discovered and so domestic production of iron began using tatara forges, the technique also having been introduced from the Asian mainland.

The Chugoku mountains and especially the Okuizumo area became the centre of iron and steel production for ancient Japan until the late 19th century when the more efficient western techniques of iron production using coal and ore were introduced.

This former tatara high up in the Chugoku mountains was actually not built until the 1930's. It was built next to an Edo period tatara that closed down in 1911. It is a kind of hybrid forge, utilizing a mix of traditional and modern techniques. It is close to where the Sakurai family, a high-ranking samurai family that controlled some of the iron production in the region.

The museum is free to enter and has plenty of information, in Japanese, about the technology as well as numerous mannequins showing scenes..... The bellows were operated by water power.

During the 1930's the US began to apply sanctions against Japan because of the invasion of China.... these sanctions eventually included all export of iron and scrap iron to Japan, which suggests that this tatara was created to improve the situation for Japan. It ceased operating in 1945.

Ema Votive Plaques

Monday, May 17, 2021

Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum.

The Itohara were a family of high-ranking samurai in the service of the Matsue Domain during the Edo Period. Their base was in the mountains of Okuizumo where they were one of several samurai families that controlled the production, and export, of iron.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

The museum at their property near Yokota display many of their artworks, everyday objects, and especially tea ceremony paraphernalia, armor, swords etc as befitting a high-ranking samurai family, but is mostly concerned with the historical production of iron.

Exhibit at the museum.

Japan had very little iron-ore, but some areas, like here in Okuizumo, were rich in iron-sand, and a special type of forge technology was used to process the sand into iron and steel called a tatara forge.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

Part of the output of a tatara forge is a kind of iron called tamahagane in Japanese. This is a vital ingredient in a true Japanese sword and cannot be produced by modern methods, so one single tatra forge is still in operation here in Okuizumo that produces all the tamahagane for swordsmiths.


There is a lot of material on display about historical tatara and such, and quite a lot of samurai possessions and artworks, kimonos etc, however very little info is in English.


The Itohara estate is a few miles from Izumo-Yokota Station on the JR Kisuki Line. Other related posts about Okuizumo can be found by clicking this link.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

Buy Jinbei & Samue from Japan

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Itohara Residence Garden


The Itohara family were high-ranking samurai who were vassals of the Matsue Domain. They were among a groupf of such families who controlled the production of iron deep in the Chugoku Mountains in Okuizumo.

The Daimyo would stay in their residence while inspecting his territory, so the mansion and garden had to be of the highest standard. The formal garden attached to the residence is in Izumo style, and one of its features are the stone paths made with rounded and rectangular stones.

The house is still lived in by descendants of the family so is not open to the public, though the garden is.

There is also a less formal woodland garden planted with more than 300 species of flowers, grasses, and shrubs, that can be strolled around and a large museum devoted to iron production and tatara, the kind of forge used to smelt iron sand.