菅谷たたら山内

Sugaya Tatara Sannai

SUGAYA TATARA SANNAI
IRON TOWN

San’in Good Thing Diary

List

SUGAYA TATARA SANNAI IRON TOWN

The only remaining ironworks from premodern Japan

YouTube videos

The tatara-ba ironworks in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Princess Mononoke was modeled on the only remaining one in Japan: Sugaya Takadono

Up the mountains and down a valley to an altitude of 350 meters in Yoshidacho, in the city of Unnan in Shimane, a high-roofed building appears out of the blue. Standing 8.6 meters tall and measuring 18.3 meters in perimeter, the structure is designated an important cultural property of Japan. It’s the only surviving tatara ironworks from the premodern Edo period: Sugaya Takadono.

Tatara ironworking in takadono buildings started in Yoshidacho three centuries ago. The land is rich in quality iron sand, forming the source of iron, and covered with forest as far as the eye can see. Though the iron town appears to be in a quiet slumber today, at its peak this was home to some 2,000 workers.

Sugaya Takadono was up and running for 170 years, from 1751 to 1921. The flames of the furnace as well as the business faded with the decline of wako, or traditional Japanese steel. In 1967 the only remaining tatara ironworks in Japan was designated an important tangible folk-cultural property, together with the community around it, Sugaya Tatara Sannai. The aging buildings are undergoing restoration and maintenance work with guidance from the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Sannai refers to the entire community consisting of the takadono building, related facilities, and home of the tatara workers.

Though the furnace will never burn again, a divine presence lingers in the takadono air

The interior of the takadono has its own dim mystique. In the center is the furnace, and on each side is a pair of tenbin-fuigo, or balanced foot bellows, which once supplied the furnace with air.
Mitsuo Asahi, head of the Sugaya Takadono Hall of Lifestyle, says, “Each takadono employed about 20 workers. But the only two people qualified to introduce iron sand into the furnace were the technical supervisor, called the murage, and his right hand, or shadow, called the sumisaka. The post of murage was hereditary, and the secrets of the craft were handed down to only one son. Evidently, strict precautions were taken to prevent leakage of the advanced technology.”

The expedition found the story about the tenbin-fuigo most intriguing. Assistants called banko were responsible for treading the foot bellows. For three days and nights while the furnace blazed, six banko took turns working the bellows for an hour each. This is the origin of kawari-banko, the term we all use today when we “take turns.”

By the takadono stands a giant katsura tree. Kanayago-kami, the deity of tatara ironworking, is believed to have flown on the wings of an egret and alighted on the katsura. So wherever there’s a tatara-ba, there’s always a katsura tree.
The katsura buds only once a year, in early April. The leaves turn crimson for three days, the same length of time as the tatara ironworking process. In mid April the leaves turn golden yellow, and in late April vivid green. The sheer beauty of the foliage is said to give onlookers goosebumps.
The expedition visited the site well into October so did not witness the flaming red of the katsura. We did wonder why the air was fragrantly sweet, and were told it was the divine scent of the katsura leaves.

{ Access }

  • ●Sugaya Tatara Sannai: 30 minutes by taxi from JR Kisuki Line Kisuki Station

  • ●4210-2 Yoshidacho Yoshida, Unnan-shi, Shimane

  • [ more information ] Shimane is a land of authenticity | SHIMANE <<View the site>>

San’in Good Thing Diary

List

SUGAYA TATARA SANNAI IRON TOWN