The History of the Tatara
Have you ever heard of the Yamata-no-orochi myth?
Yamata-no-orochi was an extremely immense snake (orochi is ancient Japanese for “great snake”) that had eight heads and eight tails. Its eyes were red as cherries, and its belly was always covered in blood. Pine and cypress trees grew on its back, and it covered eight hills and eight valleys with its bulk. The story goes that the warrior Susanoo got Yamata-no-orochi drunk on sake and killed it, in the process saving Princess Kushi'inada who was to have been sacrificed to the serpent.
There are numerous theories regarding how to interpret the connection between Yamata-no-orochi and iron manufacturing. One theory is that the appearance of the snake resembled something formed in the flames coming from portable tatara used to melt iron in the valleys scattered throughout the mountains. Another theory is that, since the mythical sword Ame-no-murakumo-no-tsurugi, which was taken from the snake's tail in the legend, was renamed Kusanagi-no-tsurugi and became one of the three regalia of the imperial household, the tale indicates that iron manufacturing was already taking place in the Oku-izumo region at the time it was developed. There are also those who interpret Yamata-no-orochi to refer to a place in the Koshi district, the Etchu area where Toyama Prefecture is located today. They hold that an ancient iron-making people based in that area were exterminated by Susanoo, who had crossed over from Silla, and so the story shows how new iron manufacturing technology came to Japan.
The ancient texts don't indicate if Kusanagi-no-tsurugi was made of iron or copper. However, it is recorded in the Izumo-kuni fudoki, a chronicle written in 733, that iron manufacturing took place in this region since long before. According to one passage in that chronicle, there were four villages in the Nitagun'nai (Oku-izumo) region--Mitokoro, Fuse, Misawa, and Yokota. The passage states that “iron is produced at a place in each of the four aforementioned towns. It is hard and sturdy enough to be put to use for making various tools.”