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The History of the Tatara

Life inside the Mountain

A unique kind of society would be created around the tatara, which functioned as both a workplace and the residence of the people employed there. This world was referred to as the sannai, or the “life inside the mountain.”

In the sannai one finds first of all the motogoya, the business office of the tatara. The people working there included the motogoya tedai (clerk), who managed the tatara, while under him were the yamahai, who functioned as the manager or landlord of the mountain where the tatara was situated, the kanna-shi yamahai, the kanna master, and the servants (called yaro) who ran errands for their seniors. The people responsible for the more technical side of the tatara included the murage, who was the master engineer overseeing tatara operations. Next was the sumisaka (apprentice murage) followed by the sumitaki, who fed charcoal to the furnace, the banko, who worked the bellows, the komawari and tetsudai, who ran errands around the workplace, and various other assistants. All of these people were engaged in operations at the tatara. At such tatara-related sites as the o-do-ba (“great copper site”) and the tetsu-uchi-ba there were also such individuals as the tetsu-uchi master, who was responsible for hammering iron, the uchiara master, who sorted iron sand at the sand re-selection site, and the yamako, who specialized in preparing charcoal.

The murage's uniform (Wako Museum)

Metal-working shops were frequently linked to the facilities at the sannai. The individuals working there included the sage (pronounced “sah-gay”), who was chief of the sage-ba (“the sage place,” the furnace where the carbon content of steel is lowered), the daiku, the master smith of the metal-working shop, and the teko, who were responsible for swinging the mukaizuchi mallets in alternation with the smith's hammering of the metal.

All of these workers lived on site at the residences in the sannai, built adjacent to the tatara and the motogoya. This created a community akin to that of a small housing estate. A sannai would have around 30 households and a population of 150 to 160 people, including family members. Many of these households would have been ones that had lived in the sannai for generations, and many of these individuals worked at the tatara.

Of the workers performing these various jobs, the murage, sumisaka, daiku, and sage were the ones who might be described as engineers. Stipends or allowances were attached to their jobs. The rest of the sannai workers received pay sufficient to guarantee only the most minimal lifestyle. Many, it seems, made due receiving advances on their salaries. Many of the people working at the banko level were wanderers, the poorest of the poor, and drifters who came from various other provinces. For this reason, the stipulations, or regulations governing life in the sannai were quite strict, and efforts were made to prevent conflicts with the long-time community residents. Sannai also had police authority, with their own truncheons and special ropes for binding criminals. Indigents and rule breakers could be imprisoned in the iron storehouse, or be made to undergo a harsh form of capital punishment in the kitchen of the motogoya. Extremely harsh punishments seem to have been meted out because many of the people working at the sannai were from outside the community.

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