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About Tatara

About Tatara

Tatara-buki (buki, from fuki, means air blowing) is an ancient Japanese method for manufacturing iron. The tatara process has a history stretching back more than one thousand years, being a method for fabricating iron unique to Japan built up through the unceasing efforts of our ancestors.

The word tatara itself seems originally to have meant fuigo, or “bellows.” An extremely ancient word, it appears in the second oldest of Japan's mytho-historical documents, the Nihon-shoki (“Chronicles of Japan”). In that early 8th century work, it appears in the name of Hime-tatara-isuzu-no-hime-no-mikoto, the consort to Japan's legendary first emperor Jinmu. The two Chinese characters used for the word are intended to be pronounced as “tatara,” but they can also be read together based on the meaning of each character to create the word “foot bellows” (fumi-fuigo). The princess is said to have been the daughter of Koto-shiro-nushi-no-mikoto, an important god from the Izumo region that is one of the two heartlands of early Japanese culture. In this light, it is extremely interesting that the word tatara using these particular characters appears in the name of a princess from a region that is one of Japan's major iron-manufacturing areas.

The furnaces where the manufacturing of iron involved cooling it with a foot bellows also came to be called tatara. In this case, the word is written with a different, single Chinese character. Furthermore, a takadono (a special kind of high-roofed house) containing a single furnace in its entirety, as well as any ironworks factory that includes a furnace of this sort, also came to be called a tatara.

Model of a takadono on display at the Wako Museum
Model of a takadono on display at the Wako Museum. The entire structure, which includes a furnace and foot bellows, is called a takadono.
The Wako Museum: Located in the city of Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, this museum—whose name translates as the Museum of Japanese Steel—is the largest such institution in Japan dedicated to the subject of Japanese steel.

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