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About Tatara

The Origins of Tatara

Next, let's look into the etymology of the word tatara.

While we still can't be entirely certain, the word in fact seems to be of foreign origin. In the Kojiki (“Records of Ancient Matters”), the oldest of Japan's mytho-histories dating to C.E. 712, we are told that the place where negotiations with the ancient Korean dynasties of Kudara (Paekche) and Shiragi (Silla) took place is referred to as “Tatara-ba” or “Tatara-tsu.” This being the case, it could be the word tatara came to Japan from the Korean Peninsula along with the transmission of iron-manufacturing technology. The word can also mean “to add more heat,” according to linguist Pak Byon-guk, if one interprets tatara on the basis of ancient Korean.

However, the independent scholar Kurao Kubota wonders if the word might have been a corruption of the Tartar word tatatoru, which means “roaring flames.” According to yet another independent scholar, Tokutaro Yasuda, in Sanskrit the word taatara means “heat,” while the Hindi word for steel is sekeraa. He points to the similarity of this word to kera, the word used for steel in the Izumo region, noting also that the word for sword in Myanmarese is the same as in Japanese (katana). Yasuda speculates that the tatara method of iron manufacturing is in fact Indian iron-manufacturing technology that made its way to Japan via Southeast Asia.

Whichever the case, tatara can be thought of as a word that refers to strong heat, is intimately connected with metal smelting, and has its origins in either India or Central Asia.

The dissemination of iron-manufacturing technology to Japan

The technology for manufacturing iron originated with the Hittites, who lived around 2,000 to 1,500 B.C.E. It is thought to have reached Japan around C.E. 6th century (after the Kofun “burial mounds” period) having made its way from India through the Chinese coastal province of Konan and then the southern part of the Korean Peninsula.

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