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The History of the Tatara

The Start of Iron Use

Rice Cultivation and the Use of Iron

At the present moment, the oldest example of ironware to have been found in Japan dates to very late in the Jomon Period, around 400 to 300 B.C.E. The object is the tip of a plate-shaped iron axe (forged) found in the remains of a home in the Ishizaki-Magarita ruins in the town of Nijo, Itojima County, Fukuoka Prefecture. The fact that ironware was used, along with stone stools, since the cultivation of rice began suggests that rice cultivation and iron were brought from the continent at almost the same time.

The development of paddy agriculture gradually increased in the first half of the Yayoi Period (approximately 300 to 200 B.C.E.). Later during this time flat areas became saturated and settlements were formed in the highlands. Struggles over land became fierce, and villages surrounded by moats were built on higher ground. There is a twinned set of V-shaped moats at the Ogiya ruins in on the Tango Peninsula, Kyoto Prefecture measuring 6 meters wide at their maximum point, 4.2 meters deep, and 850 meters long. Iron axes and metal working slag have also been found there. Plate-shaped iron axes, chisels, yariganna (an edged tool for chopping trees), and unprocessed raw materials dating back to the second half of the Yayoi Period have been found at the Ayaragi ruins (in the city of Shimonoseki). However, stone implements were still the main source for weapons and agricultural tools at this point in time.

Plate-shaped iron axe taken from the Ishizaki-Magarita ruins
(Source: “Yayoi Iron Culture and Its World” exhibit, Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Archaeology)

Exchanges with the Korean Peninsula

Bronzeware was first produced in Japan during the middle years of the Yayoi Period (from 100 B.C.E. to C.E. 100). The power of clan leaders grew, and in the northern areas of Kyushu the use of mirrors, swords, and jewels (the objects that would come to symbolize the emperor) as a three-piece burial set became common. From the artifacts found at the Kimhae Shellmound in the outskirts of Pusan, it is thought that commerce with the southern part of the Korean Peninsula prospered, trading in ironware, bronze and earthenware.

Use of ironware spread rapidly around the height of the Yayoi Period (roughly around C.E. 1). Due to this, agricultural productivity increased, humid wetlands were irrigated and drained, and kuni (independent provinces or countries) began to be formed throughout the country. A Later Han Chinese chronicle (called Zenkanjoin Japanese, and compiled by the scholar Ban Gu, C.E. 32?92) includes an item that reads “in the seas off Lo-lang lie the people of Wo, who are divided into more than 100 states, and who bring tribute at fixed intervals.” We know that the people of Wo at the time also conducted exchanges with China through the Korean Peninsula district of Lo-lang (an Early Han colony). In fact, numerous remnants of Lo-lang provenance (mirrors, coins, iron blades, iron swords, pocket knives, copperware, and so on) have been found in mid-Yayoi tombs in northern Kyushu. Among these was a Yuhi-style iron halberd (yuhi-shiki-tekka). Research shows that the weapon was cast in iron, and has low carbon content, so it is thought to have been made of cast iron decarburized steel.

Yuhi-style iron halberd taken from the Kadota ruins in the city of Kasuga, Fukuoka Prefecture
(Source: “Yayoi Iron Culture and Its World” exhibit, Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Archaeology)

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