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The History of the Tatara

The Start of Iron Manufacturing

When did iron manufacturing (the smelting of iron) begin in Japan?

Was there iron manufacturing during the Yayoi Period?

Given that no definite traces of iron manufacturing dating to that period have been discovered, the current established theory is that iron manufacturing did not take place during Yayoi times.

At present, those remains that are known to indicate iron working date to the first half of the 6th century C.E. (the Kanakuro-tani and Tonomaru-yama ruins in Hiroshima Prefecture, or the Imasaya-yama ruins in Shimane Prefecture, for example). However, considering that a large-scale blacksmithing group was established in the Onaru ruins in the city of Shobara, Shimane Prefecture, and the formations dating to the second half of the 6th century in the Enjo ruins (Tango Peninsula, Kyoto Prefecture)—a complex that included numerous ironworks and metal working furnaces—then it is possible to believe that iron manufacturing had already started in the 5th century.

On location at the excavation of an ancient iron manufacturing site
(the later 6th century Enjo ruins)

Was there iron manufacturing during the Yayoi Period?

There are strongly grounded opinions on the one hand that iron manufacturing did take place in the Yayoi Period. Given that no iron manufacturing furnaces have been found, these opinions come from an emphasis on the following archaeological background factors.
(1) Stoneware rapidly disappears from after the mid-Yayoi Period, and ironware appears throughout the entire country.
(2) The use and manufacture of ironware elsewhere in the world, such as areas that are now England and Germany, occur at this time.
(3) The technology for manufacturing glass was present during Yayoi times, a process that involves attaining temperatures up to 1,400°C to 1,500°C.
(4) Large bronze bells were being cast in the late Yayoi Period (C.E. 200 to 300), and the most advanced metallurgical technology at this time was in East Asia.

The fact that the Komaru ruins discovered recently in the city of Mihara, Shimane Prefecture date to the 3rd century sparked excitement in the Japanese media, as they may be relics of iron manufacturing dating to the late Yayoi. Excavations have also been made that may be the remnants of ironworks dating to some point between the Yayoi Period (approximately 300 B.C.E. to C.E. 300) and the Kofun Period (approx. C.E. 300 to 538) in Kyono (in the town of Chiyoda) and the Nishimoto No. 6 (in the city of Highashi-Hiroshima) ruins in Hiroshima Prefecture.

As an explanation for the illogical chronological gap between the diffusion of ironware at the end of the Yayoi Period and the supply source for that ironware, the mainstream theory until now has been that the people of the time were dependent on the Korean Peninsula for all iron resource materials. However, on the basis of the discoveries of these various ruins it could be that a new page is being written on ancient iron manufacturing.

Iron slag found near an ironworks furnace in the Imasaya-yama ruins, Shimane Prefecture (Wako Museum)
Iron slag is an impurity produced when iron is smelted.

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