Tatara and Japanese ‘katana’ swords making (1/2)
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tatara in the 6C

Tatara in the 6th century (今佐屋山遺跡 再現模型, 和鋼博物館 蔵)

If you are interested in Japanese swords or ‘katana,’ you might have also heard of ‘tatara.’ Tatara is the traditional Japanese clay tub furnace used for smelting iron and steel. The word ‘tatara’ originally meant a pair of bellows, a device usually with two boards to send strong air, and the whole furnace came to be called as tatara later.

In traditional Japanese iron making, steel comes from iron sand. Smelting process of iron usually needs heat and materials including iron, such as iron ore, iron sand and so on. In Japan, 70% of the land has been forest from ancient times, which means that wood has been easily available nationwide, and that is why wood has been used as fuel for smelting iron in Japan.

Iron or steel has historically been a key material determining a country’s power. It can bring military power and civilized life. However, iron ore is not evenly distributed in the world. It has been found mainly in Europe, Russia, Americas, China, and unfortunately, Japan has not been in the list. Ancient Japanese people had to search for iron sand instead, and this has made Japanese iron making unique.


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