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From Value One, Autumn 2016 No. 54  

A traditional anchor made at Nakagi Iron Works
 

An Iron-making Town That Adapted to Changing Times

Tomonoura is a port in the Tomo District of Fukuyama City situated near the center of the Seto Inland Sea. It is an excellent sightseeing spot, and poems about the area appear as far back as the Man’yoshu, the ancient anthology of Japanese poems produced around 759 AD. It has long prospered as a key port on the Seto Inland Sea.

Attracting a host of ships and with shipyards nearby, the Tomo District became known for having numerous marine blacksmiths crafting everything from anchors to Japanese-style rivets. Together with the neighboring city of Onomichi, the area became widely known during the Edo Period (1603–1868) as Japan’s biggest production center of anchors and ship rivets.

The roots of marine blacksmiths here date back to swordsmiths in the Nara Period (710–94). During the Edo Period, the main items produced changed from swords to anchors, ship rivets, farming tools and other implements. In the Meiji Era (1868–1912), the range of products expanded to include diverse iron products, such as rails and other rail track components.

In the Taisho Era (1912–26), more and more businesses began re-rolling scrap iron from demolished ships and defective rolled products from ironworks. After World War II, demand soared for construction materials such as flat, round and irregular bars, and the Tomo District became Japan’s biggest iron drawing center.

Although the advent of successful electric furnace steelmakers led to a decline in iron drawing, the Tomo District solidified its reputation as a “town of iron” by turning out diverse steel products such as metal fittings for architectural use and mechanical components along with traditional products for ships such as anchors and shackles. About seventy steel-related companies still operate in the Tomo Steel Complex, which was established in 1968.


Nakagi Iron Works, established before World War II, is one of only three anchor manufacturers remaining in the area. The company particularly excels in the production of small anchors for fishing boats and rafts for aquafarming purposes. Nakagi still uses the traditional art of forge-welding, in which iron plate is heated, hammered and shaped to join the shaped parts together. It is a superb technique used in traditional Japanese sword making.

The Tomo District’s relationship with steel began with swordsmithing and went through many changes, including crafting farm products and anchors, rivets and other ship components, and shifting to iron drawing and the production of secondary steel products. It prides itself on flexibly adapting its manufacturing to meet the needs of the times.

The Tomo Steel Complex faces the beautiful Seto Inland Sea




A hook for pulleys—both are key item produced in the Tomo District






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