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From Value One, Spring 2008 No. 20  


Bathtubs made of cast iron came to be called "Goemon" tubs after the legend of Goemon Ishikawa, a bandit in the Azuchi Momoyama period (around the end of 16th century) who was sentenced to boil in oil in Sanjo-gawara, Kyoto.

Kabe (present-day Kabe, Asakita-ku, in Hiroshima City) was famed for being the biggest manufacturing location of Goemon tubs, accounting for approximately 80% of those produced nationwide before World War II. Kabe was a transit base for resources extracted from around the Chugoku region, such as tatara iron from Izumo, and included such mines as the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine in today's Oda City, Shimane Prefecture. Kabe flourished as a metal casting town during the Edo period (1603-1867).

Daiwa Heavy Industry Co., Ltd., headquartered in Hiroshima City, is the only company that continues to manufacture Goemon tubs in Japan today. The company began making Goemon tubs in the early Meiji period (about the 1870s), producing approximately 120,000 tubs a year at its peak. However, demand for Goemon tubs later dropped precipitously due to the impact of the spreading use of gas and the construction of public housing.

The company's Yoshida Plant, in Akitakata City, now manufactures roughly 50 Goemon tubs a month, primarily for individual customers. No drawings or records of manufacturing methods remain because Goemon tubs were handmade up to the Edo period. Because of this, the company produces replicas based on studies of actual tubs. Noting the high level of skill that was involved in making the original tubs, plant manager Tatsunari Meiki says, "Everything-from the shape of the tub to the thickness of the iron used-was truly well thought-out, and we still employ that knowledge in our technology now."

I decided to try out the demonstration Goemon tub installed at the plant. The water was hot at first, so I asked them to add cold water. Controlling the temperature is difficult because the water is heated by fire, but this kind of bath gives one a sense of what the good old days must have been like. Meiki noted that the human interaction between the person in the bath calling out to the people tending the fire on the other side of the wall is heartwarming. The hot water circulates in the tub by convection because the tub itself is heated, and this warmed my body to the marrow. I now know the reason behind the deep-rooted popularity of these tubs that continues today.

Even today, Goemon tub technology is being handed down. The photo shows a sand mold casting process called katabiki.


Mold for a large tub; vacuum die casting enables mass production.


Sparks fly everywhere when molten metal is poured into the sand mold.


The Yubokumin portable Goemon tub.

Having access to bathing facilities is one of the problems faced by evacuees who have to stay in gymnasiums or other temporary shelters for long periods of time following a disaster. Daiwa Heavy Industry sent employees to conduct an on-site survey immediately after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. The Yubokumin portable Goemon tub was developed as a result of that survey. The tub and furnace are designed as a single unit, and the tub can be installed anywhere that has three square meters of space available.

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