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From Value One, Autumn 2010 No. 30  

The reverberatory furnace in Nirayama is about 16 meters tall.

The surrounding area of Daiba, constituting a seaside subcenter of urban Tokyo, is commonly known as Odaiba. Lined with hotels, amusement parks, a convention center, a TV station, and other buildings, this area attracts many people. Daiba was originally the generic name for cannon batteries built by feudal fiefs throughout Japan in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate in the mid-19th century. Shinagawa Daiba was hastily built by the shogunate in 1853 to protect Edo Bay (present-day Tokyo Bay) when a U.S. squadron led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry came to Japan. Egawa Hidetatsu (also known as Egawa Tarozaemon), the magistrate in Nirayama, was appointed to take charge of building this particular daiba.

The main iron making technology in the Edo era in Japan was the nation's unique tatara process, which used iron sand as raw material. However, because it was not adaptable to mass production and, moreover, left a large amount of impurities in products, the technique was not suitable to cast weapons, such as cannons. This problem led to an interest in reverberatory furnaces, which were in increasing use in Europe at the time. A reverberatory furnace contains a combustion chamber and a separate heating chamber, and pig iron is produced by melting raw materials using heat from burning coals in the combustion chamber reflected by the shallow domed ceiling and walls of the heating chamber.

Utilizing knowledge gained from Dutch books, Egawa Hidetatsu undertook the construction of a reverberatory furnace. He often exchanged information with Nabeshima Naomasa, lord of the Saga fief who had succeeded in building the first reverberatory furnace in Japan, and did his utmost in his appointed task. Unfortunately, Hidetatsu died of illness in 1855. Egawa Hidetoshi, who succeeded Hidetatsu, completed the furnace in 1857, and it was used to cast many cannons before being discontinued in 1864.

Reverberatory furnaces were built in the late Tokugawa period in not only Saga and Nirayama but also the fiefs of Satsuma, Mito, Tottori, and Hagi, among others, in quick succession. Two of these furnaces—one in Nirayama and the other in Hagi—have survived to date. The reverberatory furnace in Nirayama, in particular, is an unparalleled industrial legacy in the world, kept as it was in its active days.

It was in 1857 that Oshima Takato of the Nanbu fief succeeded in making iron using Japan's first blast furnace in Kamaishi. This was followed by the rapid progress of iron making technology in Japan along with the Meiji Restoration. It was only for a few years in the late Tokugawa period that reverberatory furnaces played an active role, but they furnished a significant page in the history of iron making in Japan in the sense that equipment of such high standards was built and operated with only the knowledge gained from foreign books.


Pig iron is charged through this casting inlet. The fire hole where fuel is added is on the left.



Remains of a cannon battery base in Daiba Park (the former Daiba No. 3)




Nirayama-made cannon preserved at Yasukuni Shrine

Reverberatory furnace in Nirayama
268, Naka-aza Narutaki-hairu, Izunokuni-shi, Shizuoka
Tel: +81-55-949-3450
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed during the year-end/New Year holidays [December 28 through January 3])
Admission: ¥100 for adults, ¥50 for elementary and junior high school children


"Taihei no nemuri o samasu jokisen, tatta shihai de yoru mo nerarezu." (Jokisen tea wakes us up from peaceful dreams, only four cups, but enough to keep us awake all night.) This sarcastic short poem was a satire on the panic that Commodore Perry's squadron called forth in Edo (today's Tokyo) when it emerged off Uraga at the entrance of Edo Bay in 1853. Jokisen was a brand of high-quality tea at the time and is pronounced in the same way as the Japanese word for steamship. Shi means four, and hai is the unit for counting drinks (cups) as well as ships. Some daiba built by Egawa Hidetatsu still remain in Tokyo Bay, and one of them is open to the public as Daiba Park. In Tokyo, Yasukuni Shrine's Yushukan has a muzzle-loading-type matchlock cannon on exhibit that was cast using the reverberatory furnace in Nirayama.
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