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From Value One, Winter 2007-2008 No. 19  


On December 1, 1857 (according to the old calendar), in what is now called Kamaishi City in Iwate Prefecture, Takato Oshima, a warrior of the Nambu clan, became the first person in Japan to successfully carry out the continuous production of hot metal from a Western-style blast furnace. It was just four years after the arrival of the U.S. "black ship" fleet, and the production of artillery to defend against the foreign ships was considered to be of the utmost importance. Iron made in the traditional Japanese tatara process, which uses iron sand as raw material, was not strong enough to be made into gun barrels. It was for this reason that blast furnace technology, which enables the production of iron from iron ore, was sought after. A total of 10 blast furnaces were built in this area from the late Edo period to the mid-Meiji era, and they continuously turned out strong iron from iron ore. Kamaishi is, indeed, the birthplace of modern iron making in Japan.

Takato Oshima selected Kamaishi as the site for his Western-style blast furnace for a number of reasons. First, high-quality iron ore and charcoal, which would serve as fuel for the furnace, were readily available. Second, waterwheels could be built on the rivers that flowed through the nearby Kitakami Mountains to supply power to the bellows that would blow air into the blast furnace. It was because waterwheels were used as a power source that early blast furnaces were built along rivers.

Modern iron making technology was later inherited by Japan's first state-run steel mill, Fuji Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., and eventually by the Kamaishi Works of today's Nippon Steel Corporation. The Kamaishi Works shut down its blast furnaces in 1989 and became a specialized producer of wire rods. It is now a major supplier of steel cords used in reinforcing automobile tires, accounting for an approximate 25% share in the global output of this commodity. Meanwhile, Nippon Steel Corporation worked together with the municipality of Kamaishi to attract business establishments to the city after shutting down its blast furnaces, and now many companies, mainly manufacturers, are based in Kamaishi. By 2006, infrastructures for the industry and the physical distribution of products were well developed and included a trunk road that links the inland and coastal parts of the area and reinforced facilities at the Port of Kamaishi. These features are expected to effectively attract additional businesses to the city. Kamaishi, 150 years since becoming the birthplace of modern iron making in this country, is transforming itself into an industrial city based on a pattern all its own.


The first blast furnace in Japan to successfully go into continuous operation.



Kamaishi Works as it is today, one of the biggest steel cord production facilities in the world.


A flame from the Kamaishi Works' blast furnace still burns as a symbol of the city.

Kamaishi Municipal Iron & Steel History Museum
3-12-7 Ohira-cho, Kamaishi-shi, Iwate
Tel: +81-193-24-2211
Open: 9:00 to 17:00
Closed on the last day of every month (the following day if the last day falls on a Sunday or national holiday) and from December 28 to 31.
Admission: 500 for adults, 300 for senior high school students, 150 for junior high and elementary school students


The Kamaishi Municipal Iron & Steel History Museum offers the opportunity to acquire deep knowledge of the history of modern iron making in Japan. There is a full-size replica of the Hashino blast furnace, which offers a glimpse of how blast furnaces were operated in those days. Valuable exhibits are classified by era, using the periods of Japan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., Fuji Iron & Steel, and Nippon Steel. The last piece of iron ore, the last manufactured piece of coke, and the last tapped Kamaishi-type pig iron from Nippon Steel's Kamaishi Works are also on display.

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