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From Value One, Winter 2011-2012 No.35  

A plate that says "1901" at the site of Higashida Blast Furnace No. 1, marking the year the mill began operations

Standing on the peak of Mount Sarakura in Kitakyushu City gives you an expansive and commanding view of the Kitakyushu industrial belt that pioneered heavy industry in Japan.

It was there in 1901 that the state-run Yahata Steel Works—Japan's first integrated iron and steel manufacturer, and the predecessor of Nippon Steel Corporation's Yawata Works—was built. That same year, coincidentally, the Carnegie Steel Company, Federal Steel Company, and other steelmakers merged to set up the United States Steel Corporation. U.S. Steel was already the world's biggest steel producer, turning out 10 million tonnes of crude steel a year—100 times what Japan was producing. Nobody could imagine at the time that Nippon Steel would take over the top position some 70 years later.

In 1857, late in the Edo period, a retainer of the Nambu fief named Takato Oshima had built Japan's first Western-style blast furnace in Kamaishi, Iwate. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan single-mindedly ran the course of modernization under the policy of enriching the nation, strengthening the military, and promoting industry. However, it still heavily relied on imported steel, and the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) triggered a further rise in steel demand, particularly from the railroad industry and shipyards. The construction of a modern integrated steel mill was strongly advised. Yahata Village (now Yahata-Higashi Ward of Kitakyushu City), near the Chikuho coalfield, which was one of the biggest coalmines in Japan at the time, was eventually selected as the construction site. Most of the technical aspects of steel mill construction were entrusted to German engineers.

Although Higashida Blast Furnace No. 1 was completed in 1901 and had an annual production capacity of 60,000 tonnes, it was forced to suspend operations after only a year because of a series of problems. Doctor of engineering Kageyoshi Noro and other experts identified the causes and reshaped the furnace to adapt to Japanese-produced coke, leading to a successful restart in 1904. In 1905, a second blast furnace was built at the Yawata Steel Works, which by 1933 had developed into a huge steel mill with nine blast furnaces turning out a million tonnes annually.

Today's Nippon Steel Yawata Works manufactures a variety of high-grade steel products of world-class quality, including rails for railway tracks, electrical steel sheets, steel sheets for automobiles, and spiral steel pipes. Yawata boasts the glorious history and traditions of around 110 years as one of Japan's representative steel mills.

A rolling line at Nippon Steel's Yawata Works




The scene at the inauguration ceremony for Higashida Blast Furnace No. 1 (1901)




A converter introduced in 1957






The plaza commemorating Higashida Blast Furnace No. 1
2-3-12 Higashida, Yawata-Higashi-ku, Kitakyushu-shi, Fukuoka
Tel: +81-93-582-2389 (Cultural Property Division, Lifelong Learning Department, Board of Education, Kitakyushu City)
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed during the year-end/New Year holidays Admission: Free

Built in 1901, Higashida Blast Furnace No. 1 was finally closed down in 1972 and weathered an attempt to dismantle it. Many citizens called for its preservation, however, and asked the city to maintain it as a municipal historical landmark. The furnace was eventually designated as a Kitakyushu City cultural asset in 1996, and retains its impressive stature as a monument in Kitakyushu, one of the birthplaces of modern industry in Japan. The blast furnace site is open to visitors and houses such exhibits as a "torpedo car" (a type of railroad car used to haul molten pig iron from the blast furnace), a model showing a typical workday at the furnace, and a converter.

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