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From Value One, Autumn 2012 No.38  

Molten iron is poured into a sand mold (Harachu).

Like Iwate's famed Nambu ironware, cast-metal products made in Yamagata City are renowned for their traditional craftsmanship and have a long and illustrious history.

In fact, metal casting in the city dates back about 950 years to the middle of the Heian period (794–1185), when the warlord Minamoto no Yoriyoshi came to Yamagata to suppress a revolt in the Michinoku area (northeastern Japan). A metal craftsman accompanying the warlord discovered that the sands of the Mamigasaki River were ideal for use in the casting process, and he decided to stay. Mogami Yoshiaki, the first daimyo of the Yamagata fief, later developed a town around his castle and invited 17 casting craftsmen to live and work there. The quarter the metal workers inhabited became known as Do-machi (Copper Town). This is how the foundations were laid for Yamagata to become a renowned metalworking center.

One of the 17 original metal craftsmen who moved into Do-machi, Kikuchi Kiheiji, started Kikuchi Hojudo Inc., a casting workshop that still exists. Boasting a history of some four centuries, the company continues to produce castings such as tetsubin (iron kettles) and chagama (water boilers for use in the tea ceremony).

President Noriyasu Kikuchi, the fifteenth-generation head of Kikuchi Hojudo, passed along the secret to the excellence of the company's products: "Yamagata castings are characterized by thinness and lightness," he said. "To make thin but heat-preserving castings, we use sand of the finest grain in the world." While being faithful to traditional craftsmanship, Yamagata castings absorb novel designs matching modern lifestyles as typified by its teapots, which are admired as far away as Europe and the United States. A buyer would have to wait months before receiving a product ordered from Kikuchi Hojudo.

In response to the shortage of goods immediately after World War II, Yamagata's workshops began to cast various components for machine tools, automobiles, electrical machinery, and others along with traditional craft products. These modern machine parts now account for around 90 percent of all the castings made in Yamagata.

Harachu Co., Ltd. is the biggest producer of castings in Yamagata. In the postwar years, Harachu solidified its business foundations by casting parts for sewing machine manufacturers, and today it also casts components for trucks. Sweden's AB Volvo, a major truck manufacturer and one of Harachu's biggest customers, appreciates the Yamagata caster's technical excellence. Manifolds made by welding castings with stainless steel parts—a technique requiring great technical sophistication—are shipped out to the world from Yamagata through Volvo.

Castings from Yamagata cover a broad range of product categories from traditional items to auto parts, and meet diverse needs in Japan and many different parts of the world. Yamagata metal casters will continue to hand over traditional techniques to the next generation while unceasingly incorporating new techniques.

Kikuchi Hojudo's Mayu teapot is very popular internationally.




The original casting operator's license (issued in 1604) granted to Kikuchi Hojudo




Manifolds made by welding cast material and stainless steel together (Harachu)






Yamagata City Museum of Local Industry
10 Imono-machi, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata
Tel: +81-23-643-6031
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed on Sundays, national holidays, second and fourth Saturdays, and during the year-end/New Year holidays
Admission: Free

In 1973, the casting shops in Do-machi—the traditional center of Yamagata casting since the Edo period (1603–1867)—moved en masse to Imono-machi (Casting Town) in the western part of Yamagata City because their manufacturing equipment had become obsolete and residential areas had expanded to surround them. In 1981, the Yamagata City Museum of Local Industry was opened in the industrial complex to introduce the history and traditional techniques of Yamagata casting. Retail outlets of the workshops still stand side by side in Do-machi, making traditional casting products available to regional consumers, tourists, and others. A big monument featuring a tetsubin stands along a street in Do-machi to remind passersby of the history of the "town of castings."

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