Nambu ironware Nambu tekki
A 900-year history of craftsmanship
in Japan's northern nature
Nambu ironware is a form of metalwork produced in the area around the city of Morioka in the Iwate prefecture. It is a traditional handicraft that was first created in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868). The name "Nambu ironware" comes from the fact that it was first produced in a domain called Nambu that was ruled by a feudal lord. Modern-day Nambu ironware also includes cast metal produced around Morioka, in areas that were not apart of the Nambu domain but the name remained the same.
Nambu ironware is rust-resistant and time-resistant, provides a uniform circulation of heat and an excellent heat insulation. A hail pattern with a bobbly surface is often used in Nambu ironware to help increase the surface area of iron kettles. The iron kettles that are so typical of Nambu ironware all look different because each artisan is free to create any pattern they like. Iron kettles are Nambu ironware's most popular item but Nambu ironware is so special that an artisan can create any product he wishes, from saucepans to accessories.
Nambu ironware has its roots in the production of pots for tea ceremonies in the Nambu domain (Iwate prefecture) in the mid 17th century. Morioka has long been an area suited for the foundry industry due to the abundance of iron resources so casters were invited to the Nambu domain in order to encourage the casting production. In 1659, a feudal lord who wanted to promote the tea ceremony ordered the first-generation teakettle caster Nizaemon KOIZUMI from Kyoto to start producing kettles in the area around his castle.
The Koizumi family first started all the pots used for tea ceremonies in the Nambu domain at that time, as well as gift items. Works and techniques were passed from father to son in the family and around the third-generation of Koizumi, a smaller iron kettle than the typical tea ceremony one was developed. It was called the "Nambu iron kettle" and came to be widely appreciated as a tea utensil. In 1908, the eighth-generation of Koizumi created Nambu ironware in front of the Emperor Taisho, who was visiting the Tohoku region. This event was covered in newspapers throughout Japan and led to an increase of Nambu ironware popularity.
Today, all pieces produced in the Morioka and Mizusawa areas of the Iwate prefecture are called Nambu ironware.
General Production Process
The first process in the production of Nambu ironware is to draw a vague diagram of the final shape.
Next, a longitudinal section diagram of the finished product is made as a casting pattern, based on the initial diagram.
The casting pattern, which is required in order to produce the template, is today often replaced by an iron template even though it used to be a wooden casting pattern.
- 2.The template
Sand, clay and other types of grains are placed inside the actual pattern and the casting pattern is rotated to produce the iron casting pattern.
This is a very delicate step as when rotating the casting pattern the shape may collapse if shaken up.
- 3.Making the pattern
Once the template has been produced, the pattern is applied before the grit dries out. A grit is pressed to the template with a writing brush or a cloth pad.
Then, the template is dried and baked in a charcoal fire at a temperature of around 900 to 1300℃. The time required for template baking depends on the designs.
A brush or a spatula is then used to fix any items that have cracked while baking.
- 4.Making the shape
Using templates that have been pattern-pressed, the core is shaped using the same type of method as the second process of template production, and the templates are baked accordingly.
Baked grit, river grit, clay wash, etc. are mixed together and the grit necessary for the core is produced. The cavity model is placed on the potter’s wheel, then the core grit produced previously is pressed against the inside to create the form of a bowl, and the base-forming torso-shaped template and buttock-shaped template are produced.
The item is then dried and the moisture contained in the core is extracted.
- 5.Mold drying / Firing
The mold is dried, then baked in a charcoal fire at a temperature of around 800 to 1000℃.
If any cracks occur while baking, the mold is repaired using a brush or another similar tool.
The mold is complete once runners have been produced on the buttock-shaped template and lid.
- 6.Mold assembly
The torso-shaped template is placed at the bottom, and is assembled by inserting the core. Iron parts called "chaplets" are placed in two or three locations inside the core in order to prevent it from floating when melted iron will be poured in.
The buttock-shaped template is also aligned from the top.
- 7.Casting in the mold
Once the template has been assembled, it is finally time to cast in the mold. The process of melting iron and pouring it into the mold is known as "casting in the mold" or "pouring", which is related to the melted pig iron used for casting.
The process of producing cast iron is called "spouting". Cast iron is not poured into the mold directly, but rather is carried using a ladle called a toribe, with cast iron poured into the mold from that toribe.
Once the iron has cooled and hardened, the mold and the core are removed. At this stage, there is a burr (a substance that hardens after the emitted hot water has cleared), so this must be cleaned off.
Once the burr has been cleanly removed, the whole piece is polished with an implement such as a metal brush.
After that, it is almost time for baking. Iron kettles are baked at around 800 to 1000℃. The purpose of baking is to make iron kettles rust-resistant by applying an oxidation film.
- 9.Polishing and coloring
After firing and checking for leaks, the next stage is polishing and coloring. The kiln is heated to around 200 to 300℃ by charcoal fire, and lacquer is applied with a paintbrush.
Once lacquer has been scorched, a "tooth blackening liquid" (a combination of iron rust and tea) is painted on with a paintbrush, and the coloring process is complete.
- 10.Bail production
Bails are produced by specialist artisans.
Nambu ironware is complete when bails are attached to iron kettles.
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