Tatara is a method of steelmaking unique to Japan, and it has a long history here in San’in. Using charcoal and iron sand, the tatara process took a full three days and nights to complete, but in the end, tatara steelmaking produces extremely high-grade steel known as tamahagane. This tamahagane, which cannot be made through modern steelmaking processes, was then used to make the swords used by the samurai.
At the Historical Museum of Iron in Unnan City, you can learn about the history of tatara, the techniques involved in the process, and what roles the iron and steel that were made through tatara played in Japanese society. In other parts of Unnan City, you can also see other remnants of tatara. Sugaya Tatara is a small community near the museum where many buildings from the peak of the steelmaking period remain, including the only building still standing in Japan where the actual tatara process was carried out. Terraced rice fields created when iron sand was dug out of the surrounding hills also are an indicator of how closely tatara steelmaking was connected to the area.