Yamagata cast iron | Traditional Japanese iron utensil


Yamagata cast iron, simple and fashionable Japan’s traditional craft, 

This article introduces Yamagata cast iron, the traditional crafts of Yamagata Prefecture, located in the northeastern part of Japan. Although Japanese people have a strong image of Yamagata as a rice-producing region, there are many distinctive traditional crafts as well, and we would like show you.

Features and Merits of Yamagata cast Iron

900 years old traditional technology, i.e., the technology to manufacture thin-walled and small products with accurate dimensions and shapes with beautifully cast skin, is excellent. By introducing modern technology, the company produces high-grade cast iron, which was developed ahead of other iron makers.

In addition to the development of modern technology, the modernization of facilities has been further advanced, and modern rationalization facilities have been introduced, which are superior to those of other crafts in other regions.

cast iron pot

The production of various types of cast iron, light alloy, and copper alloy castings, as well as machine parts castings, daily commodity castings, and craft castings, all in the same district, is a unique characteristic of this region.

Iron castings contain a large amount of carbon, which appears on the surface of the iron in the form of fine grains that blend well with oil, allowing oil to spread evenly over the surface and reducing the tendency for meat and vegetables to burn. The moderate thickness of the iron casting prevents localized overheating and scorching, unlike ordinary thin iron sheets.

Also, even when meat or vegetables are placed on it, the temperature does not drop and the heat is evenly transferred, resulting in delicious cooking. Iron is essential for modern women, so it is important not only to supply iron from food, but also to supply iron from ironware. It also helps prevent anemia.   


Yamagata cast iron have their origins in the late Heian period (794-1185), when the Former Nine Years’ War broke out in the Tohoku region. A foundryman who came to Yamagata with Minamoto no Yoriyoshi’s army discovered that the sand from the Mamigasaki River and the soil in the area were suitable for casting molds, and he stayed and started casting in this area. Later, during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, when Shiba Kaneyori built Yamagata Castle, there are records of metal fittings being made by foundries, indicating that a production area, though small, had been established since that time.

In the Edo period (1603-1867), Yoshimitsu Mogami, the lord of Yamagata Castle, reorganized the castle town for the development of commerce and industry. On the north side of the Umamigasaki River, he placed the fire town of Kaji-machi and the copper town, which were exempted from labor duties like other artisan towns, and gave them preferential treatment. The foundry craftsmen of Copper Town produced daily necessities and Buddhist statues under such soil. As visits to the three mountains of Dewa became popular nationwide, they became popular as souvenirs for worshippers, and the scale of the production area expanded.

Yamagata cast iiron

While producing daily necessities such as pots and pans and Buddhist statues, by the middle of the Edo period, the technology to produce large castings such as Buddhist statues, Buddhist bells, and lanterns had been established. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), arts and crafts such as tetsubin (iron kettles) and chanoyu (tea ceremony kettles) also began to be produced. In addition, the field of casting machinery developed dramatically as mechanization progressed nationwide from the Taisho Period onward. Copper Town became a production center where machinery and arts and crafts coexisted.

Throughout its long history, Copper Town, the Mecca of Yamagata castings, has produced many master craftsmen. Craftsmen of each period have enhanced the reputation of Yamagata cast iron with their skills backed by tradition, such as Seikichi Shoji and Kinjuro Sato for Buddhist bells in the mid-Edo period, Saisuke Onoda, a master lantern maker in the Meiji period, and Keiten Takahashi, a tea ceremony pot maker who became a living national treasure. In 1975, Yamagata’s daily life crafts, such as tea kettles, iron kettles, flower vases, and iron pots, were designated as traditional crafts by the national government.

yamagata cast iron pot
Source: reallocal.jp

Manufacturing Process

1. Mold Grinding

First, an image of what kind of product is to be made is drawn on paper, and based on this image, a “wooden form” is made from wood, resin, plaster, or other materials so that the finished product will be identical to the original. This is the basic part of the casting process. Next comes the process of “mold grinding. The upper and lower molds are made using wooden molds in a round outer frame called a “rice mold. The wooden molds are turned to harden the sand to make the molds. The sand and clay obtained in Yamagata produce a unique and delicate texture.

2. Attaching patterns and rings

The “ring-attaching” part, through which the ring for the handle is threaded, is made and embedded in the mold. Next, patterns are drawn using a spatula-like tool called an ezue. This is the process of applying hail patterns and other designs that appear on the surface to the mold.

3. Core making, mold firing, and mold assembly

The mold for the inner space is called the “Nakago,” as opposed to the mold for the outer space, which is the mold for the inner part. When making a hollow object such as an iron kettle, the core is made of sand, dried naturally, and baked to harden. The core is then combined with the outer mold. The thickness of the product is determined by the clearance between the mold and the core.

manufacturing Yamagata cast iron
Source: reallocal.jp

4. Pouring

The metal is poured into the container. The metal is heated to approximately 1,300 to 1,500℃ and melted bright red, then transferred to a small pot from which it is poured into the mold at once. This is a nerve-wracking process for even the most skilled craftsman because it is necessary to pour the metal before the temperature of the metal drops, and it is also a moment that determines the quality of the castings.

5. Mold removal, sand removal, and finishing

About 10 minutes after pouring, the mold is broken with a hammer and the castings are removed. If the temperature of the castings cools too much, they will not come out of the mold cleanly, so the process must be done quickly and efficiently. After the castings have cooled sufficiently, only the parts that will be used as products are left, and the other parts are removed by katazuchi. After the sand remaining inside and on the surface has been sufficiently removed, the fine parts are shaped with several types of sandpaper.

6. Coloring

This is the finishing process. Using a special brush, lacquer is applied to the surface while burning it with fire. The lacquer is carefully applied over and over again to avoid unevenness. This process protects the surface. After that, products to be colored are carefully coated with oha-guro or tea juice to complete the coloring process.

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