The Holy Ground of TATARA Ironmaking

Sugaya Tatara Sannai Ironmaking Village

Sannai is an ironmaking village with a complex of ironmaking facilities and residential buildings for employees. The features of this characteristic conglomerate settlement still remain in Sugaya Tatara Sannai in Yoshida Town, Unnan City, that resulted in the village being designated as an Important Tangible Folk Cultural Property in 1967. Sugaya Tatara operated for 130 years until 1921, and was the frontline of ironmaking for the Tanabe family. Furthermore, the remains of iron-sand screening sites, accompanied by sluices and watercourses, also remain close to the settlement, allowing one to visit and observe the entire process of the industrial heritage that dates back to the early modern period.

The architectural heritages of Sugaya Tatara Sannai



The workshop building where a furnace is equipped is called Takadono. It is square in shape, measuring 18 m × 18 m, and has the furnace installed in its middle. Bellows are present on each side of the furnace, with storage spaces called Kogane-machi for iron-sand and Sumi-machi for charcoal. In addition, Muraghe’s break space, called Muraghe-za, is found inside the building. This is a significant, symbolic piece of architecture in the Tatara culture. It is now the only surviving Takadono in Japan that remains in the original state.

Motogoya is an administration office to manage the whole village. The building also had another function, such as a workshop called Kanetsukuriba for crushing Kera and sorting pieces into different ranks, while the building served as a residence for the first general manager who was appointed by the Tanabe family.


Komegura is a storage building for keeping rice that was paid as wages to the employees of Sannai.
Photograph of Komegura


Nagaya means a terraced house. This building has three households joined in a row. The westernmost residence is called Niban Yashiki (second mansion) and is occupied by the second manager and his family, the middle one is called Muraghe Yashiki (the Muraghe’s mansion) for Muraghe and his family, and Sanban Yashiki (the third mansion) is occupied by the third manager and his family.

‘Princess Mononoke,’ ‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’ and Sugaya Tatara Sannai

Sugaya Tatara Sannai is known as a model for an ironmaking village that is illustrated as a key factor to the story in a Japanese-animated epic fantasy film ‘Princess Mononoke’ written and directed by MIYAZAKI Hayao, animated by Studio Ghibli.
On the other hand, principal workers, such as swordsmiths, charcoal makers, and Tamahagane, which are all significant to Tatara ironworks, are illustrated in the Japanese-animated epic fantasy film ‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’ by GOTOUGE Koyoharu.
If you have a chance to watch these films, your enjoyment of the Sugaya Tatara Sannai site and its surrounding landscape will be further enhanced by recalling the scenes from the movies and animations.

‘Princess Mononoke’ © Studio Ghibli

Yoshida Town and the Tanabe Family, the Tesshi

The town of Yoshida in Unnan City is surrounded by mountains. It was developed as the home ground of the Tanabe family, the most powerful business family in the Tatara industry. The business owners in this region’s ironmaking industry were called Tesshi, meaning ‘iron-makers.’ They used to own and run several ironmaking sites around the town. Blacksmith workshops for Oh-kaji were located close to their residential property, which allowed them to practice integrated business operations. Tanabe family had long been appointed as a chief Tesshi by Matsue Domain during the Edo period that allowed them to receive recognition as one of the top Tatara entrepreneurs. With the advent of the Meiji period, more productive western-style ironmaking methods and the importation of cheaper raw iron had begun. Thus, the Tatara industry gradually declined and their Tatara business was finally closed in 1923.


Storages of Tanabe Family

There are 20 storage buildings with white plastered walls belonging to the Tanabe family; these are aligned in the center of Yoshida Town. They dominate the townscape and are representative of the wealth of the Tanabe family and the town’s past prosperity. They are now a symbol of Yoshida Town, and only their exterior is available for viewing.

The Historical Museum of Iron

The Historical Museum of Iron is the main museum of Tatara culture in Unnan City. It was a historical building, and prior to its conversion, was a physician’s residence. The museum exhibits the history of Tatara ironworks and its method, along with various tools used for ironmaking. You can also enjoy documentary film ‘Wakou Fudoki’ at the museum. Filmed in 1969, it is an extremely rare visual source capturing the actual Tatara-ironmaking process, and the arts and expertise of surviving Muraghes at a time when the memory of Tatara was about to fade.

The Undying Flame of TATARA- Modern TATARA Operation

The method of Tatara has now been restored with the aid of contemporary technology. The modern Tatara is operated several times a year at an interactive workshop, Unnan Wakou Production and Exploring Tatara Experience in Yoshida Town, which aims at passing down the expertise to the future generations.


Innovations in New Wakou Iron Products

Tanabe Corporation, run by the current head of the Tanabe family (TANABE Chouemon XXV), aims to create new iron products designed with a touch of innovations from Wakou, meaning Japanese iron, that is produced by the modern Tatara practice. The products include Japanese style kitchen knives, knives, iron teapots, and more. These items can be purchased at their shop Tessen-do.



Mini TATARA Experience
Regional Development Agency Foundation for Historical Village of Iron, a pioneer in historical research and interpretations of Tatara culture, offers a mini Tatara experience. It is one day program in which one can casually enjoy the Tatara ironmaking process.
Paper Knife Making
Regional Development Agency Foundation for Historical Village of Iron also offers a one-hour program in which anyone can learn to forge a paper knife (a letter-opener) using an iron nail at their blacksmith workshop.

Sight Seeing in Yoshida Town

Yoshida Town has three characteristic zones (about a 3 hour excursion);

  1. Honmachi St. zone features historical buildings such as the Tanabe family’s storage buildings and the Historical Museum of Iron.
  2. Sugaya Tatara Sannai and its surrounding landscape
  3. Open-air museum zone where Unnan Wakou Production and Exploring Tatara Experience and blacksmith workshop are located