Japanese Crafts: A Guide to Nambu Tekki

With over 400 years of history, Nambu Tekki ironware is Iwate Prefecture’s defining traditional craft. Made in the cities of Morioka and Oshu in the Tohoku region of Japan, water boiled in Nambu Tekki is said to become smooth and mellow, gaining it many fans across Japan and the world. In addition to the elegant traditional designs, colorful and flamboyant renditions have been gaining popularity in recent years, making for exciting interior decorations. Built to be sturdy and reliable, a piece of Nambu Tekki will last multiple generations with proper care and attention. Nambu Tekki has been designated as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The History of Nambu Tekki Ironware

*This picture is a depiction

Nambu Tekki is defined as ironware crafted in the cities of Morioka and Oshu in Iwate Prefecture. Its origins lie in the ancient art of “Morioka metal casting” and “Mizusawa metal casting.” For reference, metal casting is the act of pouring molten metal into a mold to create objects.

Morioka metal casting began in the early 17th century during the reign of second-generation lord Shigenao Nanbu in the Morioka Domain (extending from present-day central Iwate to eastern Aomori; the lords here were known as the Nanbu clan, leading many to call the area the Nanbu Domain). Since ancient times, Morioka has boasted an abundance of iron resources, making it the ideal location for metal crafting. The domain invited metalworkers from across Japan, leading to a flourishing community and industry.

In 1659, Shigenao invited the first-generation cauldron-maker Koizumi Nizaemon from Kyoto to construct kettles in the castle town. This and other efforts by the Nanbu Domain to amass metalworkers from Kyoto and Koshu (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture) led to rapid development of the craft. During the reign of 8th-generation lord Toshikatsu Nanbu, the third-generation Koizumi Nizaemon designed a compact iron kettle with a spout and handle, becoming the prototype for the Nambu Tekki iron kettles we see today. This received great praise from Toshikatsu, who sent it as a gift to the Bakufu and other domains, increasing the popularity of Nambu metal casting on a nationwide scale.

The history of Mizusawa metal casting stretches back to the closing years of the Heian Period (794 - 1185). Fujiwara no Kiyohira, founder of the Northern Fujiwara dynasty, invited metal casters from Omi Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture) to make pots, kettles, cauldrons, and other household items in the Oshu region, leading to the birth of Mizusawa metal casting. During that time, workers would mainly concentrate on making household necessities along with hoes, spades, and other farming tools. However, during the Warring States era (a period of civil war lasting the late 15th century to late 16th century), attention turned towards weapons, ammunition, and other military supplies. Once the Edo Period commenced (1603 - 1868), the scope of manufacturing expanded under the protection of the Date Domain to Buddhist temple bells, incense burners, and other items for temples and shrines.

Once the 20th century began, the Japanese lifestyle changed dramatically and iron was gradually replaced by cheap, lightweight, and easy-to-use aluminum. This led to a huge drop in demand for Mizusawa metal casting, causing a price crash and overall industry decline. These lifestyle changes, exacerbated by the hoarding of iron to fuel the Sino-Japanese War and World War II, put the final nail in the coffin for both Morioka and Mizusawa metal casting. During the late 1950s, both industries were officially unified under the title “Nambu Tekki.” In 1975, the artform was officially recognized as a traditional Japanese craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The priceless technology and knowledge was passed down the generations, matching the needs of each time period while steadily gaining a phenomenal reputation.

The Characteristics of Nambu Tekki Ironware

Nambu Tekki is known for being rust-resistant, long-lasting, and heat-retaining. One of the most famous Nambu Tekki items is the Nambu iron kettle, which is said to mellow and smooth out any water boiled in it. The traditional design boasts a dark and solemn appearance, with a dynamic surface adorned by circular bumps known as “arare.”

Nambu Tekki is made by pouring molten iron into a mold using a skill known as “casting.” There are two types of molds, a “green sand mold” made from wet sand and a coagulant which is mixed and hardened, and a “baking mold,” which is created by heating the mold at a high temperature.

The process of creating Nambu Tekki can be split into four parts: design, mold-making, casting, and coloring. To start, casters will create a mold that fits their intended design. Next, they will pour molten iron into the mold and cool it. Once the iron has hardened, the mold will be removed. Finally, the iron will be colored and the process complete!

Nambu Tekki Today

These days, alongside the traditional styles, Nambu Tekki is created in a variety of modern shapes and exciting colors fitting the needs of the contemporary market. Water boiled within a Nambu Tekki kettle is said to be of exceptional smoothness, leading to a passionate fan base across the world. Complementing the dignified and majestic black design of ancient times, an exciting assortment of fresh, cutting-edge renditions are being produced to add a splash of color and freshness to this legendary artform.

You can find both traditional and modern Nambu Tekki for purchase across a wide range of platforms. In addition to the classic kettle and teapot, other useful and charming items such as frypans, wind chimes, and more, make for fun, usable home decor. In 2018, there was a collaboration between Nambu Tekki and the smash-hit anime series “Mobile Suit Gundam,” helping to increase international awareness of Nambu Tekki ironware through popular culture.

Despite experiencing numerous setbacks, Nambu Tekki has ensured its survival by becoming a versatile, innovative craft seeking to meet the needs of modern lifestyles and tastes. Bursting with popularity, this historic artform is now beloved as a worldwide traditional treasure.

Featured Products

Iwachu Iron Kettle: Type 7 Arare Pattern (IH Compatible) Black Burning 0.9L Nambu Tekki

Source: Amazon.co.jp

Established in 1902, Iwachu boasts an extensive history in Nambu Tekki ironware products. This IH compatible iron kettle is constructed in the definitive Nambu Tekki style with an elegant “arare” pattern and high-quality make. With the right care and attention, this masterpiece will become a family heirloom to be handed down the generations.

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Gundam Cafe Limited Nambu Tekki Iron Kettle: ZAKU Mobile Suit Gundam

Source: Amazon.co.jp

A super popular Nambu Tekki iron kettle styled after the classic anime series "Mobile Suit Gundam." Modeled on a “Zaku” style robot, this incredible item is the perfect gift for fans of Japanese anime!

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MONTAGNE Nambu Tekki Color Teapot: Rounded Arare Pattern 0.6 L White

Source: Amazon.co.jp

An exquisite piece of Nambu Tekki ironware that can be used as both a kettle and a “kyusu'' traditional Japanese teapot. With contemporary coloring, this simple yet bold design will blend flawlessly with all kinds of decor. There are other colors available, so have a browse and see which one suits you best!

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▶ The Complete Guide to Traditional Japanese Crafts

▶ Traditional Japanese Crafts by Industry: Textiles, Ceramics, Dolls, Kokeshi, and More!

▶ Top 5 Japanese Knives for Chefs

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*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer's website for more information.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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