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  • Japanese: 鉄 (tetsu / kurogane)

In the Yamato period, the Wakabe clan maintained a monopoly on iron ore for a time; this came to an end in or around the reign of Emperor Kôtoku (645-654), after which all iron ore had to be turned over to the Imperial Court.

In the Heian period, iron produced in Japan was produced chiefly from sands, rather than ore, in a process called tatarabuki iron production. This took place chiefly in Bizen province.[1]

Ironworking is believed to have been first introduced into the Amami Islands around the year 500, and to have spread to the other Ryûkyû Islands from there.[2]

In the Edo period, the shogunate established a za guild in 1780, at the direction of Tanuma Okitsugu, which would have a monopoly on the sale and distribution of iron. Its offices were attached to those of the Osaka ginza (Silver Monopoly), which then collected all iron pig mined in the archipelago, to be resold out into the realm. Established alongside a similar brass monopoly, both were quite short-lived, being abolished in 1787 by Matsudaira Sadanobu.[3]


  1. Gallery labels, Jidai wo tsukutta waza 時代を作った技 exhibition, National Museum of Japanese History, July 2013.
  2. Richard Pearson, Ancient Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2013), 148.
  3. John Whitney Hall, Tanuma Okitsugu (1719-1788): Forerunner of Modern Japan, Harvard University Press (1955), 77.