JAPANESE  ENGLISH

PEOPLE

2015.11.09
Vol.3
From Kamaishi to Yawata: The Proud Heritage of Japan's Modern Iron Industry

Mayor of Kamaishi City

Mr.Takenori Noda
Mr.Takenori Noda

From Kamaishi to Yawata

 Everyone knows now that Japan’s modern iron and steel industry originated in Kamaishi, but until we celebrated the 150th anniversary of this momentous achievement with a commemorative event on December 1, 2007, it was thought that the first successful attempt at Western-style ironmaking was achieved at the Yawata Steel Works. Because of this, similar commemorative events, such as the celebration of the centennial of Japan’s modern iron and steel industry, were generally focused on the Yawata Steel Works. But our 150th anniversary celebration generated the phrase, “From Kamaishi to Yawata,” which quickly took hold and made people realize that Kamaishi was the actual birthplace of modern ironmaking in Japan. On December 1, 2008, another commemorative event was held at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo attended by Prime Minister Aso. When he got up to speak, he noted that he, too, had long thought Yawata was the birthplace of Japan’s modern iron and steel industry. It wasn’t until he did some research that he learned it was actually Kamaishi. Once again, I was inexpressibly moved to hear that phrase, “From Kamaishi to Yawata.” At long last, Kamaishi’s important role in Japanese history was being acknowledged.

 As you can see, the 150th anniversary was an especially memorable year for us. If we had limited ourselves to working through conventional avenues, the move for inscription on the World Heritage List may never have accelerated at this point the way it did. Kamaishi is a poor, little town. We didn’t have the wherewithal to explain why a facility deep in the mountains had so much significance. The 150th anniversary event helped us to convey that message and win the recognition we deserved. Scholars were already well aware, but this was the first time the general public recognized Kamaishi’s historical importance. From that moment, we found ourselves interacting actively with the Yawata Steel Works and we even held a “From Kamaishi to Yawata” exhibit. All of this strengthened our resolve to get Kamaishi inscribed as a World Heritage site.

Tearing Down Walls and Bringing the Furnace Flames to the Town

 The furnace flames of the current iron and steel works were moved to a location in front of the Kamaishi railway station in 2007, the same year of the 150th anniversary celebrations. This was an act of special historical significance for Kamaishi. The blast furnaces had once belonged to the government but were later sold off to Tanaka Ironworks, a predecessor of the Nippon Steel Corporation. The director of the operation, Mr. Kyutaro Yokoyama, and a local engineer named Matasuke Takahashi, are said to have struggled mightily to make the furnaces work. They failed 48 times and finally succeeded on the 49th try. This kind of untiring effort pulsates throughout the history of the Kamaishi ironworks.

 The ironworks used to be separated from the rest of the town by a large, forbidding wall. But when we held the 150th anniversary event, the wall was torn down and the flames from the furnace inside were brought into the town for the first time ever. We were able to do this because the ironworks no longer belonged to a private company but to us, the town of Kamaishi. Whether intentional or not, the tearing down of the great wall was also a removal of a psychological barrier between the ironworks and the local people. And bringing the furnace flames to the plaza in front of the Kamaishi railway station where they can be viewed at any time also helped to impress upon everyone the important role of the ironworks in our local history. This was another important factor that spurred us to achieve our goal of World Heritage Site listing.

My Thoughts for Tagawa

 When it was first suggested that we might join the Consortium, we hesitated. After all, Kamaishi is very far away from Kyushu and Yamaguchi Prefecture. Around that time, the heritage site components were being reviewed and it was decided to remove the Tagawa coal mines from consideration. There were, of course, other places that were also dropped, but I felt especially sorry for the mayor of Tagawa City because it looked like Tagawa had been removed to make way for Kamaishi. Fortunately, thanks to Ms. Koko Kato, the Sakubei Yamamoto Collection of paintings of the Tagawa coal mines was included in the Memory of the World Register at just about the same time. This was a real stroke of genius on her part. The mines themselves might not be included in the World Heritage List, but Sakubei’s paintings of the mines were worthy of making the Memory of the World Register. Her achievement in this regard was truly impressive and reinforced the respect I already had for her. This incident committed us to following her lead. I have great expectations for where she may take us next.

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