Discovering Japanese Cast Iron Kettles - Characteristics and Production Areas of Tetsubin

There are many different types of tetsubin in Japan. Today, tetsubin are not only produced in Iwate Prefecture (Nambu Ironware), where we are located. Tetsubin are also produced in Yamagata Prefecture, also in the Tohoku region, and, although in smaller quantities, are also made in Kyoto, Tochigi, Toyama, and other areas throughout Japan. 

We would like to introduce the history and characteristics of these major tetsubin production areas in Japan.

Nambu Tetsubin - Nambu Ironware (Tekki) Iwate Pref.


History of Nambu Ironware

Nambu ironware is a traditional craft produced in the central part of Iwate Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan, near Morioka City and Oshu City in the southern part of the prefecture.

Nambu ironware has two distinct roots. Morioka City's ironware dates back to the early 17th century, when the feudal lord of the Nanbu family, who ruled the region at the time, invited a craftsman from Kyoto to make kettles for the tea ceremony. In contrast, the history of ironware in Oshu City dates back to the early 12th century, when Fujiwara no Kiyohira (藤原 清衡, 1056 – 1128), the ruler of the area, invited ironware craftsmen from Shiga Prefecture to make not only daily necessities such as pots and kettles, but also ornaments and Buddhist ritual objects related to Chuson-ji Temple, which is a World Heritage site.

The Nanbu tetsubin took its present form around 1750, when sencha green tea began to spread to the general public as an easy-to-use kettle for boiling water. A spout and handle were added to the traditional tea ceremony kettle to make it smaller in size. The tetsubin has become well-known not only in Japan but also internationally as an iron kettle that mellows the water and makes tea tasty.

Characteristics of Nanbu Tetsubin

Nambu tetsubin is an iron kettle with a stately, rustic atmosphere. Generally, the lid and pick are made of iron, and the typical Arare pattern (concave convex dots pattern) has become synonymous with Japanese tetsubin. The surface of the tetsubin is coated with Japanese lacquer, which provides an anti-rust effect and allows the user to enjoy the deep color of the iron skin. In recent years, stylish shapes and colorful colors that match modern lifestyles have also become popular.

Yamagata Tetsubin - Yamagata Metal Casting - Yamagata Pref.

History of Yamagata Metal Casting

In the mid-11th century, Minamoto no Yoriyoshi (源 頼義, 988 - 1075), a warlord with roots in the Kansai region, was engaged in a series of battles in Yamagata in order to pacify the powerful clans in the Tohoku region that did not follow the instructions of the Imperial Court. It is said that the Yamagata Metal Casting Industry began when a craftsman who served in the war accidentally discovered that the sand in the river (Umamigasaki River) running through Yamagata City was ideal for casting, and settled there. In the olden days, they produced daily necessities and Buddhist altar utensils, but after the Meiji era (late 19th century), arts and crafts such as iron kettles and tea kettles began to be produced as well.

Characteristics of Yamagata Tetsubin

Yamagata tetsubin is attractive for its thin, delicate design and precise dimensions, probably because it originated from a foundry that was originally involved in the production of armors, for which light weight was the ideal. In recent years, many industrial and modern designs have been produced.

Kyo Tetsubin - Kyoto (Kansai region)

History of Kyoto Metal Casting

In Kyoto, there has been a casting town represented by Sanjo-Kamaza since ancient times, and it is said that many metal founders had already gathered here in the 12th century. They became famous for "Kyo-gama(Kyoto style)" tea ceremony kettles, and two families, Onishi Family and Takagi Family, are still in existence in this area.

Apart from these tea ceremony kettles, Ryubundo (龍文堂) was the first to produce tetsubin in Kyoto around 1764 using a wax casting method. The second generation of Ryubundo's apprentices included master craftsmen of Omi (Shiga Prefecture) such as Kibundo (亀文堂) and Hata Zoroku (秦蔵六), who were active outside of Kyoto and are also known as Kansai tetsubin. Unfortunately, Ryubundo and Kibundo are no longer in business. Today, homage works called "Utsushi (hommage)" are still produced in the Takaoka metal casting, which are made in the same wax mold.

Characteristics of Kyo Tetsubin

Unlike Nambu tetsubin, the lid of Kyo tetsubin is made of copper. They are often made by wax casting and are characterized by their smooth texture and elaborate, three-dimensional form. The gold and silver inlays and engravings on these tetsubin give them a glamorous, Kyoto-like appearance. The inside bottom of the tetsubin has "narikane" (鳴金), pieces of iron attached with Japanese lacquer, and when water is boiled, bubbles sometimes make a sound from the bubbles.

Tenmyo Tetsubin - Tenmyo Metal Casting -  Tochigi Pref.

Tenmyo chagama 16th century
Tenmyo chagama made in 16th century, the collection of Tokyo National Museum. Ihimutefu, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

History of Tenmyo Metal Casting

It is said that the history of Tenmyo metal casting dates back to the mid-10th century when Fujiwara no Hidesato(藤原 秀郷, 891 - 958), who was sent by the Imperial Court to rule this area, invited five founders from the southern part of present-day Osaka to move to the area around Sano City and start casting weapons. From the mid-15th century, production of tea ceremony kettles began to flourish, and their simple style was favored by tea masters. It is recorded that Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522 – 1591), who brought the tea ceremony to its peak, held a tea ceremony using a Tenmyo tea ceremony kettle. The oldest existing Tenmei tea ceremony kettle is the "Gokurakuritsuji Mei Odare-gama (重要文化財 鉄 天命 極楽律寺 銘尾垂釜 1352)" in the collection of the Osaka City Museum of Art.

Characteristics of Tenmei Tetsubin

Tenmei tetsubin are characterized by their overall simplicity, which is in the tradition of Tenmei tea ceremony kettles, and by their wabi-like appearance, which expresses the rough surface of the iron.

Takaoka Tetsubin - Takaoka Metal Casting - Toyama Pref.


History of Takaoka Metal Casting

In the early 15th century, Maeda Toshinaga (前田 利長, 1562 – 1614), a feudal lord who ruled this area at the time, is said to have invited seven founders from the Kanaya area to his castle to protect the founders. Later, they began to produce not only iron castings, but also copper castings such as bells and lanterns, as well as highly decorative daily-use products such as flower vases.


Characteristics of Takaoka Tetsubin

Most Takaoka tetsubin are characterized by their exquisite, dynamic, and three-dimensional castings produced by wax casting. Inlaying and engraving with gold and silver, combined with metal work such as copper lids and silver plucking, create gorgeous decorations.


Japanese tetsubin are made in a wide range of regions throughout Japan, from the simple to the luxurious. Although some of the characteristics are listed here, of course, each studio and craftsman has a different style and design. We hope you will find a piece to your liking. Please be sure to purchase from a trusted retailer, as some major online malls sell items that are not made in Japan as "handmade in Japan."

We are Oitomi, a Nambu ironware studio established in 1848 and located in Iwate Prefecture, Japan, for eight generations. Our craftsmen deliver authentic tetsubin, from classic tetsubin to a variety of colors and shapes that match modern kitchens, directly from Japan to all over the world.

Nambu Ironware Studio Oitomi Online Shop - Direct from Japan


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