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Updated: 6 Mar 2021

Episode 5: What is Tamahagane?

【Episode 5】What is TAMA-HAGANE?

Japanese blacksmithing has over a millennium of history.  It dates back to the 1st century A.D. when ancient blacksmiths studied template method from China. Copper pottery and rice farming techniques were also introduced to Japan at the same time.

Since then, Japanese blacksmiths had spent centuries to invent the traditional metal forging technique called TATARA(鑪).  TATARA is a clay melting pot where you put iron sand and charcoal together to bond these chemicals with intensive heat.

By using this technique, they started to make Japanese swords out of Tatara carbon-steel.

This type of carbon-steel was later called TAMA-HAGANE (玉鋼; Ball-Steel).  However, Tama-Hagane, in the early days, still had room for improvement.  The schools of Katana (Japanese swords) continued carrying out various ways to make the best steel.

In the Edo period (1603-1868 A.D.), they finally achieved the most steady mass-producing supply of Tama-Hagane.  As transport links in the Edo period were far more advanced than those of any previous eras, Tama-Hagane has rapidly spread throughout the country.  It was widely used for Shin-TO Japanese swords, since it was deemed the purest form of carbon-steel with the most stable chemical bond.  It was also a defining moment in Japanese history when most swordsmiths in Japan used virtually the same ingredient in their blacksmithing.

After the decline of the Samurai regime in the Meiji era (1868-1912 A.D.), Tatara and Tama-Hagane also vanished from Japan.  Although it had once restored its use in the World War period, there was eventually no operating Tatara factory in Japan.

The Tatara method had been extinct until the 1970s.  However, there was still no better metal material than Tama-Hagane in terms of its pureness and strength.  Even the finest of modern technology could not create the alternative to Tama-Hagane.

In the year 1972, following all the struggles by the government and metal industry to bring Tatara back to life, it was NBTHK that presented themselves in charge.

They finally restored the traditional Tatara factory in the year 1977.  Also, Tatara was selected as one of the traditional Japanese techniques that are legally worth preserving by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in Japan.

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That is the history of TAMA-HAGANE.  Did you enjoy this article?  It seems to us that it is such an honor to have the kind of steel which has a deep-rooted history behind it in our culture.  It would also be an honor if this article helped you understand Katana’s true art and history.

And if you don’t own a Japanese sword yet, we are happy to serve you at our online shop.  You are welcome to ask us anything!  We will see you in the next episode.

Samurai Museum
Address:2-25-6 Kabukicho Shinjuku-ku Tokyo Japan 160-0021
Email: order@samuraimuseum.jp
TEL:+81 3 6457 6411

 

Japanese Sword / Katana