Photojournalism, Portrait

Nanbu Tekki (Iron Kettle) artisans

My book on traditional crafts in Japan – Handmade in Japan, published by Gestalten, will be out in September this year (hopefully – this covid thing is keeping everyone on their toes), so I thought I would share some of the crafts that I had photographed but for one reason or the other could not be included in the book. Originally the book was slated to run at under 300 pages but we ended up extending it to 340 pages and there still wasn’t enough space for all of the awesome crafts in Japan.

Nanbu Tekki is the kettle you want. It is a solid cast iron piece that – according to tea experts from China to London – apparently makes the water boiled inside very delicious, due to an infusion of iron into the water. Nanbu Tekki is of course handmade and very time consuming, requiring clay and sand molds to be created before a specialized craftsman presses an intricate design into it. The clay mold for the spout and body are combined before it is baked dry.

Molten iron is then poured into the cast, which was delightful to photograph. The heat of the molten iron was enough in some cases to cause the casts to spontaneously catch on fire, however the young artisans in charge were clearly unfussed, handling the barrels as calmly as you or I would pour a cup of milk. After the casting the kettle is baked in charcoal, which apparently creates an iron oxide layer on the surface, which is why the kettles are resistant to rust.

These photos were taken at the Iwachu factory in Morioka city, however there are dozens of medium to small-sized workshops producing these highly coveted pieces of kitchenware. Some of the more popular bespoke places have years of orders ahead of them to fill. These tanky kettles and teapots will be in your family for generations, provided you take good care of them.