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CAST IRON TEAPOT HISTORY

Tetsubin (鉄瓶) are Japanese cast iron pots having a pouring spout, a lid, and a handle crossing over the top, used for boiling and pouring hot water for drinking purposes, such as for making tea.  Tetsubin are traditionally heated over a charcoal fire. In the Japanese art of chanoyu, the special portable brazier for this is the binkake (瓶掛). Tetsubin are often elaborately decorated with relief designs on the outside.

They range widely in size, and many have unusual shapes, making them popular with collectors. A relatively small tetsubin may hold around 0.5 litres of water; large ones may hold around 5 litres.

Tetsubin can be found in many colors with various designs and patterns such as this red one that has symbols depicting each of the four seasons for good luck  The historical origin of the tetsubin is not certain. At least one authoritative Japanese source states that it developed from the spouted and handled water kettle called tedorigama that was already being used in chanoyu in the era of Sen no Rikyū (1522–91). During the 19th century, infused tea became more popular and tetsubin were considered primarily status symbols rather than functional kitchen items.  There is also a kind of relatively small cast iron pot that resembles a tetsubin but is glazed with enamel on the inside in order to lend itself to making brewed tea, and is referred to as an iron kyūsu (急須) or teapot. Most often, however, ceramic is used for making kyūsu. Kyūsu often come with a tea strainer that fits inside.  The prefectures of Iwate and Yamagata are best known for producing tetsubin as well as iron kyūsu.

It is not clear when the first tetsubin pots appeared in Japan, but a hypothesis is that the popularity of the tetsubin pot grew alongside sencha, a form of leaf tea. China introduced Japan to sencha around the middle of the 17th century. Sencha was not considered as formal as matcha, the common powdered green tea at the time. Throughout the 18th century, people started drinking sencha as an informal setting for sharing a cup of tea with friends or family. As more people drank sencha, the popularity of the tetsubin grew.

The tetsubin pot is most probably not an original design, but rather shaped by other pots around at the time. The five closest relatives to the tetsubin are the tedorikama, the toyama, the mizusosogi, the dobin, and the yakkan. The yakkan is the closest relative to the tetsubin, the main difference is that the yakkan is made from copper, whereas tetsubins are traditionally made out of iron. Some people have wondered why the tetsubin was developed, when a perfectly usable vessel such as the yakkan would have worked.

Tea drinkers may have preferred the taste of water from an iron pot over the taste of water from a copper pot. Throughout the 18th century, tetsubin kettles became a standard household utensil for heating water to make tea with. As the use of these pots increased, so too did the intricacy. During the 19th century, tetsubin designs went from simple basic iron kettles, to elaborately engraved masterpieces.

 

CAST IRON TEAPOTS - HOW IT'S MADE

南部鉄器 Nambu ironware 

Ironware called Nambu Tekki epitomizes the endurance of traditional Japanese brands. This celebrated local specialty was developed during the Edo period in Nambu Domain (also known as Morioka Domain), which is now Iwate Prefecture in the Tohoku region. Nambu Tekki traces its origins back to the 17th century, maintaining its traditions while meeting the challenges of modern design. It now includes contemporary color variations and new styles adapted to use with popular IH (induction heating) systems. 

Simple design and subtle decoration give Nambu Tekki its distinctive character. Production of this traditional ironware began as a result of growing need for tea utensils, which is why it is often identified with the tetsubin (iron kettle) and kyusu (teapot).

A minute dot pattern called arare is painstakingly produced by manual labor. You can see this precision process at the factory of Iwachu, the leading manufacturer of Nambu Tekki, where sophisticated craftsmen bring expert skill and intense concentration to creation of state-of-the-art ornamentation. 

High-quality iron is the main material of Nambu Tekki. Since this ironware dissolves bivalent iron into boiled water, it helps supplement iron in the diet. It’s said that this ironware effectively removes chlorine from tap water and gives it a mellow taste. Thus, this traditional design combines high performance with unexpected practical benefits. 

The internal surface of some new Nambu Tekki designs is enamel coated because some consumers — particularly in countries outside Japan — may prefer not to use a bare iron surface. However, if you want to enjoy the essence of Nambu Tekki, uncoated ironware is recommended. There’s no need to worry about corrosion because an oxide film forms on the inner surface during the traditional finishing process of kamayaki-shiage (kiln firing), helping to prevent rusting. 

Nambu Tekki ironware reflects traditions forged by master artisans, yet fitted to modern living. May it serve you well.

Production process of Iwachu teapots:

  1. The mould is prepared and the inner mould is put in position
  2. 1500 cc of liquid iron is poured into the mould
  3. The inner and outer moulds are broken to release the teapot
  4. Any raw edges are smoothed using a sander
  5. The inner surface is enamel coated
  6. The outer surface is painted
  7. Any surplus colour is eliminated and finished using a dry cloth
  8. The in-depth quality control procedure follows, after which the teapots are carefully