Modern iron and steel manufacturing in Japan began in 1858 when Oshima Takato succeeded in tapping molten pig iron from iron ore at blast furnaces in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture.
Following the Meiji Restoration, the government pursued a bold policy of industrial modernization. In 1880, Japan’s first state-owned iron works was constructed in Kamaishi through the introduction of British technology. The iron works halted production in only two years and was taken over by Tanaka Chobe, a private business person. Tanaka initially attempted Oshima Takato’s small-scale charcoal blast furnace method, but could not succeed in tapping until the 49th try. With this success, a British-style furnace, which had been discarded after being inherited from the state-owned operation, was restored to working condition (using charcoal as a reducing agent). Later, Noro Kageyoshi and Komura Koroku succeeded in pig iron production with coke for the first time in Japan. However, the iron works in Kamaishi produced pig iron only, as there were no production facilities for steel and steel products.
Entering the 1890s, demand for steel for building railways and ships dramatically increased. With the Shino-Japanese War (1894–1895), momentum gathered for building a modern steel works for steel production. After considering site requirements and conditions, including easy access to coal, transportation, national security issues, availability of water and labor, relative safety from earthquakes, and thanks to proximity to the Chikuho coal field-Japan’s most productive coal deposit-and enthusiastic campaigning by local interests, the village of Yahata was selected as a steel works construction site in February 1897.
The government appointed Oshima Michitaro, son of Oshima Takato, as an engineer, and sent him to a number of Western countries to decide on which steel production technology to adopt. As he visited the various countries, he determined that Noro Kagyoshi’s plan of producing 60,000 tons of steel per year was small in scale, and proceeded to increase steel production to 90,000 tons per year. He also requested a Germany-based company, Gutehoffnungshütte (GHH), to design and construct the steel works. Under the guidance of German engineers, Japanese engineers and artisans started construction of the woks. After construction for four years, on February 5 Higashida Blast Furnace No. 1 was finally blown in. It was a milestone in the industrial history of Japan.
Iron and steel production at the blast furnace had begun, but production remained at a level that was less than half of the production target due to a series of problems, including gas leakage and disrupted water supply. As working capital ran out, the facility was forced to halt operations in July 1902.
In response to the growing demand for steel as a result of the Russo-Japanese War, the blast furnaces were fired again, only to fail. Recovery of the furnaces was entrusted to Noro Kageyoshi. Based on in-depth interviews with front-line workers, Noro analyzed possible reasons for the failure and determined the cause: structural defect of the furnaces and failure in coke production. After improvement of the furnace and timely construction of full-scale Copee coke oven, in July 1904 the blast furnace was blown in again. The improved furnace operated smoothly, bringing steel production back on track and establishing blast furnace operation technology by Japanese engineers.
The Imperial Steel works, Japan emerged as a modern integrated steel mill, contributing to the development of the local economy and related industries. Yahata was a poor village of about 1,700 residents in 1897 when the establishment of the steel works was first decided on, but its population grew to about 85,000 people over the 20 years that ensued.
With three planned expansions by 1930, the Imperial Steel works, Japan added new blast furnaces and factories, along with infrastructure such as the Kawachi Reservoir, and boosted production dramatically in the process. It spawned numerous other industries in the Kitakyushu area, and this industrial belt played a key role in the rise of modern Japan.
With this rich background, the Imperial Steel works, Japan is thus a memorable site where Japan achieved development of heavy industry as the final stage of its modernization undertaking.
* First Head Office *
First Head Office under construction (1899)
The first Head Office, total floor space 1,023 square meter, built in 1899, was the command center of the Imperial Steel works, Japan, housing the director’s and consultant engineer’s offices and other central offices. It is a two-story red brick building with a symmetrical facade, crowned by a central domed cupola. The roof is Japanese tile, while the brickwork is laid in the pattern known as English bond. The steel works designed and constructed the structure. It functioned as the head office for the steel works until 1922. Afterwards, the building was used as a steel research center, which was rare to have such as specialized institute at that time.
Nowadays, the office building is not opened for public.
* Former Forge Shop *
Former Forge Shop
The Former Forge Shop, built in 1900, was designed by the German firm Gutehoffnungshütte, which also provided the steel for construction. Equipped with a 350 ton hydraulic press-extremely large for that time-it was built to forge iron and steel equipment needed for the construction of the steel mill. It is a steel-frame structure with a ridge length of 55 meters, a span of 15 meters, and an eaves height of 7.4 meters. The factory was originally built in the north of the Repair Shop, but it was relocated to the present site in the middle of Taisho era, used as a product examination laboratory. Today it serves as the archives, preserving some 40,000 invaluable items pertaining to the founding and history of the Imperial Steel works, Japan, including documents, glass-plate photos and other photographic images, and entrance signs, as well as steel rails and other products.
It is not opened for public.
* Repair Shop *
As with the Former Forge Shop, the Repair Shop was designed and constructed in 1900 by the German firm Gutehoffnungshütte which also provided the steel for construction. It was a major facility at the Imperial Steel works, Japan, and was used for repairing machines and for processing and assembling materials.
The building was steel framed and was 50 meters long, 30 meters wide and 11.5 meters high. It was expanded by 20 meters in length in 1905 and again in 1908, and by another 50 meters in 1917 resulting in the current length of the structure of 140 meters. As expanded, the design and materials of the building were adapted from Germany to Japan and it is the essential steel frame structure that represents the development process of Japan’s iron and steel making technology. It is also the oldest existing steel frame structure in Japan, and still in operation as a repair factory today. The site is not open to public.
* Onga River Pumping Station *
Onga River Pumping Station
The Onga River Pumping Station was built on the east bank of the Onga River in 1910 when the Imperial Steel works, Japan was in the process of its first expansion. The pumping station was used as a water resource and water-delivery facility for steel production at the Imperial Steel works, Japan. The building was mainly made of red brick in the English laying style and partially slag brick. As the north and south windows had different shapes, the pumping station was considered a well-designed structure with pillars and windows arranged beautifully and with an interior akin to a church. The steel frame roof structure with steel frames still retains the same design features as when it was built.
The pumping station is 38 meters long, 22.5 meters wide and 7.4 meters high. Initially, there was company housing, coal storage and chimneys surrounding the pumping station but today only the structure connecting the boiler room and the pumping room, and the settling basin still exist. The original steam pumps and boilers installed when it started operation were imported from the UK, but replaced with electric pumps in the 1950s. The pumping station still today supplies 30% of the industrial water needed for steel production at the Yawata Steel Works. The site is not open to public.
<Photo> Yawata Works, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation
* There are other related properties.