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Steel Production on Tanegashima.

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Tanegashima's iron sand. Iron particles
wash down mountain rivulets to the
beaches around the island.
(Kanehama Beach) 

Tanegashima’s lush forests and consistent rainfall guaranteed there would never be a shortage of charcoal for the tatara forges of the bladesmiths from the capital. This was crucial - it took some 13 tons of charcoal and about the same weight in iron sand to produce one ton of tama-hagane, the ‘jewel steel’ from which swords are made. This Tanegashima steel was of the highest quality – a very precious commodity - and the island could bear its continued production. 

There developed two distinct guilds of craftsmen on the island – the revered sword-makers with their connections to the Shinto religion and the samurai class, and the smiths engaged in the production of agricultural and domestic edge tools – and both were free to develop their already formidable forging and sharpening skills undisturbed over subsequent generations.

Tanegashima, long an independent centre of culture, learning and peaceful living, continued to flourish. This was manifested in the way it received the sailors regularly shipwrecked on its shores. They were traditionally treated as honoured guests and offered every assistance, even a new home. It was one way, perhaps, for the people of Tanegashima to show their appreciation for the many important ways unintended visitors had contributed to life and culture on the island.

Unusually for Japan a shipwrecked medieval sailor might find on the island of Tanegashima a speaker of any one of a number of languages, among them Chinese. That's important to note for the next part of the story.

 

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