Loading... Please wait...

Popular Brands

Our Newsletter

Tanegashima's early history

Tanegashima’s geography places it at a unique intersection of currents and winds that throughout history forced sailors onto the island’s shores, bringing new peoples, culture and technologies, so it is more than likely people with the know-how needed to forge edge tools and other implements arrived there at a very early stage. 

Whether that knowledge arrived from China or from southern cultures through the Ryukyu Islands isn’t known with any certainty. Given that the northern and southern populations of the 57.5 kilometre-long island had very limited interaction in early times, actually ending up with different strains of rice, it’s thought possible that iron-making arrived from different directions at different times.

Tanegashima lies off the southern coast of the western region of Kyushu. It is widely accepted is that the forebears of Japan's modern population first inhabited Kyushu, the area of Japan closest to modern Korea and China. Sometime around 600BC these people migrated eastwards in search of more productive lands. Some chose a northward path and settled in the land of Izumo in modern Shimane prefecture (source of the ancient word 'tatara', meaning iron-making facility or area) while others followed the coast of the inland sea, displacing the aboriginal inhabitants, very likely as a result of their iron weaponry. They eventually settled in the fertile Nara Basin, in what became Yamato Province.

In any case it is more than likely people with the know-how needed to forge edge tools and other implements were present on Tanegashima at a very early stage in Japan's history.


Japan's earliest identified fish hook, discovered with
other treasures in a Yayoi Period burial mound.
Photo: Tanegashima Development Centre

No real evidence remains to support the theory that iron production arrived in Tanegashima earlier than other areas of Japan – the island’s salt air would have long rusted it all away – but there are tantalising clues. The oldest fish hook ever found in Japan was found on Tanegashima, on the coast at Hirota in the south of the island. It dates back to the Yayoi period, sometime between 300BC and 300AD.

Tanegashima was long a kind of paradise compared to other areas of Japan. The sea’s bounty was near and plentiful and the island was blessed with a great climate and soils rich in iron – farmers could grow not one but two crops of rice every year. At a time when other areas of Japan relied on human labour to produce crops at a subsistence level (which prompted the eastward migration from neighbouring Kyushu), agricultural practises on Tanegashima included the use of the animal-drawn plough and the island produced far more food calories than the population required. As a result of this abundance the island was peaceful and could support a population that wasn’t wholly engaged in food production.

At this point in its history it is fairly certain that Tanegashima’s inhabitants were familiar with sand-iron production and the making of edge tools, most likely used exclusively in agriculture.