Nanbu Tekki – Iwate’s Iconic Japanese Tea Pots


2024.04.16

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

Nanbu Tekki – Iwate’s Iconic Japanese Tea Pots

Nanbu Tekki, renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship, is a traditional form of cast ironware originating from Iwate Prefecture in the north of Japan. Nanbu Tekki holds a special place in Japanese culture, especially its iconic teapots which, adorned with intricate designs, are a common sight across the country. The city of Morioka serves as the epicenter of their production - if you're looking to purchase or learn more about these timeless pieces it is the ideal destination to visit, offering a plethora of studios and shops dedicated to the craft.

  • 01

    The History of Morioka’s Nanbu Tekki

    When Morioka Castle was built at the beginning of the 17th century, the lord of the Nanbu samurai clan that ruled the area summoned cast iron artisans from central Japan to set up workshops there under his patronage. This northern region of Japan had all the materials essential for cast ironwork – abundant iron sand, clay, charcoal, and lacquer. The industry flourished, with artisans producing temple bells, cannons, and iron kettles.

    When the feudal era ended and the Nanbu clan fell from power in 1873, the workshops lost their patrons, and initially struggled to find a way to continue. The artisans then opened workshops serving the general-public, making tea kettles, cooking pots, and other implements. The descendants of many of these artisans continue to work in Morioka today, selling their wares to customers and businesses both domestically and internationally.

    IWACHU in Morioka has a vast selection of Nanbu Tekki ware available to purchase

    IWACHU in Morioka has a vast selection of Nanbu Tekki ware available to purchase

    Many of the family-run Nanbu Tekki workshops also have small shops attached where you can see their pieces up close, like this one here at Kamasada

    Many of the family-run Nanbu Tekki workshops also have small shops attached where you can see their pieces up close, like this one here at Kamasada

  • 02

    Crafting a Tea Kettle: An Artful Journey

    The journey of crafting a tea kettle begins with the meticulous design and crafting of the exterior mold. Artisans mix clay and sand, carefully packing this blend into a wooden frame until it's perfectly smooth. While the clay is still pliable, intricate designs are etched onto its surface to adorn the kettle's exterior. A popular motif known as "arare," resembling hailstones, often dots the surface, adding a touch of elegance.

    This adorned clay mold is then subjected to the intense heat of a kiln, hardening it into its final form. Following this, an inner mold, composed of the same clay and sand mixture, is nestled within the outer mold. The two halves are securely joined, and molten iron, heated to a fiery 1500 degrees Celsius, is poured into the cavity between them. After the iron cools and solidifies, the outer mold is carefully removed for future use, while the inner mold is shattered and removed, its purpose fulfilled.

    Many of the Nanbu Tekki artisans in Morioka continue to make their pieces entirely by hand, like Shigeo Suzuki here of the Suzuki Morihisa Studio. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    Many of the Nanbu Tekki artisans in Morioka continue to make their pieces entirely by hand, like Shigeo Suzuki here of the Suzuki Morihisa Studio. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    Molten iron being cast into a mold at the Kamasada Workshop. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    Molten iron being cast into a mold at the Kamasada Workshop. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    Shotaro Miya, the head artisan at Kamasada, removes the external mold after the molten iron has solidified. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    Shotaro Miya, the head artisan at Kamasada, removes the external mold after the molten iron has solidified. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    A tea kettle reheated to around 900 degrees as part of the anti-rust treatment. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    A tea kettle reheated to around 900 degrees as part of the anti-rust treatment. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    The lids of the tea kettles are crafted with the same precision and care. Next, the kettles undergo a second heating in a charcoal-filled furnace, this time at approximately 800 degrees Celsius. This crucial step oxidizes the iron, forming a protective layer that wards off rust.

    To further ensure their longevity and aesthetic appeal, some kettles are finished with a layer of lacquer. This not only enhances their resistance to rust but also allows for the addition of color, marrying functionality with beauty in each meticulously crafted piece.

  • 03

    Unbroken Family Lineages

    Many of the Nanbu Tekki workshops in operation in Morioka today are family-run and have been in business for multiple generations. The Suzuki family of the Suzuki Morihisa Studio originally came to Morioka from Koshu (present day Yamanashi Prefecture) when summoned by the samurai lord Nanbu Nobunao in the early 1600s to serve as his official cast iron artisans. Their techniques of producing cast ironware have been passed down in their family line for nearly 400 years. Shigeo Suzuki, the current head artisan, holds the title of 16th generation Morihisa. His great-grandfather, the 13th generation Morihisa, was designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government in 1974.

    Shigeo Suzuki, the 16th generation craftsman of the Suzuki Morihisa studio at work. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    Shigeo Suzuki, the 16th generation craftsman of the Suzuki Morihisa studio at work. Please note visitors to the shop cannot enter the space where the craftsmen are at work

    Shiiko Suzuki, the now-retired 15th generation head of the Suzuki Morihisa studio with one of her original pieces

    Shiiko Suzuki, the now-retired 15th generation head of the Suzuki Morihisa studio with one of her original pieces

    The Suzuki Morihisa Studio makes a range of cast-iron pots thinner than other workshops, giving them a more delicate appearance and making them lighter and easier to carry. They also often apply a brown lacquer coating, giving the tea kettles a striking appearance in contrast to the more common black ones.

    Pieces from the Suzuki Morihisa workshop often have a brown lacquer coating, giving the tea kettles a slightly different appearance to the more common black ones

    Pieces from the Suzuki Morihisa workshop often have a brown lacquer coating, giving the tea kettles a slightly different appearance to the more common black ones

    Inside the Suzuki Morihisa shop

    Inside the Suzuki Morihisa shop

  • 04

    Young Artisans Continue to Innovate

    Kanakeno, a new Nanbu Tekki studio in Morioka, opened a facility in 2023 called Sunaba, where they sell a variety of cast iron tea pots as well as other locally made craft items. Their workshop is adjacent to the shop, allowing visitors to watch the Nanbu Tekki artisans at work through a window. They also offer consultation services on the upkeep and repair of cast ironware.

    In addition to Sunaba, Kanakeno also runs a café called Engawa, opened in 2019, where coffee and tea prepared in cast iron tea pots is served with a variety of handmade desserts. It also serves as a gallery for the three standard tea pot designs they produce. The most popular, and lowest priced among these is called the akai ringo, or red apple. The modern design is reminiscent of an apple in shape, and the little handle on top of the lid is shaped like an apple stem.

    The three signature teapots produced by Sunaba

    The three signature teapots produced by Sunaba

  • 05

    Cast Iron Improves Taste and Provides Health Benefits

    The Engawa cafe aims to promote awareness of the benefits of cast ironware in daily life. They serve guests hot water boiled in a Kaneko tea pot. While you may not be excited at receiving warm water, it really allows you to taste the difference in flavor and texture that cast iron creates. In addition to adding traces of iron to the water, which is helpful if you need more iron in your diet, the process removes the chlorine from tap water, returning it to the pure spring water that Iwate Prefecture is known for. This of course improves the flavor of coffee and tea, though it can be easier to miss the difference the cast iron makes.

    Engawa Café owner Katsutoshi Saito outside his café in Morioka

    Engawa Café owner Katsutoshi Saito outside his café in Morioka

    Katsutoshi Saito preparing coffee at Engawa Café using his original Nanbu Tekki teapot

    Katsutoshi Saito preparing coffee at Engawa Café using his original Nanbu Tekki teapot

    Engawa Café serves a selection of teas, coffees and homemade sweets

    Engawa Café serves a selection of teas, coffees and homemade sweets

    The interior of Engawa Café

    The interior of Engawa Café

  • 06

    Past Challenges and Dreams for the Future

    Kamasada is another traditional Nanbu Tekki workshop located a short walk from both the Suzuki Morihisa Studio and Engawa Cafe. Shotaro Miya, the head artisan leads a small team making frying pans, candle holders, bottle openers, and of course tea pots. His family-owned workshop has been in the same place since 1908 but was repossessed by the government in the late 1930s when all iron-related businesses were taken over for military use during the WW2. Their entire facility was dismantled for raw materials by the government, though they were able to rebuild on the same plot of land in 1954 and resume operations.

    Shotaro Miya of Kamasada with an early piece of his Nanbu Tekki work

    Shotaro Miya of Kamasada with an early piece of his Nanbu Tekki work

    Inside the Kamasada shop

    Inside the Kamasada shop

    Miya returned to his hometown of Morioka just over a decade ago to begin working in the workshop with his father, stating the fact he loved the tea pot designs his father and grandfather had made and that he didn’t want the family history traditions to end.

    Now 10 years after he started his apprenticeship, he has taken the reins of the business. Rather than just resting on the family’s laurels, he said he is always striving to find new tools that can be improved by cast iron. He would like to expand the scope of items made at his workshop.

    Examples of other pieces of Nanbu Tekki for sale at Kamasada

    Examples of other pieces of Nanbu Tekki for sale at Kamasada

  • 07

    Interested in Bringing a Nanbu Tekki Tea Pot Home?

    Due to their popularity, buying a Nanbu Tekki tea pot from many of the small workshops in Morioka often involves a wait of 6 to 18 months. If you’re just visiting Japan, your purchase can of course be shipped to your home country when completed. Some places do however keep stock of already completed pieces in-store meaning you can walk in and purchase there and then.

    Though expensive, these hand-made tea kettles last for generations and are very much pieces of art as well as practical tools. Even if you don’t plan on purchasing, the workshops are like art galleries and worth visiting just to browse!

    IWACHU, one of the bigger Nanbu Tekki Workshops in Morioka produces tea kettles in larger numbers at lower prices. If you’d like to take something back with you right away, visit their large showroom where you’ll find frying pans, woks, and other cookware in addition to the iconic tea pots.

    IWACHU in Morioka has a vast selection of Nanbu Tekki ware available to purchase

    IWACHU in Morioka has a vast selection of Nanbu Tekki ware available to purchase

    IWACHU in Morioka has a vast selection of Nanbu Tekki ware available to purchase

    IWACHU in Morioka has a vast selection of Nanbu Tekki ware available to purchase

    Below is a list of recommended workshops, ateliers and stores in Morioka where you can experience, look at and purchase genuine Nanbu Tekki ware:

    Kamasada
    2-5 Konyacho, Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture
    https://www.designshop-jp.com/kamasada

    Kamasada
    place
    Iwate Pref. Moriokashi Konyachou 2-5
    phone
    0196223911
    opening-hour
    9:00-17:30
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    Suzuki Morihisa Studio
    1-6 Minamidori, Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture
    http://www.suzukimorihisa.com/english/

    Suzuki Morihisa Studio
    rating

    5.0

    1 Reviews
    place
    Iwate Morioka-shi Minamiodori 1-6-7
    phone
    0196223809
    opening-hour
    [Monday-Friday]9:00-17:00[Sa…
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    Engawa Café
    1-5 Nakanohashidori, Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture
    https://kanakeno.com/

    お茶とてつびん エンガワ
    place
    岩手県盛岡市中ノ橋通1-5-2 1F
    phone
    0196561089
    View Allarrow
    no image

    Shop & Gallery Sunaba
    25-11 Araya, Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture
    https://kanakeno.com/

    IWACHU Casting Works
    2-23-9 Minamisenboku, Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture
    https://iwachu.co.jp/

    Iwai Sales
    place
    Iwate Pref. Moriokashi Minamisemboku 2-chome 23-9
    phone
    0196352501
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    Hotel Route Inn Moriokaminami Inter

    14-167 Tsushida Morioka Iwate

    Agoda
    • Hotel Route Inn Moriokaminami Inter
    • Hotel Route Inn Moriokaminami Inter
    • Hotel Route Inn Moriokaminami Inter
    • Hotel Route Inn Moriokaminami Inter
    • Hotel Route Inn Moriokaminami Inter

    Morioka Handcrafts Village
    64-102 Orino, Tsunagi, Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture
    https://tezukurimura.com/

    Morioka Handi-Works Square
    rating

    4.0

    95 Reviews
    place
    Iwate Pref. Moriokashi Tsunagi Oirino 64-102
    phone
    0196892201
    opening-hour
    8:40-17:00
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    Written by Quinlan Faris

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