— A Historical Heritages ‘Yahata” as a Landmark of Japan’s Industrial Development-
♣ Outline of Yahata Steel Works
It is said that one of the industrial development strategies after the Meiji restoration in 19c was the building up strong steel industry in Japan among others. The landmark policy was the establishment of the government-run “Yawata Steel Works” (“Imperial Steel Works”) in 1901. After that Japan’s steelmaking industry has made remarkable progress much owing to the success of Yawata Steel. This contribution was widely recognized in the world, and the sites of the former Yawata Steel were designated as a UNESCO’s “World Industrial Heritage” in 2015.
So I have visited these sites to try to find history of Yahata Steel there. This small report was made to describe the impression at that time.
Ω Note: Unfortunately, the “first blast furnace” didn’t name as “world heritage” because it changed the appearance by the numerous refurbishments since its inception.
♣ Yahata Steel past time and present
<Initial Period; Why Steel Works>
It is a common view that the Japanese modern iron-making industry was born in 1901 when government “Imperial Steel Works” has built a blast furnace in the Yawata district in northern Kyushu, and the time started full-scale steel production, beside the similar “Kamaishi Steel Works” was previously completed in northern Japan.
The main motive of this movement was a large steel demand which had been occurred in the middle of the Meiji era. This was caused the earnest industrial promotion policy “Shokusan-Kogyou” (fostering industry) by the government, like promotion of construction of railway, harbor and ship building. So the movements were required huge amount of steel production. However, the process has been never easy, and the operation of the steel production had to face severe troubles and difficulties many times.
<Technology Development of Steel Making>
In the construction, the Germany technology was initially adopted, but the way of works was not necessarily match to the real conditions of Japan. So immediate after the completion, a number of troubles occurred and the operation was sometimes forced to stop.
But it was the Noro Nagayoshi, a former advisor of the Kamaishi Steel Works, who has successfully overcome this difficulty by improving coke handling method and the change of the internal structure of the blast furnace. Under his leadership, Yawata Steel Works could eventually begin to yield enough pig iron in successful manner. It might be based on the tireless efforts and strong determination to build industrial foundation at all cost. Under this condition Yahata has proactively pursued its own way by absorbing foreign technologies, but at same time tried to explore the way to modify them by its hand to fit to the Japanese conditions.
<Importance of Yahata in History>
It was really painful experience and result of the laborious efforts of development. It could be said that the foundations of the Japanese industrial development was made by this experience. So that is the reason why the former headquarters of the Yawata Steel Works, the iron forging shop used for its construction, the repair shops, have been designated as ‘World Industrial Heritage’ as a historically important remains.
In addition, as a result of successful construction of this steelworks plant, many manufacturing companies have become to concentrate in “Yahata village”, which was formally a small fishing village. Then, the around Yahata and Kokura area has been transformed to the huge heavy industrial sites in the beginning of 20 century Japan. Among them the “Higashida No.1 Blast Furnace” was functioned as the core facility of this Yawata Works. The furnace has changed the shape several times but continued to operate until the year of 1971. And this plant significantly supported the industrial recovery just after the War in 1940s and 50s too by producing necessary strategic steel wares.
< Yahata Steel Afterwards and a New Transformation >
However, as a result of the intensified international competition in the steel industry in 1970s, even this Yawata Works has required to transfer the main facilities to other area, such as Wakamatu (Kokura), Kimitsu (Chiba), and others. At the same time, the Yahata Works in Higashida site was inevitably closed. As a result its vast site was redeveloped, and then the area was reborn as a newly industrial and cultural promotion area.
The turning point of the new development was the “Kitakyushu Expo” in 2001 that celebrated the 100 year memorial event after the establishment of the steelworks. This event purposed to convey the future image of science and technology at the location, and “Higashida No.1 Blast Furnace” site was highlighted as a symbol monument.
Also, the amusement park “Space World” was set up in one corner of this site, and many commercial and cultural facilities were constructed around the area afterward. For example, Kitakyushu Innovation Gallery, Municipal Life Museum, Environment Museum, commercial facilities, hotel and others. And now the area has been transfigured to lively and brisk commercial and cultural township.
<Yahata Steel as a Historical Site>
The blast furnace itself became a “historical site” after its abolition and it designated as a heritage site park where many visitors were visiting. There visitors can observe the outer appearance of the blast furnace, and many monuments and exhibits related Yahata Steel were observable, like converter furnaces, pig iron transport freight cars, electric locomotives and steel works, which were actually used there.
Furthermore at the top of the Higashida furnace building, visitors can see a huge signboard marking “1901”. I believe this blast furnace is really worth to be called a “Monument” symbolizing the ups and downs of the Japanese industry and 20 century of Japan.
♣ Yawata Steel Works designated as World Industrial Heritage
The Yawata Steel Works, the former office, the repair shop, the former smithy factory, and the Onga river pumping station were registered as “industrial heritage”. However, unfortunately many of these facilities are restricted to approach near the sites. Then we should stay out and observe them with keeping some distance from the real sites.
<First Head Office of Yawata Steel Works>
This facility is a historical building built in 1899 ahead of the establishment of the Yawata Works. It is said this building is the typical British architecture representing typical Western building style in the Meiji ear. This is the place where the major strategic discussions and technical examination had been carried out in order to establish a first full-scale steelworks plant in Japan. The Unesco has appreciated that function which had led the dawn period of Japanese steelmaking industry through the policy making.
<Former Forge Shop of Yahata Steel Works>
“The old “Forge Shop” factory is a site which built for the processing and assembling construction materials a head of starting operation of Yahata in 1900. This factory building is still remained as it was. The major forgings materials for the steelworks were made here, and German technology was used to the construction of the steelworks. It is said that the design of factory was adopted the technology of the Gutenhof Nünscheut Co., Germany. Now the factory site became a historic remains of old steelwork. The inside of building many documents and memorial goods were said to be stored, like design documents, drawings, photographs, portraits, rails and the like during operation period.
<Repair Shop of Yahata Steel Works>
This repair shop is a factory which was also built prior to the establishment. It was used as a facility where the necessary operation for steelworks was made, like processing parts and assembling, repairing machineries, and other works. It is said that among the existing related facilities it is the oldest steel building in Japan. Even the form of the company has already changed, it still operates as a repair shop even now.
In this factory, initially German steel materials and technology were used, but they say it was gradually replaced with Japanese steel materials and proprietary technology.
<Onga River Pumping Station of Yahata Steel Works>
The Yawata Steel Works had made the major expansion of plants about three times by 1930. Among them, it was one of the oldest factory water supply station in Japan which was built in the first time in 1910. The facility was made to supply water in large scale necessary for the steel industry for the operation. There, the building of British style bricks at the time remained intact. And even now, it plays a role of feeding water to ironworks.
♣ Remarks after Visit and Report
Construction of the government-owned Yawata Steel Works may have been a launching signal fire which tells the beginning of the industrial revolution that promoted the development of heavy industries in Japan. This construction triggered various ironworks, promotion of shipbuilding industry, fast development of machine industry in various places and showed significant progress of industrial modernization in due time. The Yahata Works has greatly contributed to the economic recovery just after the war too.
However, with the prevailing globalization in recent years and the intensification of international competition over the steel industry, the Yawata Works, especially Yawata’s Higashida site, has forced to make a major change in the operation. And it was going to close the main blast furnace just after the 100 years since its foundation.
Indeed, the Yawata Steel Works was an entity that embodied the rise and fall of the Japanese industry, from the initial shaping period of modern states and industry, the building-up of modern heavy industries, to recent the transformation of industrial structures. Above the building of former Yawata Works, a huge signboard notd “1901” is placed. It looked like to indicate the first year of the century and memorial year of Japan’s industrial development.
Now, several facilities related to the Yawata Steel Works are registered in the “World Industrial Heritage”, because it was evaluated as the significance of historic sites that convey the history of the Yawata Works which was believed to set the foundation of the Japanese modern steel industry.
At the moment, many of them are unfortunately unopened facilities. But I sincerely hope that they will be renovated as public historical museum facilities in the near future thanks to the registration of “World heritage “. And at that time, I would like to visit this historic site again.
1. 「八幡鐵ものがたり」(“Steel Works Birth Story” 2015) 北九州イノベーションギャラリー
2. Japan Kyushu Tourist: http://www.japan-kyushu-tourist.com/defaultService.asp?aIdx=41719