SITES OF THE MEIJI INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION (VIII): Yawata: A State-Sponsored Vision of Industrialization

July 2015 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved the inscription of “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” on the World Heritage List. In this eighth and final article in our series introducing the sites of the inscription, we take a look at the two components listed in the “Yawata” area on the island of Kyushu.

Higashida Blast Furnace No. 1 was blown in on February 5, 1901. The furnace is not listed as World Heritage since the present structure is not the original, having been renovated ten times before it was decommissioned in 1973. Nevertheless, Higashida Blast Furnace No. 1 is symbolic of the contribution the Yawata Steel Works made to Japan’s industrialization and modernization. As such it is a Designated Cultural Property and is preserved as an educational and recreational park.

This series of articles has traced the history of Japan’s industrialization in the second half of the nineteenth century with reference to the legacy infrastructure listed by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee under the inscription “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution.” It should be noted that the sites inscribed are the locations of heavy industry and shipbuilding only, and do not include such important aspects of Japan’s Industrial Revolution as textile manufacturing, for example. Moreover, the sites are entirely connected with the technological progress made during the fifty-odd years of industrialization beginning in the 1850s and not with any social or geographical influences or impacts during this time such as the opening of universities and railway lines.

World Heritage: Onga River Pumping Station 
Constructed between 1906 and 1910, Onga River Pumping Station pumped and delivered water via an 11-km pipeline to Yawata Steel Works, compensating for a shortage of industrial water during the plant’s first expansion phase. The station employed four 300-hp pumps imported from Britain which were powered by steam engines with eight boilers. The pumping station is still in operation, though it now runs on electricity rather than steam.

It is understood that Japan may seek to nominate more sites under the UNESCO inscription to better reflect the full scope of the Industrial Revolution, which was the first to take place outside Europe. In the meantime, we conclude our series here with the eighth area listed under the UNESCO inscription, Yawata, specifically the Imperial Steel Works, Japan, and the Onga River Pumping Station, which supplied the Yawata Steel Works with water during its first phase of expansion early in the twentieth century. These sites represent the completion of the industrial revolution in Japan, at least as far as the UNESCO inscription is concerned.

After 1910, the cut-off date for this nomination, Japanese industrial development continued to grow, relying more and more on imported raw materials, but its concentrated period of technological innovation associated with the blending of western and Japanese technologies had come to an end: the Japanese industrial system was established. (UNESCO)

The Imperial Steel Works, Japan

After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the development of light industry, shipbuilding and the railroad system, not to mention the growing sophistication of military armament, led to a dramatic increase in demand for steel in Japan. The nation had been dependent on imports for most of its steel, and a source of domestic steel was now urgently called for. In February 1895, the government duly adopted a “Plan to Construct State-run Iron Works,” and efforts to establish Japan’s first wholly integrated steel works began.

Yahata (also “Yawata”) in present-day Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, was selected to be the site for the facility owing to its coastal location and proximity to the Chikuho coalfield.

World Heritage: First Head Office
The first head office of the Imperial Steel Works, Japan, was built in 1899 to accommodate the management functions of the Steel Works as construction progressed. The building combines Japanese and Western architectural elements, such as British-style brick masonry and Japanese roof tiles.

The imposing red-brick “First Head Office” (UNESCO World Heritage) was the first building to be constructed on the site. Completed in 1899 two years before the Yawata Steel Works opened for production, the building initially housed the site’s management functions and was of a design that signaled the government’s grand vision. As the scale of the steel works expanded over the years — they are now owned by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, one of the world’s leading steel producers — the building came to be used for a variety of other purposes, including steel research.

Manufacturing technologies for the production of the diverse types of steel called for in Japan at the turn of the twentieth century were imported from Germany, chiefly Gutehoffnungshütte (GHH). The Repair Shop (UNESCO World Heritage), for example, was built in 1900 using designs and steel materials from GHH. The building is the oldest existing steel-framed building in Japan and still serves as a repair shop today.

The Former Forge Shop (UNESCO World Heritage) was likewise built using GHH technologies. Forgings needed for the initial construction of the steelworks such as industrial-scale spanners and machine mounting stands were made in the Forge Shop. The building, clad with slag-bricks made in the steelworks, has been used for a variety of functions over the years and today serves as a museum.

A bessemer converter on display at Higashida Blast Furnace Memorial Square

Finally, on February 5, 1901, Blast Furnace No. 1 was blown in, and in November the same year, the Yawata Steel Works opened for business. However, although construction, installation and operation of the technologies had been overseen by German engineers as well as skilled workers from the Kamaishi Ironworks in present-day Iwate Prefecture, the Blast Furnace was not initially successful. The coke-to-steel ratio was inefficient and the quality of the steel cast was low. With input from University of Tokyo Professor Kageyoshi Noro, the “father of Japanese metallurgy,” and later his students, the imported German steelmaking technology was adapted over a ten-year period to better fit the local raw materials, production needs and management approaches. These modifications included redesigning the imported furnaces and chimneys as well as the coke-making processes.

Local innovation and industrial development had taken over and a mature and distinctive industrialization emerged in which the initiatives came from within. (UNESCO)

The outcome was a rapid increase in steel production, and in 1910 profits were generated for the first time. The scale of production at the integrated coke, iron and steel mill was progressively expanded thereafter, and the Yawata Steel Works would come to play a critical role in the rapid modernization and development of Japan’s railways, shipbuilding, machine and other industries.

Alex Hendy, The Japan Journal

Note: Because the components of Yawata’s World Heritage inscription are still operational, access to most of them is restricted.



Related post

  2. Ancient Tumuli Inscribed on Worl…
  3. From Steam to MagLev
  4. Treasures of the Toolbox
  5. Japan and the 1867 Paris Exposit…
  8. Strawberry Fields Forever