Japanese cast iron: history, benefits, products, and brands

Kamasada-Cast-Iron-Studio

We have used cast iron cookware to cook our food for centuries. And for a good reason, cast iron is durable, healthy, and in my humble opinion, beautiful. No wonder this rather weighty material has made such a comeback in recent years. But have you heard of Japanese cast iron?

In this article, you can learn about Japanese cast iron covering the following:
  1. history
  2. cookware options
  3. popular and trusted Japanese brands
Brett-Standeven-holding-Oisei-Dutch-oven
Had to take this Dutch oven home with me. It is made by the Oisei Foundry. Oisei has been in operation since the 17th century.

History of Japanese Cast Iron 

Nambu ironware

During the Edo period (1603-1868), around the end of the 17th century. The Nambu Clan invited artisans from Kyoto in Southern Japan to come to Morioka to make cast iron cast products. Including iron armor, tea kettles, and pots. 

During this time, trade was cut off from the outside world and was totally reliant on the domestic market. Industrial specialization was vital for feudal lords to hold power. The Nambu rulers hoped specializing in ironware would help the area economically. And strengthen their influence both financially and culturally.

Iwate ironware became treasured gifts and home to a cottage industry.

Iwate ironware became a popular and cherished gift given to feudal lords during the Edo period. And the iron kettles became an item of admiration and desire for the masses throughout Japan.

Today, Nambu ironware remains a specialty of the region. And the two main areas of cast iron manufacturing, Osu, and Morioka are home to many foundries and artisans. Luckily, Japanese manufactured cast iron is much more affordable these days.

To learn more about Iwate ironware, check out this article.

Iwachu-Cast-Iron-worker
If you visit Iwachu in Morioka, you can watch traditional clay molded kettles being made.

Modern Japanese cast iron

Good news for manufactures, cast iron cookware is making a comeback in Japan. There are several reasons for this including.

  1. Japanese appreciation for simple, durable and beautiful items
  2. many foundries adding bright and colorful options
  3. induction cookers becoming popular

Where is the best Japanese cast iron made?

To this day, high-quality kettles, teapots, and cookware are still made in Iwate. With Morioka and Osu home to many foundries. Of which many are small workshops of one or two workers.

Yamagata is also a cast-iron manufacturing hub with a history going back hundreds of years. And other regions such as Aichi and Niigata have good brands that offer a wide variety of products.

If you are looking for a Japanese teapot, here are my top choices.

Why is Japanese cast iron expensive?

Japanese craftsmen have perfected the art of making cast iron over the last 800 years. Some artisans study for anywhere from 15 to 40 years to learn how to make Nambu ironware. This just shows how much sophistication goes into Japanese cast products. But as a result, Japanese cast iron is more expensive than low-cost manufacturing countries. 

However, more Japanese companies have switched to sand molding instead of traditional clay molds, resulting in more affordable cookware.

Kettles 

Nambu Tetsubins are Japanese cast-iron kettles. Making a traditional clay molded Tetsubin is a detailed process that usually consists of around 68 steps — most of it is still done by hand. 

Master craftsmen called kamashi oversee the entire process of making tetsubin. These artisans train for 30 years or longer to learn the craft.

To make a tetsubin:

  1. Artisans pour molten pig iron or crude iron into an inner mold made of clay or sand.
  2. Next, the artisan carefully etches the pattern on the outside.
  3. The kettle is removed from the mold.
  4. Imperfections are hammered out by hand.
  5. The kettle is then oven-fired to prevent rust.
  6. Lastly, the craftsman coats the kettle with a lacquer made from a mixture of green tea, brown rust, vinegar, and pine ash. 

If you want to learn how to use a cast-iron kettle, click the link to read my easy-to-follow guide.

ettles-by-Suzuki-Morihisa-Studio
One of the most famous Japanese ironware makers is Suzuki Morihisa Studio Ltd. They have been making ironware since 1625.

Cast iron teapots 

Cast iron teapots, called Tetsu Kyūsu in Japan, have an enamel coating on the inside. The enamel helps inhibit rust and makes the teapots easy to clean.

Because of the enamel lining, you cannot use a cast iron teapot on a heating element to boil water. As the lining might get damaged. These types of teapots are used to steep or brew tea. Most come with a stainless steel infuser that conveniently holds tea leaves and can easily be removed for cleaning.

Teapots are super easy to use, but I’ve written a step-by-step guide if you are interested.

Modern-Japanese-cast-iron-teapots
I love the modern look. Today cast iron teapots come in various sizes and colors.

Skillets and cast iron bowls

The use of cast iron bowls in winter remains popular. And the Japanese often make seasonal dishes such as Nabe and Sukiyaki in cast iron. However, summer barbecuing is also popular, and using an old-fashioned skillet is a good choice.

Japanese-cast-iron-skillets
Japanese cast iron foundries offer a wide range of products. That includes Western-style skillets and griddles.

Why should you buy Japanese cast iron cookware?

Cast ironware offers a variety of benefits compared to other materials. Here are some of the reasons to purchase Japanese cast iron. 

Tetsubin 

With modern kettles available, why choose a tetsubin? Here are a few of the reasons 

  • It can be used over an open flame and other heat sources.
  • Enhances the tea experience: A Japanese tetsubin mineralizes and softens the water.
  • Long-lasting: Sure, a cast-iron kettle can rust. However, they can be restored to almost-new with some elbow grease and know-how. 
  • Has health benefits: When you use a cast iron tea kettle to boil water, you get the added benefits of iron supplementation. 

Cast iron teapots 

So, why a cast iron teapot? Here are some reasons:

  • Beautiful: It is hard to match the beauty of a cast iron teapot. These feature bright colors and detailed, elaborate designs. 
  • Durable: Similar to tetsubins, cast iron teapots will last for years. As long as you follow some simple care tips, you can expect to pass them down to your children and even grandchildren. 
  • Easy to care for: Because of the enamel interior coating, cast iron teapots are relatively easy to take care of. They are resistant to rust. After using, you simply rinse with warm water and dry thoroughly. 
  • Superior heat retention: Cast iron teapots stay warm for long periods. Just make sure you remove the tea strainer from the pot after brewing to prevent over-extraction.  

If you are unsure of the difference between a teapot and a kettle, check out this article.

Cast Iron Cookware 

There is no substitute for cast iron cookware. If you have just one pan in your kitchen, it should be a cast-iron skillet. Cast iron produces perfect sear without burning. If that is not enough to convince you, here are a few more benefits of cast iron cookware. 

  • Versatile: You can use the same cast-iron skillet to fry eggs, cook over the campfire, and bake your favorite dessert. 
  • Durable: When you invest in a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, you are investing in a piece of cookware that can last your entire lifetime. 
  • Gets better with age: Thanks to a natural patina or seasoning that forms when you use it, cast iron cookware gets better with repeated use. How many other types of cookware can you think of that gets better with age? 

Vermicular

Most of the Japanese cast iron companies have been in operation for generations. But many new start-ups often give a modern take on traditional designs. And Vermicular is one of these companies that have come on to the scene. 

The company was started in 2010 by two brothers. Already, it has achieved widespread acclaim and has risen to become the equivalent of Le Creuset in Japan.

Sure, the Musui-Kamado is expensive, granted. However, it does an impressive array of things. You could use it to make rice, pasta, meats — just about anything. 

This could just be the only cookware that you need. Home and professional chefs alike say that it can take the place of several kitchen tools, including the Instant Pot and the slow cooker. And, currently, there is nothing else like it on the market thanks to the detail that went into making it. And it took the brothers three years to finish the design. 

Vermicular-cast-iron-oven.
If you want an alternative to Le Creuset cookware. Then take a look at Vermicular cast iron ovens and frying pans.

Oigen cast iron

Oigen is another well-known Japanese cast ironware company. The company is located in Osu City, Japan, where Japanese artisans have been casting iron for more than 900 years.

The company has won numerous awards for its cast ironware designs. They sell all kinds of cast iron products, from camping skillets to wind chimes. They also have a wide range of enameled teapots and traditional kettles available.

I visited the foundry and learned so much about the industry. If you want to learn more about Oigen cast iron, click the link. 

Oigen cast iron
Oigen is based in the town of Osu. And has a wide range of cast iron cookware available.

Oitomi

Are you looking for a Japanese iron teapot that will last the test of time? Then you might want the have a look at Oitomi. Oitomi is a family business that has been making cast iron kettles and teapots since 1848. Located in Oshu, an area famous for traditionally made Nambu Tekki and home to many artisans. 

If you want to learn more about Oitomi, click the link for an in-house article. 

Oitomi-cast-iron-teapot
Oitomi offers a wide range of teapots and kettles. And is a well-respected brand abroad and in Japan.

Iwachu casting works

Iwachu is one of the leading Japanese cast iron companies. For more than 100 years, the company has produced superior Nambu cast ironware in Morioka, Japan. When you buy traditional Japanese cast iron from Iwachu, you can count on it being very high quality. 

Check out the following link to learn more. 

Iwachu-cast-iron products
Iwachu Casting Works is one of the largest foundries in Morioka. Most of their products are made using sand molding. However, Iwachu also makes traditional tetsubin kettles using clay molds.

UNILLOY

Hailing from Tsubame Sanjo, Niigata. A manufacturing town known for its many casting works. Unilloy is a new kid on the block, considering the long history of cast iron manufacturing in Japan. And claims to produce some of the lightest enameled cast iron cookware available. 

Unilloy is a brand made by Sanjo Special Cast Co., Ltd. The company offers a selection of Dutch ovens and skillets made from FCD cast iron (graphite-rich cast iron).

If you want to learn about Unilloy cookware, click the link for an in-house article.

UNILLOY cast-iron cookware
If you are looking for a Dutch oven but are put off by the weight. Then you might want to take to look at Unilloy.

L’hirondelle 

L’hirondelle makes some of the finest enameled Dutch ovens and casserole pots I have come across. They combined superb enameled cookware with heavy gauge stainless steel to protect the edges of the oven and lid.

The small company located in Tsubame Niigata outsources its casting locally to Sato-Wax Co., Ltd. Despite the small scale, you will see L’hirondelle sold in premium department stores.

L'Hirondelle Dutch Oven
I have to admit it, I really love these Dutch Ovens. L’Hirondelle ovens have a stainless steel rim that protects the edges of the pot from rust and chipping.

Is Japanese cast iron cookware worth it? 

Authentic Japanese cast ironware is more expensive than other types, but it is definitely worth the money. The detail that goes into making every piece is astonishing. And, cast iron offers excellent durability, heat retention, and beauty. 

References:

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