Nirayama Furnace: Where the Industrial Revolution Gained Heat

Do you know the number of World Heritages that exist in Japan? Can you name a few?


There are 19 places registered as a World Heritage sites throughout Japan as of May 2016, with some Meiji Industrial Revolution sites recently registered in 2015 including the Nirayama Hansharo reverberatory furnace. Nirayama Hansharo is now part of a group of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with other factories in Kyushu, Yamaguchi and Iwate.


This most recently registered World Heritage site is located in Izu Peninsula of Shizuoka Prefecture; often recognized as a popular weekend get-away trip from Tokyo with scuba diving and hot springs. Although not as glamorous nor as entertaining as the historic monuments of Kyoto or Hiroshima Peace Memorial or the nature-abundant Ogasawara Islands, Nirayama Hansharo will give you a feel of the era when Japan was rapidly going through industrialization reshaping the once strictly feudal nation. Imagine, citizens who had lived their whole lives under the tight grip of the samurai, starting all kinds of new employment in these new strange structures making metals, machines, and weapons that they had never seen before, meanwhile shaping Japan into a global economic power.  What could have possibly gone through their minds?


Masaharu Fujikawa on Flickr

Nirayama Hansharo is one of the two existing reverberating furnaces in Japan—the other being in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture. This particular reverberating furnace is an iron smelting facility proposed by the then local governor, Hidetatsu Egawa, when he sensed a threat from the rise of the First Chinese Opium War in 1840. Hidetatsu's urge to defend the country further ignited his interest in artillery production that later coincided with the arrival of Commodore Perry in Japan in 1853.  A reason also good enough for the Edo government to agree to proceed with the project under its authority in the same year.

The establishment of a reverberatory furnace to build artillery became extremely important. The facility was built based on Dutch methods. After three and a half years of struggle, including the effort to overcome the language barrier, the reverberatory furnace was finally completed allowing the facility to produce artillery until 1864.


The approximately 15 meter chimneys are rather modest, yet definitely bear the remains of the period when Japan was becoming an industrial power that could not only to defend itself, but also catch up with the world from a centuries-long isolation during the Edo period.

In 2007, the Nirayama reverberatory was designated as an industrial heritage site by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) followed by the enlisting on the provisional list of UNESCO World Heritage in 2009. Then 6 years later in 2015 the site was officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Meiji Industrial Revolution.

To get there is a 30 minute walk from Izu-Nagaoka station or ride on a shuttle bus from the station to the site. In either case, don’t forget to turn around for the spectacular view of Mt. Fuji.


Official site

UNESCO World Heritage web site

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