Nambu Tekki: Oitomi Ironware

Tell us about your company and the Nambu Tekki Iron Kettle.

Nambu Tekki, which translates to Nambu Ironware was founded in 1848 in Ōshū City, Iwate Prefecture. Our founder, Rigenta Oikawa, was a craftsman specializing in "debuki," an outdoor metal casting technique. In the early years, he crafted bells for Buddhist temples, Later, producing tea kettles and iron pots, which are still world renowned today.

How did the company start?

The term "Nambu" originates from the Nambu domain in Iwate Prefecture. However, Ōshū City traces back approximately 900 years ago when we began producing art for Buddhist temples. Eventually we expanded our production to include ironwares produced in Morioka City. Morioka City and Ōshū City then came to be collectively called Nambu-tekki, which is now recognized by the Japanese government as an official national treasure.

What inspires your craft? what is your philosophy?

Our company name "Oitomi" comes from our fourth generation family patriarch, Tominoshin Oikawa. When combined, "及ぼす (oyobosu) and (tomi)” translate to "widespread wealth," as our wish is to bring wealth to those who have our products.

What do you hope to inspire others with your products?

We are inspired by the animals, plants, and beautiful creations of our natural world, and hope to convey this same sense of wonder in our customers.

For example, we use an adopted dragonfly design, which has been cherished in Japan since ancient times. The cultural significance of the dragonfly is not exclusive to Japan, as it is also a symbol of the water spirit in Native American culture.

It would be wonderful if we could share a consciousness – the history of human beings, emotions, and respect for nature all connected. We hope our products help to bridge this type of connection across generations and cultures.

What is a typical day like at the factory?

Currently, we employ about 20 artisans, and iron kettles play significant roles in every moment of all their jobs.

We boil water each morning, brew coffee, serve cups of tea to customers and make miso soup during our lunch breaks. The iron kettle is also a must for the 3 o'clock snack break.

Iron kettles are everyday tools, yet they hold also special significance. We think that we naturally share and feel their history, with all five senses appreciate work done by previous generations over half a century ago.

What’s the process for creating Nambu Tekki / Iron Kettle?

Molten iron is poured into molds, and the pieces are removed as the iron cools.

Tell us about the traditional techniques to create Nambu Tekki Iron Kettle? What makes iron kettle different from other kettles?

We believe it is our duty to pass down our traditional techniques to the next generation. Using our method, iron is extracted while water is boiling in the kettles, and when the water boils, the iron kettle makes a unique sound. This sound is called "matsukaze" a sound anyone who boils tea in a kettle is very familiar with. Matsukaze is derived from the sound of pine leaves rustling, and hearing this sound is considered a personal elegance.

How does sustainability fit into the work that you do?

We provide lifetime support to customers to ensure longevity in our products, often receive inquiries regarding iron kettles that have been passed down from previous generations. We also offer support for products that are not our own.

We are conscious of taking on a role of perpetuating Nambu-tekki culture, not just being seen a profitable company.

There are three core pillars that hold up our commitment: the artisans who make products, the users who utilize our products, and the storytellers who convey our cultural heritage to future generations.

Where do you hope to see oitomi in 10 years and what do you want Nambu tekki to be seen as in 10 years?

Moving forward we hope to be able to provide more support for customers and to increase our efforts to give customers a better understanding of the spiritual depth and historic context of their kettles. We want to enable customers becoming skilled performers in expressing themselves through ironware, so ten years from now our customers using our kettles are akin to musicians who play great instruments.

Looking ahead another 100 years, our aim is to create a future where ironware continues to enrich human life, not just as nostalgia but as a part of everyday living.

We carry a collection of Oitomi products, which you can shop here.