Hashimoto, Y., The Pursuit of Japanese Mines and Coal Mines, 1970-2003

To Japanese

The Pursuit of Japanese Mines andCoal Mines, 1970-2003

Yasuo Hashimoto


The historical sites of metal and coal mines which I am presenting at the 6th International Mining History Congress in Japan include photos of Ashio copper mines, Hashima coal mines, Mitsui-Miike coal mines and others. (See chart 1)
  The Ashio copper mines (abbreviated as Ashio), located in the western part of Tochigi Prefecture, were closed on February 28, 1973. They were run by Furukawa Co.,Ltd..
  The Hashima coal mines (abbreviated as Hashima) are located on an island where no one lives now about 18 kilometers from Nagasaki. Closed on January 15, 1974, they were run by Mitsubishi Coal Mining Co., Ltd. (now Mitsubishi Materials Corporation).
  The Mitsui-Miike coal mines (abbreviated as Miike) were in Ohmuta city in Fukuoka Prefecture and in Arao city in Kumamoto Prefecture. Run by Mitsui Coal Mining Conpany, Limited, they were closed on March 30, 1997.
  These sites, along with some other metal and coal mines around Japan, make the strongest impact and also provide the most interesting thematic material. I want to reflect on the past reality from the time just before the sites were closed up to the present, using photos, videos and other visual materials which I have taken. With these I want to examine my loving reminiscence of mines and rethink the future of mines in Japan.

1. Ashio Copper Mines, Hashima Coal Mines and Miike Coal Mines
( from just before their closing until now)

Though some metal and coal mines in Hokkaido and Kyushu were still working, around the time Ashio and Hashima were closed, metal mines and coal mines around Japan had begun closing one after another. Economic conditions there were not much worse than they are now. The reemployment problem was not handled smoothly, but there was a hope that some people with certain skills might continue to work. In Miike, too, miners could no longer work in the mines, making its reemployment rate very low. Almost all mine workers were forced to suffer unemployment. The mines shared the same characteristic destiny in that mine workers, who had had a strong sense of solidarity and mutual trust, left the mines and scattered all over Japan.
  In terms of facilities at metal and coal mines, in Ashio right after the mines were closed, the company started to demolish company condominiums or convert them into their own company's other facilities and tourism industries for some other purposes. At the present time some of these facilities are being partly reused, but most of the facilities at the mines have been left untouched and have become run-down.
  In Hashima, three months after the closing of its mines on April 20th, all the residents left the island and its port was closed. Since then it has become an island without human inhabitants. All the buildings and facilities have been left untouched. In November 2001 Mitsubishi Material, which owned Hashima Island, voluntarily returned it to the town of Takashima.
  Miike was said to be the first urban mine closing. The company had a major labor movement, many problems and accidents such as coal dust explosions, carbon monoxide poisoning patients, so that it was afraid of gaining a bad reputation. Therefore, the facilities such as residences and vertical shafts were extensively destroyed. Without a guide it is now difficult to find remnants of the mines. The lots of the leveled residences were sold, something which has turned out to be a bad speculation. Except for the area near Ohmuta station, these properties have been left untouched, with grass growing wild on them.
  In the town of Ashio, right after the mines were closed they worked on the main theme of "developing a tourist industry" and dug hot springs and made improvements in road maintenance. In April of 1980 a tour inside the pits of the mines was started. It influenced the development of tours inside the pits of mines in other areas, such as Osarizawa, Arakawa, Tochihara, Ikuno and Besshi. For some time, there was a plan for further expansion of tourism at the mines, but it was aborted. The local municipality developed "a plan for an ecology museum," thinking that the whole town could be turned into a museum. In reality they only made something like a history reference room. Now in the midst of "the problem of consolidation of the municipality," whether to adopt the plan remains undecided. Only some researchers continue to do research on the copper mines, and on the town, Shozo Tanaka, and the Ashio copper mine pollution incident in a step by step fashion. Now in Ashio they have an active civil movement to try to make the old mines plant trees and pay attention to ecology.
  In Hashima and Miike there were no concrete plans for tours to the inside of the shaft mines, as there is a danger of poison gas. Hashima has been left untouched for about thirty years, and, except for a partial repair of some banks, has never been repaired from destruction by natural causes such as typhoons. As a result, the
island came to have a unique landscape, and because of its looks was recognized as "the sanctuary of abandoned buildings" among young people. The town considered paying attention to this and seemed to encourage tourist industries by lighting the island with a solar generator. The neighboring island of Takashima has a coal mine data room.
  The Miyanohara shaft and the Manda shaft in Miike were designated as important cultural assets in 1998, and were also designated as historical sites in 2000. The facilities were barely preserved from destruction, as the local municipalities had problems with their preservation, ways of utilizing them, and financial problems. They put up a new facility for a historical data room. Recently, the town has recruited story-tellers who were experienced as coal miners, and civil movements for the preservation and use of the town began to emerge. In contrast, around the coal mining station area, with the Mikawa shaft as the heart of Miike coal mines, the ground is now being leveled. At the present moment, it is rapidly being destroyed and the legacy of coal mines is disappearing.

2. Prospects

Since I have followed many metal and coal mines from right after their closing until now, I want to think about their future prospects. In particular, I have mentioned that three sites of metal and coal mines have an impact on us. The common theme shared by these three sites is "man-made scenery."
  Concretely speaking, the attractive points shared by these sites are: the bald mountains in Ashio, the scenery of a by-gone day in the ways of human life in Hashima, and the story-telling scenery in Miike, with some good and bad points since the Meiji period. These sites differ from each other, but their common point is the fact that everything there is made by humans.
  This applies not only to these three metal and coal mine sites, but also to other mines and mining towns, which have the same characteristic of lacking strong determination to preserve their histories and facilities. This is partially related to financial and budget problems, but basically Japanese people have only a superficial concern about culture, about the unique scenery, history, and local customs.
  Finally, I want to mention my impression from visiting sites of coal mines in England. I visited the Yorkshire Coal Mine Museum and mine viewing. Even though it was a closed coal mine, I had to take off my watch and could not bring my camera with me. This was a way of having visitors to the facilitates experience the rules and regulations for entering a coal mine. We rode in a cage down a vertical shaft into the dark mine. It was a tourist site, but visitors could have a vivid experience of what it had been like. We were taken into a dark mine by a guide with cap lamp on his hat. The guide was an ex-coal miner, so what he said was cogent and he had a comprehensive knowledge of the mine. In the museum, facilities such as shower rooms, locker rooms and such were preserved as they had been, so that visitors had the feeling that they had just taken showers themselves.
  I bought a safety lamp as a souvenir. New and used ones were on the table. Japanese people might think that a new one would be more expensive, but the used one was actually far more expensive. This was not surprising. When I looked carefully at the used one, it had scratches and bumps, and a somewhat dull luster. That safety lamp gave us some of the spirit and drive of miners whom it had served for a long time. The unused ones ware simply new, and not attractive.
  In some museums in Japan locomotives are exhibited, but the fact that in England such locomotives can work makes the situation different from Japan. Even though its availability for viewing was limited, visitors could ride on a large locomotive which was on a ship, leading them to experience a real feeling of moving. I was simply amazed. That culture could be transmitted to the next generation in such a way was very impressive. For me it was a moving exhibition, as England is respecting its own traditions and culture. It is an exhibition not simply for putting historical things on display, but for maintaining a tradition and respect for history which transmits our predecessors' techniques to future generations.
  Not only in Ashio, Hashima, and Miike, but in other places, the management companies and municipalities do not imitate others; rather they carry on conservation and maintenance activities which give life to their own unique locality.

Chart 1.
Sites of Ashio copper mines, Hashima coal mines, Mitsui-Miike coal mines,
and other metal and coal mines, with a map of Japan showing their locations.

Site of Ashio Copper Mines

Entrance to Honzan mine pit, photo in July 5 , 1997 Site of a dressing plant, photo in January 19 , 1992

Site of Hashima Coal Mines

View of the complete site,
photo in March 30 , 2002
Site of the 2nd vertical shaft,
 photo in March 30, 2002

Site of Mitsui-Miike Coal Mines

Manda No.2 vertical shaft, photo in March 15 , 2003 A winding machine, photo in March 15, 2003
Other Photos at Metal and Coal Mines

Site of open cast-mining at the Kosaka metal mines,
    photo in October 27 , 1990

 Site of the Kanki pit at the Besshi copper mines,
     photo in September 23 , 1995
  Site of Matsuo mines,
from the roof of company housing,
  photo in June 6 , 1993
Bathroom in company housing
at the Kamioka metal mines,
photo in September16 , 1989
Inside of vertical shaft at Akabira coal mines,
    photo in October 27 , 2001
 Fan inside of the inclined shaft
  at the Shime coal mines,
 photo in October 15 , 2000
Photos・by Yasuo Hashimoto 1989-2003

These photographs and sentences are prohibition by the reproduction,
copy without notice and so on.

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