Caption: Iwami Ginzan’s Ryugenji Mabu mining tunnel
Credit: TADASHI AIZAWA
In Search of Industrial Heritage
Edo-period mines, Meiji-period spinning mills, coalmines that supported the rapid postwar economic growth… Designated as industrial heritage sites, the buildings and artifacts of these industries are now popular tourist destinations. We visit two historic sites.
Top left, the road leading to Iwami Ginzan Mine. Top right, Rakan-ji temple cave in which remain 500 stone statues of Buddhist arhats placed more than 250 years ago to appease the spirits of dead Iwami-Ginzan miners. Bottom, entrance to the Ryugenji Mabu mining tunnel.
Credit: TADASHI AIZAWA
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine
Japanese Soma Silver (Soma is the old name of Iwami) in the seventeenth century is said to have constituted one-third of the silver distributed around the world. Soma Silver was produced in the Iwami Ginzan Mine located in Ohda, Shimane Prefecture.
Silver was mined at Iwami Ginzan for over 400 years; from the mine’s discovery in 1536 until its closure in 1943. After the closure, the remains of the mine and the townscapes of the Ohmori district silver-mining town and the Yunotsu district—which housed the port for shipping the silver—were designated as industrial heritage sites. In 2007, Iwami Ginzan became Japan’s first industrial heritage site to be registered as a World Heritage Site, and it now attracts 260,000 to 300,000 tourists annually.
Iwami Ginzan’s Ryugenji Mabu mining tunnel is open to the public. A transverse gallery dug along the silver vein and mineshafts for discharging water remain as is in this tunnel.
Hashima island in the East China Sea, a part of Nagasaki, is located to the west of the Nagasaki Peninsula, about five kilometers off-coast. This small, approximately 6.3-hectare island, at 480 meters north-to-south and 160 meters east-to-west, is uninhabited. Because the forest of buildings on the island gives it a battleship-like appearance, Hashima island is commonly called Gunkanjima (battleship island).
Hashima island is better known as Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island
An undersea coalmine was discovered in this area at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth century mining began in earnest. As recently as 1960, more than 5,200 people worked and lived on the island.
However, the mine was closed in January 1974 due to the trend of people increasingly using petroleum for fuel instead of coal. Residents moved off the island and Gunkanjima has been left uninhabited.
In 2001, the ownership of Gunkanjima was transferred from the mining company to the local town of Takashima (now Nagasaki) free of charge. The buildings remaining on the island include highly valuable heritage, such as a seven-story housing complex built in the early Taisho period (1912–1926) as Japan’s first reinforced concrete building. In 2009, Gunkanjima was added to the provisional list of World Heritage sites as a part of the Modern Industrial Heritage Sites in Kyushu and Yamaguchi.
Access to Gunkanjima for sightseeing has been permitted since April 2009, and in the one year until April 2010, about 60,000 tourists visited the island.
Uninhabited since 1974, the remains of more than seventy buildings still stand on Gunkanjima, including coalmining facilities, living quarters, schools, hospitals, temples and entertainment facilities.
A close-up of the remains of a brick-built structure on the island