Historical sites of Miike Coal Mines (1)
— The rise and fall of coal mining industry around Omuta, Kyushu
The “Miike Coal Mine” was established around1899 in Omuta, northern Kyushu area. This mining site had equipped with modern facilities being unusual at that time, and yielded a massive chunk of coal in order to respond to the huge demand generated by the rapid industrial growth in the middle of Meiji era (1900s). And this mining project is renowned for the contribution a lot to build the foundation of industrial success in the early time of Japan.
With this historical value, the former Miike Coal mines sites were designated as one of the “World Industrial Heritage” in 2015 by Unesco.
I’ve recently had a chance to visit these Miike coal mines while traveling in Kyushu, such as Miyanohara coal pit, Miike port, railroad track of Miike mines, as well as the “Coal Industry Science Museum in Omuta”.
This is a small record at that time.
Access to the Coal Mines sites
大牟田の近代化産業遺産ホームページ (Omuta’s modernized industrial heritage website ) https://www.miikecoalmines.jp/outline.html
大牟田市石炭産業科学館 (Omuta Coal, Industry and Science Museum)http://www.sekitan-omuta.jp/
♣ Outline of Mitsui Miike Coal Mines
The coal industry of Japan was positioned as one of the most important basic industrial fields for long time from Meiji era to Taisho period (1900s to 1920s), and even just after the War period (1945–). However, since 1950s on time, the coal industry began to decline by energy conversion movement from coal to oil and the rapid globalization of the economy. And like as the area of Hokkaido Yubari and other coal mines sites, many coal mines in Kyushu were closed one after another, and nowadays they were down to the hard circumstances, in which it left only the ruined buildings of coal mines. The Miike coal mines in Omuta followed this trail too. “Hashima”, known as a tourist destination as a “Warship Island”, was also the mining site under the same siuation. The economy of Omuta area, where Miike mine was located, has lost its vital strength, and the even population was declined since the closing of the coal mines in the 1990s..
With visiting the mining sites, I have noticed again of the dynamic but fluctuated fortunes of the coal mining industries, such as the Miike mines, which have shown the initial challenges of business and technology and its critical contribution to the industrial development in the Meiji period, as well as the long process losing vitality of coal industries in history.
The following is the visit impression on the Miike coal mine sites at the time.
♣ Story of Miike Coal Mines in the Historical Perspective
A lump of coal materials were begun to use as a fuel for salt production in the Edo era for the first time, but the full-scale coal mine development was started only after the Meiji government had launched the vigorous promotion of modern manufacturing industries around 1870s. And major development of coal mines was initially handled by the government in the Kyushu area under the strong fostering policy of the industry development at the time.
In the midst, the Mitsui Business group bought up the government owned Miike coal mine in 1889, and started its own coal mine development as a private project. After that, the Miike mine achieved significant growth under the management of modern large-scale coal mines. It is said that this success was owed much to the outstanding leadership of Takuma Dan, who mastered the mining science in the US, and joined as a manager of the infant Mitsui Miike coal mine company. Then Mr. Dan was called the founding father of Miike Coal mines as an engineer and business innovator, and he was also appreciated as a figure greatly contributed to the whole industrial development of Japan.
In particular, Dan has gained great reputation as a man who firstly introduce modern technology in the mining, such as modern pumps for drainage, construction of new railroads for loading coal in large scale, and he has even built large Miike Port where a large ship can be berthed, as well as introduced the integrated coal mining management system. So the foundation of Miike coal mine had been consolidated by this way with his contribution. In addition, in the surrounding area, many coal chemical factories were established around 1900s, which were producing coal, coke, fertilizer, dye and other chemical products.
Then the coal industries could be flourished through out of the period of 1920s and 30s. Even after the War of 1945, the coal industry has played a crucial role in economic recovery from the total damage of Japan’s industry.
However, it has been gradually lose competitive power because of radical energy shift from coal to oil being progressed around 1960s. In addition, there occurred large-scale coal mine accidents, labor disputes, and other unfortunate incidents. And the mining sites had been experienced great setback even under the big government supporting policies. The coal mines’ sides have also made their own efforts to improve productivity, mechanization, and technology measures for safety, but the coal production was gradually declined.
The Miike coal mines has followed the same lines and the Mitsui coal mines were finally closed in 1997 and their historical missions were over.
However, currently the new movements of using these historic mining sites for tourism and cultural promotion have been moving. In particular, since the Miike coal mines were designated as “World Heritage” in 2015, the movement has strengthened in the area..
♣ Visiting Miyanohara Coal Mine Pit
The ruins of Miyanohara coal mine is quietly standing on the hilly side of Omuta city likely indicating the long historical development of coal industries. Back in the Meiji era, the coal demand was sharply increased, because the government had been strengthening the strong industrial base and required the huge energy sources like coals. Then, it was necessary to run the coal mining in larger scale and the modernized way from the deeper coal shafts. In order to respond this requirement, Miike’s Miyanohara coal pit was set up by Mitsui business group. However, it was necessary to properly handle of the ground water, but this operation was quite difficult because the volume of yielding ground water was too huge in the deep pit
In this situation, Mr. Takuma Dan, who became the president of the Miike coal mine, has introduced the world’s largest British water pump to prevent this spring water, and made possible to produce massive coals from the Miyanohara mines as at first experiment in Japan. It is said that these innovative management and technological challenges have led the success of Mitsui Miike Coal mines by consolidating the business foundation. Currently, several facilities have remained as a historical monument, such as the oldest pumping pump steel turret built in 1901, several buildings and traced pump huts attached to the Miyanohara mines.
These historic sites are accessible now and the volunteer staffs are doing a guide for
the visitors. Then I visited the sites following the guide too. I was impressed in the technical challenge which exerted in the initial period of development of coal mines. But on the other hand, I also recognize the fact that a number of prisoners were sent to the mining pits from the prison called “Miike Shuji Kan” and made them work under the severe condition in the
Meiji period. This fact was confirmed in the small panel board at the Miyanohara pit.
I thought these remains were showingd us the harsh reality which occurred in parallel of the glorious industrial development in the Meiji Industrialization.
♣ Visiting Manda Coal Mines site
I couldn’t visit this Manda Coal mine, which located in Arao city near the Omuta city, this time. This mine was built in 1902 after the opening of the Miyanohara coal mines. It is said that it has boasted the largest scale of coal production among many other coal mines in Kyushu. The coal mine site has been registered as one of the World Heritage too. Currently, the second vertical shaft “Yagura”, the hoisting machine rooms, warehouse and pump room, safety lighthouse and bathroom, management office, some religious facility are preserved as memorial sites.
This Manda mine was one of the largest facilities in the Meiji and Taisho periods among other existing Miike coal mines, and coal production has been continued until 1951.
♣ Visiting the ruins of Miike Mines Railway
The railway line of Miike coal mine initially began by using the horse-drawn cart in
1878 around Miike area. And around 1905 the railway reinforced the loading power by adopting the steam locomotives, and transported coals from the Miyanohara
and Manda mine to the Mike port to follow the increase of production. Subsequently, the railway have made the power-up renovation of the key equipment, such as introduction of electric locomotives, expansion of railway route, and widening of tracks. The railway has been continued to run until 1997 at the time the Miike coal mines was closing.
The rail tracks have been already removed, but the old railroad sleepers and basement bed remained in the some sections like as its original shape. We can see them along the nearby roads.
They remind us the former scene of railway operation at the time. So this railroad remaining site was added to one of the world heritage as a historical monument because it witnessed the initial technology
development of Miike mins in the Meiji period.
It is known that the special architectural measure was taken for the construction of railways to overcome the intense geographic ups and down in order to make them run smoothly in the hilly landscape with heavy coal cargo. We could observe the railroad ruins passing through the east side of the Miyanohara mine along the way to the Miyanohara mine. The old tunnel made of bricks, old iron bridge, and other ruins would remind us the moment when the railroad had been operating.
♣ Visit Miike Port as a Historical monument
The Omuta area, where Miike mines located, was surrounded by the Ariake Sea which is known its shallow sea bed near the shore and big tidal change over 6 meters. For this reason it was very difficult for large vessels to anchor there. So the coal shipment from the Miike coal mine formerly had to be done by small boat. Therefore, the loading harbor for coal was required to construct before the coal mines’ advancement. The port was completed in 1905 by facilitating the special opening gate to adjust the tidal change over there. The tidal gate for port was technologically quite difficult and bore huge cost at that time, but Mr. Takma Dan has bravely decided to install this specific facility of port for the future development. It is said that the Miike coal mines could attain a big leap because of this construction of port.
The lock gate is said that the water level in the dock could be kept around 8.5 meter high from the open sea level even at lowest tide. Consequently thanks to the gate, the big cargo ships of 10,000 tons level became possible to harbor in the dock. This completion of port evaluated to make a great contribution in the successful businesses of Miike coal mines’. This Miike port is still used as a departure point for regular vessels and cargo ship from near harbors like nearby Shimabara and others even today.
The lock gate is equipped with two steel gate with double open doors tied to the pier. The gate is not allowed to access now, but the opening and closing movement of the gate can be observed from the hill beside the sea shore..When I visited, I couldn’t see the movement of the gate door, but I could see the overlook of the port from over the distance hill near the guiding hut..
The harbor equipped with this kind of lock gate is quite rare and is unique in shape too. Additionally it is said to bear the important role of coal industry development in history. So, this Miike Port was designated as a World Heritage too as a historical monument with the evaluation of the functions which had served and promoted the coal industry in the initial industrial revolution in the Meiji period.
I was convinced that the Miike Port is a really valuable site to show the challenging project for the industrialization in the Meiji Japan.
（Part 1) end
See next to the “Visit the Omuta Coal Industrial Museum”
- 「世界文化遺産―三池炭鉱」ワークプレス刊 2016
- 大牟田の近代化産業遺産ホームページ https://www.miikecoalmines.jp/outline.html
- 宮原坑跡 大牟田の近代化産業遺産ホームページ https://www.miikecoalmines.jp/miyanohara.html
- 宮原抗跡 http://omuta-arao.net/history/tanko/miyahara.html
- 旧三池炭鉱専用鉄道敷 https://www.miikecoalmines.jp/rale.html
- 三池港 https://www.miike-coalmines.jp/port.html