The Story ofMichinoku Gold

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Tamayama Gold Mine

The rise and fall of gold mining

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Tamayama Gold MineThe rise and fall of gold mining

During the Warring States period, when the technology to process gold from ore was introduced, Japan saw the spread of underground mining begin in earnest, in addition to placer mining of gold dust.

Near the coast in Rikuzentakata, Iwate, the Tamayama Gold Mine was established under the direct supervision of Date clan ruler Date Masamune and managed by state officials he appointed to the task. Located at the western foot of Mount Hikami, which rests on granite bedrock, Tamayama became the most valuable of the Kesen area’s four major gold mines. In addition to its exceptional gold yield, the mine yielded high-quality quartz crystals, prized for use as eyes in Buddhist statuary.

Visitors are greeted by a fifteen-meter tiered pagoda at the entrance of the mountain trail, alongside the Kesen River. The pagoda, which has suffered in war and earthquakes throughout its history, has been rebuilt multiple times, exemplifying the pride and importance the local community still places in their mine. Walking the trail, one can see terraced fields opening out across the hills, constructed to help support the miners who took up farming after the decline of the gold mine. Also among the remnants of the mine’s history are the Matsuzaka Jubei Sadanari Clearance Monument, a marker celebrating the achievement of converting the mountainous terrain into workable fields; Takekoma Shrine, where miners worshiped; and the Shogon-ji Pine, an aged tree growing at Shogon-ji Temple, with outstretched branches said to represent the yearning to return to the glory days of the mine.

Along the roads to the top of the mountain, old smelters can still be found. The entrance to the Sennin Mineshaft can also be seen here, a relic of the mine’s heyday. Near the top of the mountain lies Tamayama Shrine, another testament to bygone glory days, erected to house a guardian spirit for the mines. This mountainside grew quite long ago. The discarded fragments of quartz scattered across the mountainside here stand in telling contrast to the golden stalks of rice spread across the countryside below, illustrating the shifting fortune of a community once made prosperous by the productive mine.

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