Two pillars of Japan’s Industrial Age gold rush
In the Meiji era, with the introduction of industrial technology, large-scale mining operations proliferated across the country, leading to an unprecedented gold rush. Amid this fever, in 1904 (Meiji 37) the Shishiori Mine in Kesennuma, Miyagi unearthed the “Monster Nugget,” Japan’s largest naturally formed gold nugget. It was exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair that same year, shocking the world.
Alongside Shishiori, the second of the two major players in the Japanese gold rush was Oya Mine, located in the hilly region in the south of Kesennuma. At its peak in 1935 (Showa 10), the mine produced about one ton of gold annually. The Oya smelting works never slept, and an extensive mining town sprung up around the mine that even boasted a cinema and kindergarten for its employees and their families.
These two mines, which were once overwhelming presences supporting Japan’s economy, closed decades ago and are slowly becoming reclaimed by nature. The hammers and worn-down chisels displayed in the museum at the foot of the mountain serve as a record of the mine’s history and the dedication of the miners, who dug through solid rock in the narrow shafts, relying on their experience and intuition to uncover lodes. Even now, these sites remind us of our timeless fascination with gold.
This mine is located along the upper reaches of the Shishiori River in Kesennuma. With the modernization of mining practices that took place during the Meiji era, the mine produced “Monster Gold,” Japan’s largest nugget of natural gold, to the amazement of the world. The mine played a key role in making the gold mines of Michinoku a resource for supporting the nation. From the old mine office at the foot of the mountain to up in the mountains themselves, there are the remains of mineshafts, minecart tracks, and mounds of dumped ore.
In 1904 (Meiji 37), a “monster gold” nugget weighing 2.25 kilograms, and with 83% gold content, was extracted from the Shishiori Mine. With even small nuggets being difficult to produce, one of this size astonished the world. When exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair held in the same year, it received a bronze medal. This is a letter given to commemorate that award. This demonstrated to the world the potential of “Zipangu, the Land of Gold,” and serves as proof of the state of gold production in Michinoku.
Materials used for ore extraction and dressing in the Shishiori Mine. The materials consist of mining equipment and a smelting furnace that melted down the gold, as well as old photographs and documents. They also contain records concerning the process of gold mining and the “Monster Gold,” conveying well the state of the modernizing gold mines.
A gold mine located in the Oya area of Kesennuma. Motivated by the production of the “Monster Gold” nugget at the Shishiori Mine, gold extraction began at the Oya Mine in 1905 (Meiji 38), and continued until 1976 (Showa 51). During its heyday, a mining town formed around it. Oya Mine is part of a valuable legacy, a culmination of the gold extraction operations that had continued in the region for 1,250 years. The remains of a huge concrete smelting works on the mountainside serve as a monument by which to remember of the prosperity of the period.
Materials related to ore extraction and dressing in the Oya Mine. The materials include mining equipment used by miners, as well as machinery, documents, and photographic records related to the extraction and dressing of ore. They are a valuable resource for understanding the expansion and flourishing that Japan’s modern gold mines underwent, as well as the circumstances of their closing.
Gold ore from the southern part of the Kitakami Mountains, Michinoku gold, is characterized by the fact that many grains can be seen by the naked eye, some of which can be spotted easily in the piece pictured here. It can be said that the reason why operations like gold dust collection spread so widely is as a result of this property.