Experience 283 Years of History at Besshi Copper Mine Memorial Museum

Experience 283 Years of History at Besshi Copper Mine Memorial Museum
Experience 283 Years of History at Besshi Copper Mine Memorial Museum

Following the discovery of a major copper deposit in 1690, the Besshi Copper Mine, located in the southeast of Niihama City in Ehime Prefecture, opened in 1691. Copper production continued there for 283 years through the Edo, Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods until the mine closed in 1973.

Mining began at a site 1,200 meters above sea level and continued until eventually reaching a depth of around 1,000 meters below sea level.

Since the Besshi Copper Mine is unique among copper mines around the world in having been continuously operated by a single company (Sumitomo) throughout such a long history, museum visitors can view many important historical materials that might otherwise have been lost over the years or become scattered.

The museum interior is divided into six exhibition corners: 1. Izumiya, which relates the history of Sumitomo; 2. History, an exhibit focusing on the period from the mine opening to recent mining-related businesses; 3. Geology, where ore samples and other items of geological interest are exhibited; 4. Daily Life and Customs, which depicts the everyday lives of people who worked at the mine; 5. Mining Techniques, an exhibit of equipment and materials used following the introduction of western mining techniques; and 6. Shisakajima, which tells the story of an island that overcame smoke pollution caused by copper smelting.

Visitors to the museum can explore the mine’s fascinating historical legacy, narrated through interesting exhibits, including the first steam locomotive purchased from Germany for the mine railway, which opened in 1893, and examples of copper designated for export through the Nagasaki trade in the Edo Period. A model of mine roads with a total length of 700 kilometers is impressive.

The museum is on the grounds of Oyamazumi Shrine, where the guardian spirit of the Besshi Copper Mine is enshrined. The semi-underground building’s exterior design evokes the image of a mine, and the roof is planted all over with Satsuki azaleas. The azaleas are in full bloom every May, as if in celebration of the granting of permission to operate a copper mine by the Tokugawa Shogunate in May of 1691, and the museum is a popular Satsuki azalea viewing spot in Niihama.

Museum Highlights

Lobby

Lobby

The museum lobby features an obaku, a piece of copper ore decorated with straw that was presented as an offering to Oyamazumi Shrine each New Year’s Day in an ancient ritual of gratitude for the blessings of nature and prayer for the mine’s prosperity and safety. The exhibited obaku, weighing some 300 kilograms, is the last one made at the Besshi Copper Mine. It was offered to the shrine in 1973.

Izumiya

This exhibition corner relates the history of Izumiya, Sumitomo’s trade name for the copper mining and merchant business, through exhibits including an Edo Period illustration, historical documents, a Meiji Period picture book, utensils, and commemorative items.
The Aphorisms of Monjuin, a letter in which Masatomo Sumitomo (posthumous Buddhist name: Monjuin), the first head of the family and founder of the business, laid down guiding principles for business and life, is displayed. It is said to be the origin of the Sumitomo Spirit, summed up in the words “honesty, trust, and integrity.”
Refined copper from each period of the mine is also displayed. The photo below right shows a sample of “KS copper” (named using the initials of Kichizaemon Sumitomo, a head of the Sumitomo family). This is refined copper with many impurities that had a good reputation since these impurities made it suitable for fabricating special items such as rolls for textile printing, photographic plates, and steamship propellers.

Izumiya
Izumiya

History

The History corner is a showcase for historical documents, illustrations, picture books, models, photographs, and other articles that chronicle changes at the Besshi Copper Mine from its opening through to its closure. A miniature model of the mid-Meiji Period mine’s surface facilities realistically depicts the entire Besshi Copper Mine (the former Besshi area). The Rules Governing the House of Sumitomo, based on the Aphorisms of Monjuin and other sources, compiled in 1882 by Saihei Hirose, Sumitomo’s first director-general, are also exhibited.

History
History

Geology

The Geology corner features ore samples extracted at the Besshi Copper Mine and other interesting exhibits.

Geology
Geology

Daily Life and Customs

Daily Life and Customs

The Daily Life and Customs corner is an exhibit of mine equipment, events, clothing, and facilities that offers a glimpse of mining work and customs from the end of the Edo Period to the Showa Period. Pair of Eight-Panel Folding Screens of Besshi Cooper Mine, a work from the brush of Edo artist Katsuratani Bunbo realistically depicting mining work in 1840 and customs, is a valuable historical record that shows life in the Edo Period.

Daily Life and Customs

Mining Techniques

Mining Techniques

The Mining Techniques corner features lamps, mining tools and implements, railway equipment, rescue crew equipment, rock drills, and other display items. Although the mine railway began as a dedicated railway, it became a local railway that also carried passengers from 1929 to 1954 before once again becoming a dedicated railway.

Mining Techniques

Shisakajima

The Shisakajima corner houses a model of the island of Shisakajima circa 1975, before a system of commuting by boat was introduced, and exhibits on a submarine power cable laid in 1922, the longest in the world at the time, and a smokestack lightning rod dismantled in 2013 because it posed a safety hazard. Higurashi Villa, built for use by the Sumitomo family and for entertaining guests, will be relocated and reassembled in Niihama in the autumn of 2018 before eventually reopening as a museum.

Shisakajima
Shisakajima
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd.
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd.

Museum Hours

Museum Hours
Museum Hours From April to October: 9:00-16:30
From November to March: 9:00-16:00
Closed days Closed on Mondays, public holidays (open when holidays fall on Sunday), year-end and New Years holidays (December 29-January 3), and October 17

Access

Besshi Copper Mine Memorial Museum

Address
3-13 Suminoshinden-cho, Niihama-shi, Ehime Prefecture 792-0844, Japan
TEL
+81-897-41-2200
FAX
+81-897-41-9459
Admission
free

PageTop