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Goin’ Japanesque!

Manda Coal Mine: World Heritage in Kumamoto, Growth Driver in Japan’s Modernization

An old coal mine in Japan was registered as a World Heritage site in July, 2015. It is Manda Coal Mine in Arao City, Kumamoto Prefecture.

Manda Coal Mine was first designated as an important cultural asset by the Japanese government for its contribution to the modernization of Japan. Its facilities and tools, which were actually used, have since been preserved carefully. A movement to disseminate the mine’s historical importance on an international scale led to the registration in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Site in January, 2009 before the mine finally won official registration in 2015.

Thanks to the ongoing “ruins tour boom” and the World Heritage registration, the coal mine has gained renewed attention from both within and outside of Japan. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce to you the history and the points of interest of the coal mine and share my experience of visiting it.


Point of Interest No.1: The Second Vertical Shaft (Daini Tateko Yagura)

Writer’s Photo

Manda Coal Mine served as one of the drivers of the modernization of Japan for about 100 years after its foundation in 1902. Japan started to modernize itself at an incredible speed through the rapid acceptance of Western industrial technologies in the Meiji Period (late 19th – early 20th century). This came after the Edo period during which the country isolated itself from outside influences. Manda Coal Mine played an important and active role through the modernization process.

This photo shows “Daini Tateko Yagura,” or the second vertical shaft, which is made of steel and considered to be the symbol of the mine. The steel used for the shaft and the bricks of the building adjoining the shaft were all imported from UK, which exemplifies the effort they made back then in learning Western technologies.

Writer’s Photo

A guided tour is available and provides a great way to know about the coal mine in detail. Some of the tour guides here used to work in the mine as miners and will vividly describe their own experiences to visitors.


Point of Interest No.2: Huge Elevator

Writer’s Photo

Writer’s Photo

This is the view from inside the shaft. A huge elevator used to go up and down the shaft carrying miners and materials. Looking up from the bottom, the 18.9 meters tall shaft looked very impressive.

Writer’s Photo

There is a hut which must have been used for the purpose of monitoring the elevator and you can see the maximum carrying capacity written on the signboard on the wall.


Point of Interest No.3: Traces of Miners

Writer’s Photo

Writer’s Photo

Another great thing you can see here is all kinds of actual tools scattered around the site. They remain just as they were actually used back at the time. You can see everything from an old wooden locker to miners’ helmets with lights, fire buckets filled with sand, the bathroom and so on. Many of the miners lived in the dormitory rather than commuting from a distance. I could feel the traces of their lives strongly here and there.


Point of Interest No.4: Machines and Tools That Were Actually Used

Writer’s Photo

Writer’s Photo

If you join a guided tour, you will be required to wear a helmet to go to areas with low ceilings and go up and down steep stairs. You may well remember your childhood when you used to have fun playing as an adventurer. Just remember to join the tour with easy shoes to walk in.

The cable drum in the photo was once used to lift the elevator up and down. You can tell the scale of the elevator from the sheer size.


Always a Risk of Death in the Mine

Writer’s Photo

The photo shows a shrine dedicated to the god of mine. Deep in the underground, they could never tell what might happen anytime, so they prayed to the god of mine for their safety before they descended into the mine. It’s really heart aching to hear of those miners who were killed in explosions and other accidents

Even if it might not always and necessarily have been life threatening, memoirs of many miners tell us how working in a mine required great mental and physical patience. Following are a few examples of passages from such memoirs.

“Inside the highly humid and dark mine with many mice roaming around, I had my lunch eaten by them.”
“You are often caught by a sudden obscure fear when you are alone in the darkness.”


Writer’s Photo

After the defeat in the Second World War, Japan went through a period of great economic growth and revived as a leading player in the world economy. But as the transition in the energy regime from coal to oil progressed, many coal mines were forced to shut down.

Long after the shut down, Manda Coal Mine remains only as ruins today. But we should never forget the miners who risked their lives in their labor and made great contributions to make Japan what it is today.

<Manda Coal Mine> Map
Opening Hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM (Admission to the Paid Area is Until 4:30 PM)
Closing Day: Mondays (or the next day if Monday falls on a public holiday) / Year End and New Year’s Holidays (Dec 29th – Jan 3rd)
[By Car] 30 Minute Drive from Nankan IC of Kyushu Expressway
[By Train / Bus] Take JR Kagoshima Honsen Line from Kumamoto Station to Arao Station (45 Minute Ride). Take a Sanko Bus from Arao Station and get off at “Mandako Mae” stop (About 15 Minute Ride).

Related Articles:
Gunkanjima, the Site of Live-Action Movie Attack on Titan: A World Heritage Site

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About the author

I cherish the history, culture and nature of Japan. In university, I majored in history and I currently often travel to see things that I have not seen around the world through my own eyes. I hope to convey to all of you, the excitement I feel through such experiences. I hope you come to love Japan even more.

View all articles by Mikiko