Hiking up to Shobudani
Yesterday we hiked up through Takao to the Shobudani mine side a 20-30 minute climb up through trees, brush following a trodden dirt path that at times wsaz hard to follow. After we reached the rindge almost immeditely and over the crest of the ridge we found a digging site facing Shobudani Saga area. What we first saw was a protruding and partially collapsed ledge of liht colored yellow and white stone jutting out above the
descending mountain side so that the out of character light stone was easy to see through the trees. The face of the shelf of was under cut from digging and collasping stone and was about 30 feet high by 40 feet wide with large extensive blocks that had detatched adn lay at the feet of the ledge.
There is evidence of some excavation at the lowest points but so much rubble being present has filled up much of the area below. The angle of the sheet as it emerges suggests that if follows the slope of the
opposite side of the mountain facing Takao and back down into Umegahata. If that is so then the portion seen might be the upper edge of the Oozuku and Okudo faces.
The stone seen on the surface at this location is exposed to the elements and there is lots of oxidation and flacking in its makeup and has no use as sharpening media as it lays. There may have bees some tonage
removed at earlier stomes and some good stone may still be in the ground. A natural exposed outcropping of the Tamba Terrane like seen here might have been a historically early sighting of what we now think of as HonYama toishi. Ridges are relatively easy to walk, are traversed as passes and because of the exposure
and the thinness of the topsoil under foot, sightings of exposed stone is no uncommon.
About 40 vertical feet below this first sighting my partner Emiko and I spotted another dug area that had all of the signs of a man made mine shaft. An actual oval shaped 5ft high entrance cut into hard stone and extending in a perfectly straight but less than vertical incline directly into the mountain side. Without any aids
I could see 50 to 60 feet down into the shaft and spotted a lighter colored stone there as a reference.
Because of the juxtsposition to the above ledge of awasedo type stone and the rubble tailings scattered about and the shape of the tunnel this without a doubt could be considered a Shobudani mine location facing Shobudani pond down below. These two occurances were found within about 100 vertical feet of the ridge
line that separates the Umegahata and Shobudani valleys.
In the years surrounding 1375 the city of Kyoto was expanding. These mine sites are now almost within the city limits, and in those early days ancient holy sites were already established with communities of woodsmen, stone men and hunters traversing these mountains as they were called upon to do.
Outdoorsmen are keen to spot many things when out and about. Game and natural resources abound in
these forested mountain sides, I spotted a wild boar myself and there is no reason that the first awase toishi were not just stumbled upon on a ridge top. On the ridges sub soils are only inches to a few feet deep, stone
is seen here and there. For modern mining these remote locations are costly, in ancient times labor was
willing and ready and included women and children to carry loads down the trails.
In my talks with Ishihara-san of Kameoka, the owner of the Ohira mine, he was quick to point out that the earliest mine tunnels of his mines dating back 175 years were at the upper reaches, and that as those digs were depleted they moved down the mountainsides following the plate of awase toishi as best they could. In
these lower elevation mine openings the subsoil can be as deep as 40 feet and requires lots of timber work within before you reach the shelf of stone to dig.
This day we continued down the mountain side to try and relocate some other mine openings that we had found the previous day. As we followed some light trails here and there that were just a bit better than game trails we found several other excavations along the way at lower elevations. All we found, about five in total,
were leading more or less as we were heading in the general direction down towards the first and lowest mine tunnel that was near the valley floor. This first and lowest mine shaft I found the day before was really
exciting for me because after a hot day of hiking, approaching the mine after scrambling up a hillside the thermal column of air rolling out to it was dramatic. The ambient temperature that day was about 75, I estimate the cold tunnel air to be in the low 40s, and there was a definite force behind it like it was being pushed. This shaft and the other 4 tunnels I found above it were all dug at downwardly inclined angles.
One shaft above this first one, another 40 or 50 feet above on the mountain was well defined for the first 20 to 30 feet up to where I saw some sunlight from above in the darkness. Following up on this I found it was
filtering down from a higher up tunnel that had collapsed shelf above it that was very raw looking. This area looked unsure under foot so I worked around it with caution. These two mine shafts along with the raw shelf
and rubble took up an area of about a 1/4 acre as it rambled up the slope. I did see one more shaft that was shallow up beyond these lower openings.
We were told before we went up the mountain that there was an accident at the Shobudani mine earlier on, no date given. And that this is reason why the mine closed. The way this told, and by whom, suggested an opinion based on a factual occurrence. I personally know one miner who was caught in a cave-in, so I believe
this part of the tale. Being this was why the mine was closed, maybe but maybe not. I would suggest however that if someone was indeed below when this shelf collasped, they very well may have been injured.
In walking around the Nakayama mine site the first thing I noticed was the vast amount of rubble scattered about as an almost uniform layer instead of soil. That site was graded after the mine closed using heavy
equipment to make it safe. There still are at least two open mine tunnels that I found, one mine entrance that was sealed with a stone wall across its face, and I suspect another mine shaft which I be was the owners last incursion which failed because of water intrusion. I suspect that there were a good number of other early and ancient mine entrances at Nakayama that were bull dozed over and filled in by Ishihara-san and the rest of the crew who helped Kato-san secure and close up the mine. This is not the case at Shobudani.
Shobudani is a wild place still, thousands of acres of wilderness in the ancient Saga region of Kyoto. The Shobudani mine was not a single mine shaft or entrance, but instead was a working property that over hundreds of years increased in scale as the minerals were payed out by extraction from one mine entrance to the next. The Nakayama mine and the other mines like Okudo and Oozuku and Ozaki were all closed for the same various reasons: extraction became too costly, the stone source became depleted, environment
regulations regarding watersheds and road building were enforced, labor costs increased, informal granted mineral rights altered, the demand for expensive natural stones diminished.
I will suggest here that the most influential reasons why the thread of the stone mining culture came to a
close surrounded the of the dirty and dangerous nature of this business, it is not one that you can easily
jump into as an adult. It is hard being underground day after day if you were not weened into it as a youth. In some cases like Ishihara-san who has 2 daughters but no sons, the end his family maintaining the mineral rights is at hand. And the money is not really there like it used to be. This is not a sexy business.
(The picture is a steep hillside view of old mine in Umegahata.