“Revering these mountains as gods—awed and humbled to have mined here for generations”

  • # House of Sumitomo
A monument inscribed with this poem stands before Besshi Copper Mine Memorial Museum in Niihama City.
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd.

The once-thriving Besshi Copper Mine eventually closed on March 31, 1973, just as Japan’s economy was transitioning from high growth to stable progress. After 282 years, the curtain was lowered on Besshi, Japan’s foremost copper mine, once extolled in the Rules Governing the House of Sumitomo as “a family property and financial resource for successive generations.”

Following the decision to close the mines, Tomonari Sumitomo, the 16th family head, visited the Besshi Mine Office. Entering a mine gallery, he made his way to the lowest level, a tunnel some 2,000 meters underground and 1,000 meters below sea level. He subsequently visited Yamane Oyamazumi Shrine to report the closing of the mines to the enshrined kami or spirits. He walked along mountain paths, touring the remains of the former Besshi site, and brought his final visit to a close by visiting the smelter on Shisakajima.

Tomonari, a poet of the Araragi school of tanka and disciple of Mokichi Saito who composed poetry under the pseudonym Kokichi Izumi, halted many times along the way and earnestly jotted down notes. After returning home, he conveyed the emotions felt during his trip to Besshi in sixteen poems, one of which appears above.

This poem expresses Tomonari’s profound emotions at the closing of the copper mines that had been handed down in the family for generations. At the same time, he conveyed his reverence as head of the Sumitomo family for the people who perished by fire and flood in the course of the history of the mines.