“An enterprise like no other. Desiring to extract inexhaustible red copper for the nation’s economy. A railway, cleaving the heavens in twain, is the essential link.”

  • # Director-General
The upper railway running along a precipice 1,000 meters above sea level (photographed in 1909)
Photo courtesy of Sumitomo Historical Archives

In 1894, the Besshi mine railway, consisting of the lower railway traversing the Niihama lowlands (approx. 10 km between Sobiraki and Hadeba) and the upper railway running along a mountainside 1,000 meters above sea level (approx. 5.5 km between Ishigasanjo and Kadoishihara), opened for the transportation of ore and supplies for the mine workers. This was Japan’s first mountain railway.

Saihei Hirose, the first Director-General, was overjoyed when the railway opened. Every character of this poem composed in a Chinese poetic form, which relates the story of an undertaking monumental in importance and scale, attests to his enthusiasm for the project. Copper production at the Besshi Copper Mines was not merely the business of one company. Extracting the distinctive reddish-hued copper from mines that extended from 1,000 meters above sea level to a depth of 1,000 meters below sea level was an enormous undertaking that enriched the nation and society. The mine railway, following a route high up among the mountains toward the sky, symbolized the success of this great enterprise.

This railway was inspired by Hirose’s experience when touring Europe and North America in 1889, four years before the railway opened. Hirose inspected a mountain railway that threaded its way along sheer cliffs at the Colorado Central Mine in the Rocky Mountains, an experience that made him confident about the prospects for constructing a railway to serve the Besshi Copper Mines. Grasping that the situation at the mine in Japan was essentially the same, with only minor differences, he hired railway engineer Togo Ogawa and embarked on construction.

In 1887, before he visited Europe and North America and before he composed this poem, on a mountaintop at Besshi, Hirose declared, “I will devote myself to the encouragement of new industry and share the benefits with tens of millions of people.” Hirose, who showed great ability in forging ahead with projects to accomplish his objectives, was convinced that “Sumitomo must not only seek profit for itself, but also share the benefits of industry with the nation’s citizens.”