In 1927, the Besshi Copper Mines were nearing the end of their working life owing to exhaustion of the mineral deposits. Confronting the issue, Kageji Wasio, then manager of Besshi Mine, undertook the regeneration of Niihama in 1929 with the aim of promoting industrial development capable of replacing the mines as a new source of prosperity. He advocated the industrialization of Niihama to achieve coprosperity with the local community where the Besshi Copper Mines had long been the mainstay of the local economy.
Washio emphasized improvement of the infrastructure. The Port of Niihama was established and chemical, machinery, and power plants were opened on the reclaimed land. Roads and company housing were built. In addition, the railway hitherto exclusively for the Besshi Copper Mines was opened to the general public as a local means of transportation. Washio’s initiatives were spurred by the endorsement and support of Takajiro Imai, the mayor of Niihama.
However, the extent of the involvement of Sumitomo, a private-sector entity, in public works, normally carried out by the national or municipal government, proved controversial. Moreover, Washio’s arbitrary decisions on investment in Niihama became an issue, leading to his dismissal in 1933.
Despite Washio’s dismissal, the urban regeneration continued and, as a result, Niihama, a city whose economy was previously led by the mining sector, became a major industrial center in the Setouchi Industrial Zone. In retrospect, Washio’s foresight is evident.