In the Taisho era, Sumitomo was buffeted by the economic disruption wrought by the First World War. Under the leadership of Director-General Masaya Suzuki, management sought to expand the real estate business, including through development of gold and silver mines and also forestry, to safeguard the House of Sumitomo.
For Masatsune Ogura, then manager of Sumitomo Head Office (later the sixth Director-General), gold had a powerful allure: “The value of gold is eternal. When times are hard, gold shines. True, a copper mine is a blessing, but we must have a gold mine too.” Gold was discovered at Konomai in the Kitami district of Hokkaido in 1917 and Ogura was instrumental in establishing the mine. In response, Kichizaemon Tomoito, the 15th head of the Sumitomo family, composed a poem. It expresses his heartfelt delight at the addition of the gold mine at Konomai to the Sumitomo business portfolio—a new treasure of the Sumitomo family, alongside the copper mines at Besshi.
However, no vein was struck following the opening of the mine, and Sumitomo faced the unpalatable prospect of perhaps having to close the mine even though it was still in its infancy. Ogura made further investments and continued the search for an ore vein, declaring, “It is important to press ahead in times of adversity and pull back in times of triumph.” An immense deposit was eventually struck in 1925, and the Konomai Gold Mine became the richest mine in Japan in terms of gold output.
Subsequently, gold output continued to increase every year, amounting to some 73 tons during the 56 years until the closure of the mine in 1973. As a veritable “treasure of Sumitomo,” the Konomai Gold Mine helped underpin Sumitomo’s prosperity. Noting that 2017 was the centenary of the opening of the Konomai Gold Mine, we should celebrate the achievements of our predecessors whose vision and determination led to the development of the gold mine.