The Besshi Copper Mines opened in 1691 during the Genroku era of the Edo period (1603-1868) and continued in operation for 283 years until 1973. With total production of approximately 700,000 tons of copper, the Besshi Copper Mines were among the leading sources of copper in Japan.
During the Edo era, the Besshi Copper Mines were a key enabler of Japanese economic development as the country was one of the world’s foremost producers and a major exporter of copper. From the start of the Meiji era (1868-1912), as the owner of Japan’s sole private mining enterprise in operation since the Edo period, Sumitomo contributed to Japan’s modernization and industrialization. At the same time, Sumitomo diversified its business interests, further contributing to economic development.
Sumitomo Group companies are nowadays engaged in a wide range of businesses, but most can trace their origin, directly or indirectly, back to the Besshi Copper Mines. Thus, the Besshi Copper Mines are central to the history of Sumitomo.
Much of the visible remains of the mines—dispersed over an extensive area of Niihama City, Ehime Prefecture, including the former Besshiyama Village—are gradually blending with the landscape as vegetation flourishes at former industrial sites, but they are also attracting growing interest following their designation as Heritage of the Industrial Modernization of Japan by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Exhibits at the Besshi Copper Mine Memorial Museum, which opened in 1975, illuminate the history of this fascinating industrial endeavor.