When I arrived at the Akenobe Mine and saw it demolished, I was devastated. Three years ago, this was supposed to be my first big exploration of an abandoned mine… They are rare in Kansai, and while the *Tatsuyama Mine* the year before was a good start, it couldn’t compete with the country’s greatest. But upon my arrival, the Akenobe Mine was mostly gone and the surrounding area brushed clean. A blessing in disguise, because three years and half a dozen barely touched abandoned mines later, it was very exciting to have a look at those “old” photos again, being able to see what a stripped mine looks like underneath all the rusty metal and brittle wood.
It was a sunny spring day when my buddy Dan and I headed deep into the mountains of Hyogo; an area that can be cold, but was unlikely to have snow that time of the year. After exploring another place or two, we finally arrived at the Akenobe Mine at around two o’clock. Just in time for a proper exploration as the sun is setting early in Japan; especially in the mountains, especially that time of the year. We easily found the road leading up the slope, blocked by a massive barbed wire gate. Getting by was a bit of a challenge, especially for me, but in the end it wasn’t much of an obstacle. So we followed the concrete street, littered with branches and small rocks, up the mountain, eager to find out what condition the Akenobe Mine was in. The hairpin curve leading into a dark tunnel must have been quite a thing when driving a loaded truck, but on foot it was rather enjoyable. Sadly our good mood turned into disappointment after the next turn – all the administrative buildings of the mine were gone, except for some concrete bases and stairs here and there on different levels of the mountain. The whole wooden superstructure above the massive concrete containers in the mountainside were gone; so, of course, was all the machinery. The former mine looked like it was prepared as some kind of development area, though nothing ever happened since then – no housing projects, no solar park. To get closer to the concrete leftovers, we had to get past a massive green fence, which turned out to be no obstacle at all. Sadly there wasn’t that much to see, despite us checking out several levels of the former construction. Some cables here, some canisters there… remains of a rail transportation system, of course… Not at all what we expected, but like I said, in hindsight a really good experience.
A far less good experience there had 296 prisoners of war a few decades earlier – a fact neither Dan nor I was aware of at the time. Mining for copper, zinc and tungsten (wolfram) in the Akenobe area dates back to the Heian era (794-1185), but was taken over by the new Meiji government in 1868 in an attempt to maximize the potential and progress with organized, documented mining. Like many of those highly profitable pilot projects, the Akenobe Mine was sold to Mitsubishi in 1898, together with the nearby Ikuno Silver Mine. In spring of 1945 the Akenobe Mine again received some state support in form of almost 300 POWs as forced workers – 28 Australians, 168 Brits; the rest Americans. According to Private First Class Claude R. Lewis of the U.S. Marine Corps the POWs had to work in the mines till August 13th, two days before Japan’s capitulation. Thanks to an affidavit by him, we know that he witnessed how countless boxes and cabinets with documents were transported into the mine and probably hidden in the undocumented early parts that date back hundreds of years – sadly I wasn’t able to find out if they were ever retrieved after the war. While it seems like none of the forced laborers died in Akenobe, many of them reported war crimes of staff and guards at previous camps… which probably explains an oppressive statement made by Japanese translator Kazuo Kobayashi, who worked mainly with the Ikuno prisoners: “Just the mention of Akenobe does strangely bring back tragic images of right after the end of the war when the prisoners were freed, when some of the camp military personnel and Japanese bosses working at the Akenobe mine site were beaten to a pulp.”
Mining continued after the war, but all the mines in the area became less and less profitable, so in 1987 the Akenobe Mine was closed. It seems like these days parts of the Akenobe Mine and some other remains (like a small closed station with a three car train) are actually considered “Heritage of Industrial Modernization” and therefore are open to the public for a fee of 1200 Yen, supported by an NPO. Sadly there is no English website, and the Japanese one is a text heavy read with 1990s web design… Well, not much of a tourist attraction for foreigners anyway – though now I am quite curious if they even mention the POWs there…
Darn, even writing about the Akenobe Mine was a constant up and down. Sunny day, place demolished, relaxed exploration, prisoners of war / guards getting killed in an act of revenge… I guess that’s life. And despite the fact that there was hardly anything left of the mine, it was strangely full of it. I still feel quite a bit conflicted about this place, nevertheless I hope you’ll enjoy the pictures and videos that follow. If you want to know what similar mines look like before demolition, please give my articles about the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine* (yes, it was that exciting!) or the *Taro Mine* a try.
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