Spotlight: Iwami Ginzan (Iwami Silver Mine)

On our road trip to Tokyo the other week, we made sure our route meandered north a bit from the highway we normally would have taken to include a drive through Shimane Prefecture. I’ve already posted about seeing the garden that has been #! on my to-do list for quite some time, but the day before we reached Matsue, we stopped off at the Iwami Ginzan or Iwami Silver Mine in the southwest corner of the prefecture.

The Iwami Silver Mine was designated a World Heritage Sight in 2007. In its heyday, the mine was one of the top-producing silver mines not just in Japan, but in the world, producing a third of the global output of silver. The mine was in business for nearly 400 years before it ran dry, and for most of those centuries was strictly controlled by the Tokugawa shoguns. Today, much of the area is in ruins, but the infrastructure of the old mining operation remains – the entire area includes mine shafts, the nearby administrative town of Omori and the port towns of Yunotsu, Okidomari and Tomogaura.

Entrance to one of the longest shafts of the Iwami Silver Mine
Entrance to one of the longest shafts of the Iwami Silver Mine

Now, I’m going to blame this next part on the stress of the move and the surprising lack of pre-trip research I did for this section of our adventure (Matsue was pretty well planned but not here) but our visit to the Iwami Silver Mine did not start off very promisingly. What we learned when we arrived at the UNESCO World Heritage Museum at the edge of town is that you can’t exactly drive up to the old mine shafts. Or take a bus. You walk. About 2-3 kilometers. All slightly uphill. And did I mention it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit that day?

Not about to make THAT trek with our four-year-old, we soon discovered a bike rental shop just at the edge of Omori town (the village closest to the mine) and I personally discovered the wonders of an electric bike. The ride to the mine passes through the edge of the village – with a few picturesque cafes and hillside temples – before looping through the woods and along a small stream. It’s an incredibly peaceful excursion, made that much more enjoyable by the fact that we didn’t have to actually exert ourselves too much to get there.

The road to the mine
The road to the mine

The main mine shaft open to the public is the Ryugenji shaft. It can be found a short walk from the end of the cycling road. The rather unassuming entrance into the ground leads to a 273 meter long tunnel (though the shaft continues on, just not accessible to the public). It’s a well-lit and rather large tunnel, though information is scant inside so do be sure to pick up the English brochure with your tickets.

The tunnel of the Ryugenji mine shaft
The tunnel of the Ryugenji mine shaft

Truthfully, the mine shaft is not terribly exciting on its own. But coupled with the forest setting and the nearby attractive village of Omori, I’d consider it worth attempting to get here, despite its out of the way location. Iwami Ginzan is most easily accessed by train from Matsue to Oda-shi, after which you need to board a local bus for the final 30 minutes to Omori Town.

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