Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Adventures In Akabira

Welcome back, me.


The leaves are turning yellow and red, it's a lot cooler in the evenings, our open school events are finished and the Mariners are trying to figure out what they can do to be competitive next season after having a big ol' batch of baseball impotence rise up (hah!) and kill their season before I could watch them suck it up against the A's in early September.

It's fall again.

I had the day off on Monday, so I went out and did some exploring.

Since I'm not a big fan of most of the shrines up here in Hokkaido (and that's a subject for its own post), I've had to search for something else to go out and see while I'm here.

I found my answer. Haikyo. Modern-day ruins. Buildings that have been abandoned and are slowly being reclaimed by nature. Railroad lines that were closed down and had the majority of track pulled up, but still leave evidence that at one time, they were used and loved by the people in the communities they serviced. Mines that have dried up and are no longer economically viable to run.

Hoo-boy, is Hokkaido filled with haikyo.

This time, I headed to a city called Akabira. Located in the formerly coal-rich area of Sorachi in central Hokkaido, Akabira was part of the huge coal mining boom that swept through the island in the last century.

But like most booms, it was a temporary thing, and as the coal ran out, mines started getting closed down, until there were only two left in Hokkaido. One in Kushiro, where they are still mining under the sea floor, and one in Akabira, which was operated by the Sumitomo Coal Mining Company. It held on the longest, finally forced to close down in 1992. The mine shaft complex still looms on the Akabira horizon, and the folks in Akabira have decided to use it as a tourist attraction.

Presumably because there's not a whole heck of a lot else to use as tourist attractions in Akabira. (I say this with love.)

A few weeks ago, the Sapphire Princess luxury cruise liner came to Muroran, and once again the staff and students of Starfish High headed out into Muroran to volunteer as translators for all of the rich people that came into town. The event was successful, and at a celebration some of the staff had a few weeks later, I met a woman who works in Akabira promoting "dead tourism", as she put it, in comparison to "live tourism", which is what we pulled off in Muroran.

Basically, she works with a group that encourages tourism of the old, no-longer-running (i.e. "dead") coal mining areas in Sorachi.

So with a day off coming up, I called her and said I was heading that way and would be there sometime after 9 AM. (She had a meeting at 10.)

Up and out the door at 6 AM Monday morning. (I'll have plenty of time to sleep in when the snow falls and the insane Hokkaido drivers make me fear for my life out on snowy, icy roads.) And as promised, I made it to Akabira just after 9.

Ms. Uemura, my kind and courteous host, met me at a local convenience store and set me up with some people to show me around town, apologizing that she couldn't. Which just made me feel bad, because she was taking time out of her (what seemed to be an insanely) busy schedule to help some white dude with a camera slung on his shoulder go around and look at mines.

So before heading off to her meeting, she introduced me to Mr. Kato, who is a haikyo fan like myself and took me on a quick trip through town.

First, he took me to a lesser-known mine, the Fukuzumi Shaft, which is completely overgrown, not that easy to find, plus it's not even all that known among the people in Akabira.

The Fukuzumi Shaft.

We also went and saw the Akama "Zuri" mountain. "Zuri" is a term used in Hokkaido to describe the slag and cast-off from mines, and it was often piled up so high that it made small mountains.

Then it was over to The Main Attraction.

The Sumitomo Coal Mine building, preserved since its closing. "Preserved" in this case meaning "not torn down and merely left to the elements, with the most basic touch-ups done to the outside, because Sumitomo didn't have enough money to tear it down".

The crows seem to like it, anyway.

After a quick peek at the outside of the building, we swung over to see the old power plant for the mine, and then it was over to the coal mining museum, which was converted from an elementary school.

Ms. Uemura made a phone call, and some dude from city hall showed up to open the museum up, as it is usually closed on Mondays.


This is a fact that I remembered upon arrival in Akabira. Oops.

The museum was very informative, with a lot of material and equipment of display. Thank you, city hall dude.

Then Mr. Kato and I headed back to the mine, because he had just recieved a call from Ms. Uemura telling him she had made another one of her phone calls and now some guy was coming over to actually OPEN UP THE MINE BUILDING.

Mr. Yamaguchi, general manager for Sumitomo Coal Mining Company Ltd., met us and let us inside.

So I got the official tour. Which apparently usually requires a lot of paperwork but this time only took a phone call.

Thank you, Ms. Uemura!

Mr. Kato (Thank you, too!) had to take off, so Mr. Yamaguchi took me around to see a few more places.

Like the company bath building, where workers would go to clean up after eight hours (or so) in the mine. It is also the place where the currently store some hazardous materials (not photos permitted), so apparently no one except company personnel get in there. Perhaps this is another example of the Gaijin Smash.

I also got to visit the equipment display garage, where some of the machinery used in the mine is on display. Mr. Yamaguchi told me that the majority of the equipment is "sleeping underground", sealed up in the mine when they closed it off.

He had to get to a meeting as well, so I thanked him for his time (which he made perfectly obvious was being provided to me ONLY because of Ms. Uemura's call) and left.

A couple more shots of the mine from outside.

Fall leaves...
...and some very beautiful flowers.

Ms. Uemura called me and told me to meet up with her at a restaurant run by her mother, where I could have anything on the menu. A croquette rice bowl and mini curry and rice later, she arrived from her meeting. I thanked her profusely, and offered any help that I might be able to give if she ever needed any English translation work done. Then I was on my way.

Through Utashinai and Kamisunagawa, and down into Ashibetsu, past Lake Katsurazawa...

...where I got this shot.

Then over into Mikasa City, where I got a few shots of the Ponbetsu Mine Shaft.

And then I went home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like a really fun trip. I wish we could have been there. Kind of like the old concrete plant at Lime.

Thursday, October 25, 2007 12:15:00 AM  
Blogger Jason H. said...

nice pics! nice post!

Friday, October 26, 2007 12:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Saturday, October 27, 2007 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Scott Lothes said...

Great stuff, Dustin! I really enjoyed the pictures from inside the mine building. Japanese hospitality still never ceases to amaze me. I also really like the photo of the mine building under that big October sky. Well done.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 4:03:00 AM  
Blogger kathy said...

I usually don't leave comments, but I found your blog after searching for Muroran, which is where my mother was born. It was fun to read and the photos are great. Can't wait to read more and feel my connection with Japan again...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 8:01:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home