Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, Shimizudani Refinery Ruins 001.JPG
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, v
Reference 1246
UNESCO region Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2007 (31st Session)

The Iwami Ginzan (石見銀山 “Silver Mountain of Iwami?) was a silver mine in the city of Ōda, Shimane Prefecture, on the main island of Honshū, Japan.[1] It was the largest silver mine in Japanese history. It was active for almost four hundred years, since its discovery in 1526 until its eventual closing in 1923.

It was added to the World Heritage List in 2007.[2]


Ryūgen-ji mabu (mine tunnel)

It was developed in 1526 by Kamiya Jutei, a Japanese merchant. It reached its peak production in the early 17th century of approximately 38 tons of silver a year which was then one third of the world's production.[3]

Silver from the mine was used widely for coins. It was contested fiercely by warlords until the Tokugawa Shogunate won control of it in 1600 as a result of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.[3] It was later secured by fences and barricaded by pine trees. Yamabuki Castle was built in the centre of the complex.[3]

Silver production from the mine fell in the nineteenth century as it had trouble competing with mines elsewhere. Then in exchange for silver some kinds of mineral like copper had been mainly mined in the mountain. The mine was eventually closed in 1923.

Influence to economy[edit]

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine played a pivotal role in East Asian trade, where silver was the key currency. In Europe and China, the mine had been known as the largest silver mine that could compare with the Cerro Rico in Potosí (now the World Heritage Site in Bolivia).

In foreign countries, because the silver mined at Iwami Ginzan was very high quality, it came to be known as one of the Japanese brand of silver called "Soma Silver". The name derived from the village of Sama (Soma) in which the mine was. This silver was given the highest trading credit in East Asia. From 17th century, the silver coin made of the silver of the mine had been traded as not only one of the basic currencies in Japan but also as the currency in the trade with China, Portugal and the Netherlands. (Portugal had traded with Japan from late 16th century. Netherlands had traded with Japan from 17th century.)

The prosperity of the mine can be known that it was indicated in the maps at the time as the "Silver Mine Kingdom". With the progress of navigation, the monarchs of Western Europe had gotten a lot of maps imported from the Muslim world and had made their own maps. The fleet with the maps came to India, China and Japan to trade goods and get the silver mined. The feudal lords who governed the mine traded with these countries actively.

World Heritage Site[edit]

Parts of the mining town remain in good condition and the Japanese Government has designated it as a Special Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings in 1969. The government also applied for it to become a World Heritage Site. The bid succeeded in July 2007,[2] although an evaluation of the site by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOSMOS) found no "outstanding universal value."[4] Nevertheless, the evaluating body concluded in its report that Iwami Ginzan was "a strong candidate for inscription as a World Heritage property"[4] but recommended that the nomination be deferred for the time being so that more research on the property may be conducted.

The World Heritage Site Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape includes not only Iwami Ginzan's mining area of around six hundred pits and mine shafts but also related processing, administrative, residential, and religious sites, three former castles built in the sixteenth century to protect the mines, three service ports for shipping silver, and connecting transportation routes. The fourteen nominated components assessed by ICOMOS are (1) the mining area of Ginzan Sakunouchi (銀山柵内?), (2) the Daikansho site, (3) Yataki Castle site (矢滝城跡?), (4) Yahazu Castle site (矢筈城跡?), and (5) Iwami Castle site (石見城跡?), (6) the mining settlement of Ōmori Ginzan (大森銀山?), (7) the silver refining facilities of Miyanomae (宮ノ前地区?), (8) the House of the Kumagai Family (熊谷家住宅?), (9) the temple Rakan-ji Gohyakurakan (羅漢寺?), the transportation routes (10) Iwami Ginzan Kaidō Tomogauradō and (11) Iwami Ginzan Kaidō Yunotsu-Okidomaridō, and the ports and port towns of (12) Tomogaura (鞆ヶ浦?), (13) Okidomari (沖泊?), and (14) Yunotsu (温泉津?).[4][5]

While the development of a silver mine usually requires large quantities of lumber, the development of Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine resulted in less ecological pollution because of proper control of logging. It was one of the reasons that Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine was selected as a World Heritage Site.It was also selected as 100 greatest geological sites of Japan in 2007.

See also[edit]



External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°06′26″N 132°26′15″E / 35.10722°N 132.43750°E / 35.10722; 132.43750