Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine
The ancient silver of the far east. What once was Japan's largest silver mine is now its most historic.
During the 17th century, a third of the world’s silver was produced in the small town of Omori in Shimane Prefecture. In fact, the town was home to the largest silver mine in Japan’s long history– Iwami Ginzan. Closed down in the 1920s, the skeletons of Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine remain, waiting to be explored by those seeking a quiet reprieve and who aren’t scared of small, dark spaces.
The impressive construction of the mineshafts speaks to the hard working Japanese spirit of those days. Many of them were initially dug by hand by workers as young as 10 years old.
Iwami Ginzan sits within the historical city of Oda which encompasses not only Omori, but the old-school bathing town Yunotsu Onsen as well. Collectively, the area was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007– dubbed as “Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape.”
Though known for its silver-rich history, the real jewel of this place is the rustic aesthetic of Omori Street which is lined with traditional houses that have been converted into cozy cafes and shops. Take a stroll through history, explore an underground mine shaft and don’t forget to stop at the charming German bakery.
While traveling to Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, it is recommended to start at Omori Daikansho bus stop and make your way to Kigami Shrine (Map). Step inside and look up — the menacing dragon on the ceiling is the protector of the town. If you sit below the dragon and clap, you can hear him “roar.” After visiting the dragon, make your way up Omori Street.
The epitome of old school, some of the buildings on Omori Street have been preserved since the 1500s.
Visit the Kumagai Residence, which was home to the town’s wealthiest merchant family back in the day, and get a feel for the simplicity of life 200 years ago. The structure of the house is astounding, and on the second Sunday of each month, you can try snacks made in its rustic wood-fired oven!
The town residents are so dedicated to preserving the authenticity of Iwami Ginzan that they even had the vending machines covered with a wooden case so as not to look too modern.
Further along the road, a solemn piece of history sits at Gohyaku Rakan with 501 statues built to memorialize those who died in the mines. Each statue has a different face so family members of the deceased believe they can find one that resembles their loved one.
Grab a quick lunch at one of the homey cafes or munch on German-style pastries at Backerei Konditorei Hidaka (Map) before heading to the mineshaft. The smell of fresh-baked raisin nut bread wafting down the street will lure you in.
Ryugenji Mabu Mineshaft
Cold, stiff air instantly greets you as you step inside the tunnel that’s part of the remains of the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine. You’ll find yourself bending down as the size gradually decreases. The shaft stretches 600 meters, but only the first 150 meters are open for exploration. As you walk, imagine what life must have been like for families who worked in the mine for generations.
The town used to be a satellite economy, depending on the mine’s silver output. Now they rely on tourists looking for a taste of old Japan. Visit the Iwami Ginzan World Heritage Center (Map) for more displays about the mine’s history.