Over some decades ago, production by mining was considered so important that addressing the pollution problem it caused was set aside. This was the case with “Ashio Copper Mine”, once considered the best mining site in Japan in the 1600s. However, later on, it became a major site of pollution in the 1800s causing several miners riots. Let’s check out its mining history.
Ashio Copper Mine originally belonged to the Tokugawa shogunate, the last feudal military in Japan. It became the center of production reaching 1,500 tons per year. It was later closed and was privately owned by Furukawa Ichibei, a Japanese businessman also known as “The Copper King” of Japan. He later organized the mine with his other holdings and formed an industrial conglomerate called “Furukawa zaibatsu”. With new ownership, production increased dramatically reaching 4,090 tons per year! Thirty-nine percent (39%) of the production was focused on copper.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an environmental disaster occurred as a result of mining operations. It caused a lot of turmoil for the residents of Watarase and Tone as they noticed the color of the river had changed and the fish were dying. Over time, almost all the fish had died in the area which left many fishermen out of work. Regardless of this, the mines continued and even expanded through deforestation for more timber required to operate the mines.
As there was now no protection from flooding, the town suffered again but this time, from a major flood in 1890 which swept the mine’s waste onto the green fields causing them to be barren. Other larger floods followed which then saw major action being taken by the Japanese government. To lessen the pollution and issues that the mine was causing, Furukawa Corporation started building filtration systems. However, with pollution still being a major problem, the townspeople continued protesting for several years.
Until finally, in 1911, the government passed a Factory Law; the mine was forced to stop its production and was finally shut down in 1973.
The mining history of Ashio Copper Mine prompted the people of Japan to become more conscious of the environment. Whatever purpose the mine served, it brought about the Japanese Government introducing the Factory Law and taking a stand for the people and the environment.