Mining of gold and copper for personal finance and general wealth at the legendary Osarizawa mine began around 1300 years ago, with the last of the smelting facilities closing down in 1978. Now the site is owned by Mitsubishi, who run guided tours around the highlights and a museum for 1,000 yen- a tour we almost got chain-ganged into joining.
One legend of Osarizawa mine involves a gorgon-headed lion with the wings of a phoenix, the legs of a cow and the head of a snake. Its roar and monstrous appetite for children terrified the nearby villagers, who urged the village’s wisest old man to go battle it on the mountain top. The old man had long grey hair, and went to battle the beast in a series of 6 dreams. In the final one he managed to slit open the beast’s belly, from which poured gold, copper and lead.
While climbing the hill behind the Osarizawa pools (the Incan mine temple structure) we were spotted from the still-active factory nearby. We didn’t think too much about it, until a mini-bus with two people on board pulled into the roped-off area before the pools, and spent a while kicking about, laughing, and looking up at where me and Mike were hiding on the slopes.
Mike was wearing a bright yellow slicker, me a bright white T-shirt.
We hissed at each other in voices I’m now sure they could hear:
“What are they doing now?”
“They’re looking right at me!”
“Can they see you?”
“I think they can see my leg. Can they see you?”
“I’m just sitting here on the slope, I’m sure they can see me.”
After 5 minutes of this it started to seem faintly ridiculous. They clearly knew we were here, and were either waiting for us to come down and face the music, or were themselves tourists. I figured ‘what the heck’, and strode down to meet them. I made sure my camera was prominent, affixed a dumb grin to my face, and went right up to the big guy in a blue jumpsuit, behind whom the two younger office-worker types clustered and giggled.
“Are you the security guard?”
“Are you from that company?” (pointing at the active area)
“Yes. You’re not allowed to come here, you know.”
“Ah, I see.”
All the while the two youngsters, a guy and girl, were muttering and laughing, and most of the time the big blue guy was smiling and chuckling too, so it seemed clear we were not in major trouble. I smiled back sheepishly, realizing they had indeed been watching us ineffectually hide on the hill-side the whole time. We talked a little more, and the big blue guy told me we’d have to get on his bus, ride with him to the Mitsubishi security office nearby (they own all the mine sites), and pay a 1000 yen fine. Well, I was a little unsure about that, so voiced my concern vaguely.
“I have to get on the bus?”
(Smiling) “Yes, on the bus.”
“But we have a car. We can go by car.”
“Nope, we have to go in the bus.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, on the bus.”
Of course I had no idea where he would take us, or whether we’d be going directly to the nearest police station to get booked. Happily I had a little time to prevaricate as Mike was still in hiding on the hill-side.
“Well, wait a minute will you, my friend is still hiding on the hill-side.”
They all seemed to find this very amusing. They got on the bus, pulled around, and we all waited for Mike to come out of hiding. I could hear them laughing through the windows.
I filled Mike in on the situation, and we shared the concern that there was no way we’d get on a bus with them. We went back, and the guy showed us a tourist brochure showing a route around the local mine and factory facilities, and it became clearer the 1,000 yen was not a fine, but a fee for the tour. Still, we were wary to trust ourselves to his bus, so I just said we didn’t have the time, we had to go catch a shinkansen. He gave a cheery grin, said-
“Well don’t come in again, you know. This place is dangerous!”
Then watched us go on our way.
As a final piece of shame, we forgot to close the boot of the car after packing in Mike’s camera, and we drove off like that. I bet they had a good laugh. Only a few miles down the road did we realize.
I called it the ‘Incan mine’ because of this vaulted structure.
The pools were very bright- surely filled with toxic run-off.
A tree coated with toxic mush.
Entry – Easy to view, difficult to climb up to anything though.
Highlights – The pools, getting caught and kicked out, forgetting to close the boot as we drove off.
RUINS / HAIKYO
You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:
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