The chemical pools of Osarizawa mine

MJG Haikyo, Iwate, Mines / Factories 24 Comments

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.

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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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

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I called it the ‘Incan mine’ because of this vaulted structure.

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The pools were very bright- surely filled with toxic run-off.

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A tree coated with toxic mush.

FACTFILE

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

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Comments 24

  1. A different kind of haikyo adventure. Glad you didn’t get in serious trouble. You got some great pictures. They look like illustrations for one of your dark fictions.

  2. Not sure what all that stuff about a gorgan was, but fortunately it did not stop me from reading on so I could hear the tale of you and the Can getting caught. Going to wear camo the next time entering a haikyo from now on? Weren’t as stealth entering this time as usual?

    Glad to see one black & white shot to add variety, and the plant inside the pool. Would like to hear a description (without much hyperbole) of what exactly the water in the pools was, even if just rain build-up, or if the water was in fact truly toxic, smelled bad, dissolved the tip of the Can’s shoe upon dipping it in, etc.

  3. Hey,
    Good write up of our troubles with the security guard, but in my mind the whole thing wasn’t as humourous as you made it out to be. The security guard never really smiled when I was there, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t trying to rope us into a tour, but to pay a fine and go sit in some Mitsubishi stockade for a while. But who really knows eh?

    Not sure if I’m a fan of the black and white photo, the colour shot does it so much more justice. Love that aqua blue.

    That stuff about the grey haired man fighting the lion demon thingy… really? Just made up stuff?

    What happened to your vimeo vid? Not working now.

    I see you changed your banner, I like the font!

    Jason, not sure exactly how toxic the water in those pools was, but the pools both had double barbed wire fences around them, making me think that taking a dip wouldn’t be the greatest idea.

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    Alice- Sweet, glad J liked it too- thanks 🙂

    David- Thanks, and am happy to hear this stuff syncs well with the fiction, as that is what the site is going to be from now.

    Tornadoes- Please, after you 😉

    Jason- The Gorgon stuff was ‘one legend of Osarizawa mine’, as it says in the post. It is the best rendering I could make of the mine’s Google-translated Wikipedia page. All the nouns are the same, though who knows if I got them in the correct order. Stealth entering- no different than usual, just chance really. The place was wide open on the hill-side. When a few cars pulled into the live factory beneath us, I sort of expected to be called out. No doubt the water was toxic- though it had no smell. I can’t imagine any standing water being bright blue, with no life in it, and not being some kind of toxic. Short of me carrying a chemical elements test with me to every haikyo, I think that’s the best description I can give.

    Pejo- Thanks, and I’m flattered for you to use one shot as wall-paper, please go ahead. I shoot with a Nikon d90, with a Tokina 11-16mm wide lens.

    Can- Cheers, and yeah, I think maybe he was a bit surlier when you came down, everybody just seemed very amused by the whole affair when I first went down. As for the tour, well, maybe he would have taken us to security- but since there actually is a tour, and it does actually take in that mine, only a few hundred feet from where we were hiding, I feel the real offence we committed was just jumping on the tour without paying. The gorgon story, as mentioned above, was from the mine’s Wikipedia page. The video- ach, Vimeo is a pain. Font- cheers!

  5. Wow, very funny story, and very cool pictures too!

    Would the pools be blue because of al the copper? I’m sure they are.
    Anyway, that mine site looks amazing.

  6. those photos are post-processed as hdr photography, so the color is extremely misleading.

    it probably isn’t that intense of a blue in real life.

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    Adrian- Cheers, and I’m looking forward to posting the next few things I have too.

    Intricate- Thanks- and the blueness, I don’t know, perhaps a chemical used in refining the copper (or gold)?

    Travis- It’s true they’re mostly HDR-processed, but done so with the saturation actually turned a fair way down. Look at the final photo (not HDR) and the video around 3 minutes to see the color in ‘real life’. It’s still striking.

  8. If you google a bit further you will notice something peculiar about that site you went to. Wikipedia states that Osarizawa mine was the site of 375 workers dieing when a levee failed at one of those ponds in 1936.

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    John- Thanks, and no worries on the mis-link, seems to be fixed now.

    Kevin- Thanks, I had no idea. But those pools in particular? Probably the bigger pool, the one in the video, or other ones, cos those pools were surely not big enough to kill that many people.

  10. Just for clarification, the blue color of the water is probably due to dissolved copper (it was a copper mine, after all) or a solution of copper sulfate used to precipitate out purified solid copper. Speculation with a background in chemistry, so take it as you will, but I thought you might like to know 😉

    1. Let me clarify. I am vietnamese so I hope I get me english correct. The blue/green color is due to malachite/azurite. Im a chemistry major and malachite/azurite are naturally always attached to native copper. Always.Even if you took a native copper sample and let it sit those minerals would develop. Its a beautiful color even if a couple of the photos are photoshop.

      Technically they could have been pools to collect these minerals found on native copper. Since they bond with water molecules. Sorry for such a late comment.

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  15. Hello Michael!

    I love the first and third fotos! Can you send me them in higher resolution? I’d like to have them as backgrounds on my computer.

    Thank you!
    -Tom (adatjoe@vipmail.hu)

  16. I really enjoyed this. My grandpa was a POW at this mine in WWII for three years, and I have had a hard time finding any good pictures on it. Imagine spending your 21st birthday doing slave labor there, he did. Crazy times.

  17. wow i live in Japan and i would like to go to haikyo like this too sadly i don’t have friends who’s interested to go with me and going alone is dangerous

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