What are the Sado Island Gold Mines?

Sado Island Gold Mines

Photo by Hoichi Nishiyama

Placer Gold Mine

The Nishimikawa Placer Gold Mine is Sado’s oldest placer gold mine and is presumed to have appeared in the Heian period’s (794–1195) “Tales of Times Now Past .” In Nishimikawa, alluvial gold panning was carried out using a method called “Onagashi” (great flow). The relics of reservoirs and channels in various parts of the mountains around the settlements and those of scraped mountains for alluvial gold panning still remain in good condition.

Photo by Hoichi Nishiyama

Tsurushi Silver Mine

The Tsurushi Silver Mine, Sado’s largest silver mine, is said to have been discovered in 1542. More than 600 mining sites have been identified, showing various mining techniques from different times. Methods such as cupellation, which uses lead to extract silver from ore, were introduced from the Iwami Silver Mine in Oda City, Shimane Prefecture.

Photo by Hoichi Nishiyama

Aikawa Gold and Silver Mine

Full-scale development of the Aikawa Gold and Silver Mine began in the Edo period (1603–1868). Large quantities of gold and silver produced were used as currency, greatly supporting the country’s finances.
Sado is the only mine in Japan that conducted operations from mining through to minting koban coins. These processes were vividly depicted in picture scrolls, more than 100 of which still remain.

Sado no kuni kinginzan shikioka kasegikata no zu (Drawing of mining in Sado gold and silver mines), collection of Niigata Prefectural Museum of History)

From Extracting Ore to Minting Koban Coins

Transition of Settlement Structure

Life and Culture Fostered by Mining

Chronology of the Sado Island Gold Mines

Western Calendar (WC) Japanese Period Event
12th century Heian period (794–1195) People from Noto panning gold in Sado are mentioned in the “Tales of Times Now Past ” (Nishimikawa Placer Gold Mine)
15th century Muromachi period (1336–1573) Zeami is exiled to Sado and writes “Tales from the Isle of Gold ”
1542 Tsurushi Silver Mine is discovered
1601 Full-scale development of Aikawa Gold and Silver Mine
1603 Edo period (1603-1868) Okubo Nagayasu becomes the local magistrate of Sado
1604 Sado Magistrate’s Office is built
1621 Production of koban coins begins in Sado
1653 Suigaku Soho, from Kyoto visits the island and teaches how to make Archimedean screw pumps
1696 Minamizawa Drainage Tunnel, extending approximately 1 km, is completed
1759 A Yoseseriba (ore-dressing plant) is established at Sado Magistrate’s Office.
1868 Meiji period (1868-1912) Gower, an English mining engineer, visits the island and introduces the gunpowder blasting method
1869 Sado Gold and Silver Mines come under the direct management of the Meiji government.
1872 Nishimikawa placer gold mine closes
1946 Showa period (1926-1989) Tsurushi Silver Mine closes
1989 Heisei period (1989-2019) Sado mines suspend operations