Special Feature“Japan, the Land of Gold.” How True Is the Old Legend?
The Hishikari mine is the only gold mine in Japan in operation today. In the country’s long history of mining, there has never been a more productive gold mine, and never a mine yielding better quality gold. The reason? It all has to do with volcanic hot springs, and geological mechanisms perhaps unique to Japan.
Written by Takahashi Koki Collaboration and photo credits (except where otherwise noted): National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), and Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd.
Sado Kinzan was Japan’s biggest gold mine for almost 400 years, beginning in the early 1600s. Another major discovery was made in Hokkaido in 1915, and the result was the Konomai gold mine. But these and other deposits had basically given out by the 1980s, and the mines shut down one after the other. Today, gold is mined in Japan only at Hishikari in Kagoshima in southern Kyushu.
Hishikari is now one of the best gold mines in the world. The average grade is 40 grams of gold to one ton of ore. A profit can be made at 2 grams per ton, so the gold at Hishikari was certainly a major find. Since digging began in 1985, the mine has produced seven to ten tons of gold per year—165 tons over the last 23 years. That is more than twice the amount produced at Sado and Konomai combined, making Hishikari the most important in Japan’s long history of gold mining.
The question is: how much remains in the ground there? Geologists suggest a minimum of almost 150 tons of gold. All of the gold produced from other mines in Japan throughout history comes to around 1,000 tons, and if we add the approximately 300 tons of gold from Hishikari, you can see just how rich its veins are.