The Road to Umegahata & The Ozuku Mine

Yesterday my wife Emiko and I took the JR bus from Kyoto station up Hwy 162 out of Kyoto’s Utano ward, through Narutakihonmachi and up into the village of Takao. The bus took us a little further up into the mountains and we got out at Umegahata Nishinohatacho, the base of the path that leads to the Jingo-ji Temple, a 8th Century Shinto shrine deep in the cedar forest and in the lower reaches of Mt. Atago.

Much of the history regarding Kyoto was formed in these mountain temples and shrines that served as monasteries for those who held the faith with an iron fist if necessary. The main temple was down in the newly formed capitol of Japan, Kyoto, but these mountain enclaves served as the safe haven for the hardy souls. This area is referred to as Yamashiro, translated as Mountain Castle, and the mountain temples were used as castles of last resort to guard against the still yet wildness of the political/religious masters of Japan. Of course now we took a bus, but in the old days this was a steep march following a rugged river and this is why some of these early structures still exist in some form or another.

I have been using sharpening stones from this area for 35 years now, so this was an exciting trip to the HonYama where many of the famous mines were located. It is not commonly known that most of the awasedo toishi stone mines of Kyoto are located on privately held land, and that the miners are simply leasing the mineral rights on a year to year basis. This land was deeded by the Emperor and occupied by the various Shinto and Buddhist religious sects over the last 1500 years, and they have been stingy in relinquishing their properties. The fee collected for the mineral rights is relatively modest and is in most cases a mere formality as the owners look at the miners maybe a little bit like as caretakers or “a warm body on site” to keep tabs on the land. In any case the original use of the stone was reserved for the sharpening of the swords of the Imperial household, this was in the early days of the 1300s. Common people had no access to this special stone until the late Edo Period and then is was mostly rejected pieces.

From the Jingo-ji site we walked back down the twisting road we had earlier ridden up in the bus so in order to approach the Umegahata area from the uphill side, and to continue down to Takao village. The mountains here remind me of the “gold country” of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California near Grass Valley, Columbia and down towards Yosemite that are rough and peopled by rugged working class individuals and or established families. As you can see in the photos below it is beautiful but narrow and steep and although as the crow flies, close in, it is not on many tourist maps.

After much walking and climbing we finally did find one location that rung true to our goal.

Below is a gate and a sign, the translation reads “Ozuku Toishi, please contact by phone ____ Mr. Kato“, but the phone number had been rubbed out. The driveway is well maintained and thanks to Google Photos and the link here   the actual mine site with various tin roofed buildings can bee seen if you search carefully around using the top tool bar’s Hybrid button under the captioned name Umegahata Kubotanicho, and on the left side of the highway marked Umegahata Rengetani and then click on the Satellite Imagery button (maybe under an advertisment) just to the left of the Hybrid button. This location is all commonly held local knowledge, and there is a sign on the road, but for me to give any more precise details might be construed as treading on privacy rights so I will restrain myself. I was also told by a retired miner that part of the original Nakayama Mine site is now covered over and has a Junior High School built on top of it, this is a clue.  Enjoy the photos. Alx

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