The works of Sakubei Yamamoto
Watercolor: All Genres

Mining Coal in an Upright Position
February 1967

[Mining Coal in an Upright Position]
38.2 x 54.4 cm Painting in Watercolors and Ink

Text at the Top Right
These are coal miners in the middle of the Meiji era (1868-1912). A sakiyama (hewer) and an atoyama (helper) made a pair and the pair was called a hitosaki. A pair of two people was also called a sashi.
A hewer could mine coal in an upright position when the coal seam to mine was more than 1.5 meters thick. He first cut a soft part of the coalface. It was better to cut it as deep as possible. After cutting the coalface more than 60 centimeters deep, he hacked away coal from the bottom part before hacking off hanging coal from the roof part of the cut.
Coalfaces with no rock seam lying between were called kiritaoshi and they were koshis' (koshus': mine owners') cash cows. Most coal seams mined in the Chikuho region included more rock seams compared to those in other regions. All thin coal seams were honsus (main coal seams except rock seams) but they were small in quantity. In the early days, miners would leave the seams of slack coal untouched because they were bordered by rock seams on their roofs and bottoms.
The way of mining coalfaces evenly was called tsuradori, but this way was inefficient in mining aratokos (new deposits) and hewers would always say, "Keido tasan, judo shosan" meaning "Easy work and high output, heavy work and low output." The difference in mining efficiency was very great between skilled and unskilled hewers.
A sakiyama was considered full-fledged after he could use his tsurubashi (normally tsuruhashi: pickax) with his left hand even if he was right handed.

Text at the Bottom Left
In 1899, the official wages were 20 sen (0.2 yen) per tub or mine car (hako) of mined coal. Good mine owners paid 25 sen (0.25 yen) per tub. A sashi mined about 5 or 6 tubs of coal a day. From the payment, more than 20% was deducted according to the ratio of coal and debris. They were paid 10 % of a bounty (agari shoyo or a bounty for expected coal production) a day, so their overall loss was always about 10%.
At that time 1 sho (1.8 liters) of rice cost 10 sen (0.1 yen), a whole pickled Japanese radish (takuan) cost 1 sen (0.01 yen), and 1 kin (600 g) of sweet potatoes cost 1 sen to 1 sen 5 rin (0.015 yen).

Translation Assisted by Mr. Nathan Johndro

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