The works of Sakubei Yamamoto
Watercolor: All Genres

The Meiji-Era (1868-1912) Miners: Ascending the Slope (The Hewer and the Helper)
March 1966

Meiji: Shoko (Sakiyama, Atoyama)
[The Meiji-Era (1868-1912) Miners: Ascending the Slope (The Hewer and the Helper)]
38.1 x 54.2 cm Painting in Watercolors and Ink

A pair of a sakiyama (hewer) and an atomuki (atoyama: helper; mainly a woman) was called a hitosaki or a sashi. They entered the pit at 3:00 a.m. when the whistle was blown three times. A sashi mined by hand about 2.5 tons or 5 mine-car-loads of coal in about 12 hours. The mining wages (horichin) per mine car of coal was about 25 sen (0.25 yen). The pair used 180 milliliters of kerosene (paraffin oil) and the same quantity of rapeseed oil for their lamps during this work. It cost 2 sen and 4 sen respectively for the kerosene and rapeseed oil. It cost 3 to 5 sen (0.03 to 0.05 yen) to quench pickaxes, and 3 sen for two pairs of straw sandals. They had to spend about 14 sen in total to do a day's work. However, 1 sho or 1.4 kg of polished rice cost 10 sen and a pickled Japanese radish cost 1 sen. As the prices of the same quantity of polished rice and a pickled radish rose to 12 sen and 1 sen 5 rin (0.015 yen) respectively in 1900, the rise in prices became a common complaint in householders' gossip.

Both of them were light-headed and sweaty after a day's work. The sakiyama was pitch-black with coal dust and soot from his lamp. Only his eyes and teeth looked white. The atomuki got considerably dirty, though she was not as black as the sakiyama. As she ascended the slope, she thoroughly wiped off her dirt with a second towel, leaving in place the one on her head. Especially, young women atomukis ascended the slope, wiping their faces again and again as cats always do the day before it rains.
When the slope was more than 20 degrees steep, the sakiyama did not ascend the slope with his pickaxes on his shoulder. He put them into one of his mine cars to have them wound up together with the car. There was a smithy near the pit mouth of every pit (yama).

Lyrics of "Gotton Bushi" Song
Nobori kudari no ishi no me mo shirazu,
Sakiyama-san to wa na wa okashii.

If you can't tell if the grain of coal is ascending or descending,
you aren't worthy of the name of sakiyama-san (hewer).
Gotton (Clang)! (Interjected chant)

Translation Assisted by Mr. Nathan Johndro

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