The works of Sakubei Yamamoto
Labor in the Mines (repairs)

Pit Workers (Yamabito) in the Old Days: 4 Figures of the Ishiyama Clan (Pit Workers)
April 1965

Mukashi no Yamabito: Ishiyamato Yon Tai
[Pit Workers (Yamabito) in the Old Days: 4 Figures of the Ishiyama Clan (Pit Workers)]
38.0 x 54.3 cm Painting in Watercolors and Ink

Figure 1
During the Meiji era (1868-1912), some nayagashiras (miner group bosses or boardinghouse managers who took care of single miners living in their o-nayas or boardinghouses for singles) tested their miners' skill in setting handles in pick heads.
Sakiyamas (hewers) were recognized as fully-fledged if they could set handles in their pick heads quickly and skillfully. The two dotted lines in the figure had to be the same length. If not, the pickax was not useful in mining coal at all. After inserting a piece of wood called a nodogumi in the opposite side to the wedge, the handle and pick head were finally tightened with a wedge called a senzoku (chikarasen).

Figure 2
Atomukis (helpers) were mainly women. They raked coal in ebijokes (bamboo winnows used like dustpans at that time) with rakes called ganzumes. An atomuki who used her rake more than one time to fill a winnow was called a heta (bad) atomuki. An ebi (ebijoke) was called a hoge at pits in Hizen (Saga and Nagasaki prefectures). It was big enough to scoop up about 10 kg of coal. They began to use scrapers called kakiitas instead of rakes in the middle of the Taisho era (1912-1926) because they mainly mined slack coal after that.

Figure 3
Inserting a support unit was done by a pair of a sakiyama and an atomuki. An atomuki also had to work quickly and efficiently and be manly enough to deal with the difficult job.

Figure 4
This support unit is called a ninawase. A good repairer chose a piece of timber as thin and ungnarled as possible as a beam. He cut both legs of the unit into exact lengths, and used no wedges called kamisashis between the beam and the roof. These supports were built as extra precautions in haulage ways where their roofs were relatively stable and in good condition.

(Note: A good tsurubashi [pickax] to use had a handle 90 cm long and weighed 1 kg without the handle. Tsurubashis with worn-out tips were called kanko-zurus, and hewers had to ask their smiths to repair [sakigake shite morau] them. A smith thickened a worn-out tip by welding a piece of metal to its both sides.)

Translation Assisted by Mr. Nathan Johndro

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