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A Sakiyama (Hewer) and an Atoyama (Helper) in the Meiji Era (1868-1912): Sounding the Roof
May 1966

Meiji Sakiyama Atoyama: Tenjo Dashin
[A Sakiyama (Hewer) and an Atoyama (Helper) in the Meiji Era (1868-1912): Sounding the Roof]
38.0 x 54.3 cm Painting in Watercolors and Ink

They are a pair of miners working on their coalface at the end of the slope called kirizume. The roofs of coalfaces did not easily fall except those roofs beside faults. However, the roofs of haulage ways sometimes fell and injured helpers after their coalfaces were driven forward. They had to sound the roofs to find potentially dangerous rocks and take measures to stop them falling.

Mining coal was not the only task for the sakiyama. The sakiyama was responsible for the condition of the supports at the coalface or the haulage way. Therefore, the atoyama tagging after a non-professional sakiyama had more risks to meet with disaster. Of course, some coal mine never had a falling roof, but even at such mines miners could not be off guard. A kind of dangerous roof fall called a nuketen sometimes occurred, and in this case, roof rocks fell in the shape of mortars.

Miners always said to themselves that they worked underground and could not mine coal if they were afraid of roof falls. Of course, they could not enter the pit if they had a neurosis from the fear. However, they could not completely forget the fear of roof falls. The above dilemma always hovered over them as if it were the march accompanied with their life filled with both joys and sorrows.

The rock refuse born of roof falls would fall on miners in the old days, and they were afraid of being injured by it the most, because though they were also afraid of gas eruptions, most small-scale pits hardly had gas eruptions.

When a miner wore, around his/her head, a Japanese face towel called a tenugui, which was not called a taoru (towel), he/she never covered his/her ears, because he/she could not hear the sound made by the wedges (kamisashi) laid on the pillars breaking from rock pressure if he/she did so. Miners also hated covering both their heads and cheeks with their tenugui. The capacity of the coal sled (sura) was more than 200 kg.

Translation Assisted by Mr. Nathan Johndro

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