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The History of the Nakayama Mine

The history of the Honyama (hon=original, yama=mountain) mines in and around Kyoto were first allocated to be used only by the military and or their agents who would be, as an example, togi/sharpeners. Anyone who was associated with the mines or the product of the mines was under military orders beginning in about 1183 and continued to be under the military until the middle Edo, late 1700s. The sword-sharpening community during this whole time was allotted the privilege to use the stones on behalf of the military. The restrictions on the use of this toishi-stone began to relax during the middle to late Edo sparked by an era of fashion when men carried swords as a display of status. The unique hamon patterns of forge-welded steel in layers had always been recognized as a thing of beauty, but then the relaxed military culture of the 1700s encouraged the open display of gaudy (iki) dress that included dress swords for the landed and elite. The Nakayama mine was an early provider, along with that of nearby Narutaki were especially recognized as the sweet mines for the most expressive products that would leave beautiful patterns on bi-metal blades.

Nakayama was the newer mine of the two, although recognized by the Honami clan of togi who earlier attempted to dominate the Nakayama mine, the property rights of the mine lock-stock&barrel were purchased by Heisuke Kato in the dawn of the Meiji era about 1872. His son Heijiro would operate the mine into the 1920s and his son who we know as Masumichi Kato operated the mine until he died in the 1980s

Kato Masumichi built up the Nakayama mine as a proper business, and his business was mining. He did not retail stones, he sold stones as a wholesaler. The Hatanaka family was one of the consolidators who bought wholesale in mass from many of the better mines. Their family had a retail store near the Nijo Castle. Ishihara-san the owner of the Ohira mine and Hatanaka-san were hired by Kato-san to clean up and grade with bulldozers the Nakayama site. In exchange, they could take away whatever stone they wanted to haul to sell in any way that they could. They worked one season and finished the cleanup in the early 80s.

Hatanaka was the number one wholesale buyer from Kato, and had been for years. Kato had given Hatanaka the liberty to use the Maruka ink stamps in his store many years earlier. It was good business for each of them and Kato Hatanaka continue to allow this evidently in perpetuity. Ishihara having secured a large amount of Nakayama toishi was also granted ink stamps with Kato's permission. These two were not the only wholesale buyers of Nakayama stones, Imanishi was a major buyer too, as was the Marukai company. All of these companies and more were the original members of the Kyoto Miners Association, a group of miners and wholesalers who dug in and around Kyoto. I was introduced and I attended 2 of those meetings. Their numbers were dwindling at that time and consequently, they no longer meet.

Those were men who worked underground with oil lamps and hand tools. Their numbers were small and tight. They lived, worked, and died holding down the fort. Each of them knew that they would be the last in their family to dig, and it mostly turned out that way. A few of their children managed to disperse left-over stone. These men did not cheat. Men who work underground are tight. All of these men worked side by side to the end.

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Alex, thank you for sharing! I recently had the pleasure of reading your book and enjoyed it tremendously as well.

All of us who are deeply in love with natural stones are in your debt for putting so much work into compiling and memorializing this information in English. Even pursuing Japanese writings I’ve struggled to find anything nearly as comprehensive as your literature. From what I have gathered, the knowledge and history of these stones, mines, and people exist primarily in the oral tradition. With the old guard stepping back or having since passed away, it's important to get these stories to paper and record what we can.


Ask me about shaving naked!
I’ll add thanks also Alex, and more thanks for the book, which contains a lot of i formation difficult to access in the west.

Good info!
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