Iwaki City Coal & Fossil Museum is one of my favourite places to visit when I’m in Iwaki Yumoto Onsen, Fukushima. I don’t think enough people know about this awesome little museum, so I wanted to write a blog article about it.
What Makes Horuru a Great Place to Visit?
Although Fukui hands-down the most famous place in Japan for its dinosaur fossils and bones, Iwaki City was actually where the first dinosaur fossil was discovered in Japan. This fossilized dinosaur, the Futabasaurus Suzukii, was discovered in Iwaki City in 1968 by a high school student called Tadashi Suzuki.
When I first heard this, I imagine a cute kid coming across the fossils by chance, but in reality, the student in question had been searching for a very long time. He had been told by his school teachers that Iwaki was thought to be the right kind of place to find fossils and ancient bones, and became infatuated with the idea of finding a dinosaur.
Suzuki found it pretty frustrating to see stories in the news of someone coming across something special and rare by chance, and wanted to prove that finding rare items isn’t just by luck – if you really, methodically search for something, you will find it eventually – and he did!
The real fossil is now kept in a museum in Ueno, Tokyo, and a replica can be found in Wakayama Prefecture.
The story of Suzuki really resonates with me, as his story reminds me of one similar to one of the mascots of Fukushima: The Okiagari Koboshi. The Okiagari Koboshi – pictured below – is a small daruma (see here for more on daruma) which returns back up to an upright position, no matter how many times you knock it down. It’s a symbol of the resilience and strength of the people of Fukushima, and its amazing to see how this was true back in Iwaki in the 60s as well.
There are also other dinosaur bones and fossils on display, both real and replicas, so definitely check them out!
2.) Getting to Grips with Iwaki’s Fascinating History
You can experience life in Iwaki’s coal mines at Horuru, and learn about the city’s fascinating mining history, by taking a journey down to the basement floor, accessible a mining shaft-style elevator!
The dark tunnels of the basement floor lead the way through the mines, documenting the changes that the industry has undergone through the decades.
Iwaki City’s coal mines were part of the Joban Coal Field, which bridges Fukushima Prefecture and Ibaraki Prefecture, reaching from Tomioka Town (on the coast of Fukushima) all the way down to Hitachi City in Ibaraki.
At its height, there were 128 mines open in this area, but they were forced to close following the energy revolution in the mid-20th century. The Seibu Mine was the last mine open, eventually closing in 1976.
There is thought to be around 200-300 years’ worth of coal left under Iwaki. Although the era of coal is long over, there is actually still one coal mine open in Hokkaido, where research on the most effective methods of mining coal are conducted, just in case it becomes necessary again in the future.
The coal mines in Iwaki opened at the end of the Edo Period in the 1850s. At this time, husbands and wives mined for coal by hand. It was so hot in the mines that labourers often worked in the nude (I can imagine this section of the museum being pretty interesting for kids!)
Due to the high levels of sulfur in the ground, Iwaki’s coal was not really of good quality. However, the city’s proximity to Tokyo and the subsequent ease of exporting it made it the easiest and cheapest coal to sell.
As you can imagine, coal mining was a very dangerous business, with terrible working conditions. For this reason, there used to be a shrine just inside the entrance of the mines, so that workers could pray for the safety of themselves and their coworkers before starting their day’s work.
In the Meiji Period, the use of hammers and explosive powders became popular. This technology was developed further in the 1930s, when the townspeople used compressed air to force coal out.
During the second world war, women took over the running of the coal mine pits, but were soon replaced at the end of the war, when the Good Wife Wise Mother political slogan resulted in women stopping work. There are actually some women who used to work in the mines during this time still living locally in Iwaki. I would love to meet one of them one day.
To get rid of hot water producing from mining, workers had to remove it manually. This particular job within the mine had to be done in incredibly hot conditions, not unlike a sauna. For this reason, workers had to sit in cool water baths in the mines regularly to maintain a healthy body temperature!
I learned so many things at Horuru about mining that I had never thought about before, such as the fact that mining equipment was so heavy that much of it is left abandoned under ground to this day! Another fact that surprised me was that coal mining had a big effect on the town’s onsens.
Digging for coal meant that the water level of the onsen source sunk lower and lower underground, making it difficult for ryokan to obtain and utilise. This was very frustrating for ryokan owners, seeing as Iwaki Yumoto Onsen has been known as an onsen town for hundreds of years. For the decades that coal mines were in operation, they were constantly at loggerheads with ryokan owners.
These are just a few of the fascinating things you can learn at Horuru. There is also a section about the history of Hula in Iwaki (which you can read about on my blog here). Definitely pay Horuru a visit and learn about Iwaki Yumoto Onsen!
3.) Making Your Own Souvenirs
Copal Accessory Making Activity!
Copal is a type of tree resin which is much younger than amber. During this hands-on activity, you can choose your own piece of copal, and use sandpaper to file the resin to make it smooth. As you file it, the resin becomes clearer and clearer – it might even reveal an insect or some similar tiny creature inside! You can choose to make a brooch or a necklace at Horuru.
Activity Time: 1 hour
Cost: 1500 yen
Digging for Ammonite Activity
Uncover a real ammonite, by using simple fossil-hunting tools to open and chip at a stone.
Activity Time: 1 hour
Cost: 1000 yen
Both are taught in Japanese, so I recommend going with a Japanese-speaker.
These activities are held twice every Saturday, Sunday, and National Holiday. The first session begins at 10:00, and the second at 13:30.
Sometimes these activity sessions are cancelled due to special events being held, so it is best to check by phone or email (firstname.lastname@example.org ).
You can book these activities from 30 minutes before it’s meant to start at the Entrance Hall reception of the museum.
Visiting Iwaki City Coal and Fossil Museum
Opening Hours: 9:00-17:00 (last entry 16:30)
Closed on the 3rd Tuesday of every month (if the 3rd Tuesday of the month falls upon a National Holiday, the following day will be the closed day.)
Entrance Fee: 650 yen
Visitors are given a English language explanation leaflet about the museum upon arrival, and many signs are in English, so don’t worry about not speaking Japanese!
Reaching the Museum
10 mins from Iwaki Yumoto IC.
Car Park: open 9:00-17:00
10 minute walk from Yumoto Station.
For information on travelling to Iwaki City – including info on how to get around the city – please read my travel guide here.
From Ueno Station: Take the Limited Express Hitachi Train to Yumoto Station (takes around 2 hours)
From Koriyama Station: Take the JR Ban’etsu East Line train to Iwaki Station (1.5 hours), then transfer to the Joban Line. Take the train to Yumoto Station. See here for information on getting to Koriyama Station.
While in the area, why not go check out Aquamarine Fukushima or Spa Resort Hawaiians?
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