The Miike Coal Mines (三池炭坑, Miike Tankō) are a collection of coal mines in southern Fukuoka and northern Kumamoto prefectures along the Ariake Sea. The mines played an important role toward the rapid industrialization of Japan during the Meiji Period. Two of the mines, Miike Port and the railway that connected the mines with the port received world heritage status in July 2015 as part of the Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution.
The two mines, the Manda Mine and Miyanohara Mine, stand about 1.5 kilometers apart from each other. Each mine retains several preserved structures that can be viewed, while the mines' underground tunnels have been sealed off. Volunteer guides explain the history of the mines, the purpose of the remaining structures and the harsh working conditions in Japanese.
The Manda Mine is the better preserved of the two and is the recommended destination for travelers with limited time. Coal mining operations ended here in 1951, but the complex continued to pump up water until 1997. Today, the ruined site retains the elevator shaft and multiple old brick buildings that used to house offices, machinery and a bath for the miners. Visitors can enter the entrance hall of the elevator shaft and the building that contains the elevator winch.
An admission fee is required to enter the mine compound, and visitors can choose to walk around freely or join hourly guided tours. Admission is paid at an information center just outside the mine grounds. A short walk away stands the Manda Tankokan, a museum that is free to enter and offers additional exhibits about the area's industrial heritage.
The Miyanohara Mine has considerably less of the compound remains standing. Visitors can see the elevator shaft and a brick building that houses the elevator winch. Inmates of a nearby prison were employed at the Miyanohara Mine until the practice was outlawed in the 1930s, which led to the mine's closure. The Miyanohara Mine is free to visit, and volunteers are present to guide visitors around the grounds in Japanese.
The now defunct Miike Coal Railway connected the various mining pits with Miike Port, facilitating the transportation of coal. Parts of the track can still be seen today between the Manda and Miyanohara mines and in the port area with some track sections replaced by wooden slats.
Miike Port was dredged during the Meiji Period and was groundbreaking in its ability to allow large ships to dock regardless of the Ariake Sea's strong tides. The port is still in use today, surrounded by many factories. The former customs building still remains in the port although it is quite difficult to access by public transport and opens to the public only on weekends.
The history of the Miike coal mines is further explained at the Omuta Coal Industry and Science Museum near Miike Port, but most of the information is only available in Japanese. The museum is nicely designed and exhibits mining equipment and many models and maps of the mines, as well as a short replicated section of a mining tunnel.
The closest train stations to the Miike Coal Mines are Shin-Omuta Station along the Kyushu Shinkansen (30 minutes, about 3500 yen one way from Fukuoka's Hakata Station) and Omuta Station (about one hour, 1310 yen one way from Hakata) and Arao Station (70 minutes, 1500 yen one way from Hakata) along the JR Kagoshima Line.
Once in the area, a rental car or rental bicycle are recommended as the sites are fairly spread out and not too conveniently connected with each other by public transport. Rental car outlets are found around Omuta Station, while bicycles can be rented at Omuta Station for about 500 yen per day.
To Manda Coal Mine
From Omuta Station, take a bus bound for Kurakake (倉掛) and get off at Kanda (神田, 10 minutes, 230 yen one way, one bus every 1-2 hours) from where it is a ten minute walk to the mine. Alternatively, it takes about 20-30 minutes (4 kilometers) to cycle from the station to the coal mine.
From Arao Station, take a bus bound for Bus Center (バスセンター) and get off at Mandako-mae (万田坑前, 10 minutes, 180 yen one way, 1-2 buses/hour). The entrance to the coal mine is a short walk away. Note that rental bicycle are not available at Arao Station.
To Miyanohara Coal Mine
From Omuta Station, take a bus bound for Ariake Kosen-mae (有明高専前) and get off at Hayagane Meganebashi (早鐘眼鏡橋, 7 minutes, 170 yen one way, 2-4 buses/hour). The entrance to the coal mine is about a ten minute walk away. Alternatively, it takes about 15 minutes (2.5 kilometers) to cycle from the station to the coal mine.