Japan's Most Fascinating Ruins

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Shikoku is best known for its temples--in fact, one of the common tour suggestions for visitors is to try to visit the 80+ major temples that exist there.  However, Shikoku also has an interesting relationship with the modernization of Japan, especially its role in  the Meiji Restoration.
Nestled deep in the mountains of Ehime prefecture (in the town of Besshi) is a relic of the Meiji-era Industrial Revolution in Japan--an old copper mine that is in itself a feat of human ingenuity.  Some have dubbed it Japan's Machu Picchu, which is probably over-selling what it is (even though the politicians from Ehime somehow convinced the Peruvian Ambassador to visit their own little "Machu Picchu").  The operators of the site like to call it "Minetopia," which is a little too gimmicky for a place that is both ominous and fascinating at the same time.  The actual name for the ruins is "Tonaru Mine," and the best way to describe it is as Japan's most fascinating ruins.  Here's why:

The Transit


There's only one way to get up to the Ruins, and that is by renting a vehicle or taking a bus tour deep into the mountains of Ehime.  The scenery is beautiful, and there is even a fantastic Helix bridge that you get to traverse (for any engineering fans out there).
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If you have your own vehicle, you may proceed directly to the old mine at the top of the mountain.  If not, you can start at the main "Minetopia" building and catch one of the company's microbuses to head up to the mine.  As you get closer to the site, the roads get narrower and steeper.  I was surprised that my vehicle was able to make it through, so I can only imagine what it must be to operate a bus through those roads, but the well-practiced site operators do quite regularly (and quite swiftly) for intrepid travelers.
Talk about a narrow, windy road!

The Scenery


Once you get up to the old mining area, the scenery immediately grabs your attention.  We happened to go on a foggy day, which added to the eerie ambiance of the place.  The actual grounds are pretty expansive and multi-leveled.  Even though the site is but a shell of its former self, one cannot help but appreciate the scale of how big a project this mine would have been (and how incredibly difficult it would have been to construct the site atop the mountain).  In addition to the interesting brick ruins, the site has several floral bushes and flowering trees, which offers a photogenic juxtaposition of man-made and natural beauty.  Fortunately, the fog eventually began to lift and we were greeted with a beautiful panoramic view of the valley. 
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Once the fog started to lift, autumn foliage began to dot our panorama
The mouth of a mining tunnel. The ceiling was only about 5 feet high, so watch your heads!

The History


The old mine in Besshi also offers a fascinating perspective on the history of the area.  During the Meiji Industrial Revolution, Japan had a voracious appetite for the natural resources necessary for building a modern nation.  Copper was one such resource, and the mountains in Besshi city were able to accommodate that demand.  What that entailed, however, was the construction of what would amount to a small village in the mountains, complete with housing complexes, life support facilities (including a Post Office), and mining/processing areas.  All of this is captured in a small but beautifully maintained, well-curated museum at the top of the ruins.
Before and After shots of Tonaru Mine

The Visitor's Center / Museum / Art Gallery
A few interesting artifacts from the Tonaru Mine

All of these features makes the "Minetopia / Machu Picchu" at the Tonaru mine ruins a fascinating destination for any travelers who happen to be in Ehime, especially if you are a fan of Japanese history or engineering.  Don't worry about running out of things to do at Minetopia--the main facility offers restaurants, interactive experiences, and additional tours.  Certainly, Minetopia can be rather difficult to get to unless you have a rental vehicle, but fortunately, Odigo offers a 10% rental deal here, and my wife and travel companion, Kim, has some great tips for road tripping in Japan here!

Mike B