Iwami Ginzan is a tiny mining village tucked into the Shimane prefecture on Honshu, Japan’s main island. The mine and surrounding Omori Town were inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2007 and are well worth your visit!
The best way to get to Iwami Ginzan is driving yourself since it is quite remote. You’ll find a few buses and trains not far away and will probably want to stay the night nearby because there is a ton to explore!
You can enter the silver mine itself for a discounted fee of 200 yen (foreigners get lots of discounts in the Shimane prefecture) But before you head to the mine I recommend taking the walking trail through the forest. It follows a beautiful roadside stream and you’ll pass ancient shrines and local Omori houses with their own small farms.
There are a few sites along the way where temples used to stand and you’ll begin seeing mine entrances with a metal gate preventing entry. The entire region is simply covered in greenery as nature has clearly taken over this lush landscape.
What to do at Iwami Ginzan
- Hike along the trails to main mine shaft
- Explore the forest trails
- Visit the old smelter
- Hike a nearby mountain
- Walk through the old city
- Explore the Rakanji Temple with 500 stone buddhas
You don’t have to pay to enter until you get to the main mine shaft. This ancient site was the most prosperous silver mine in all of Japan. It churned out silver for the shogun warlords for over 400 years and has long been considered a national treasure!
The mine even played pivotal role in Europe during the age of discovery and the height of its production. European maps marked the area around Iwami Gizan as “Silver Mine Kingdom” and its silver was considered some of the highest quality in the world!
A stroll through the main mine shaft will reveal dozens of smaller mines all blocked off for safety. The one-way walk itself is interesting but a little anticlimactic. In fact I enjoyed wandering around the village and surrounding forests just as much as seeing the actual mine.
When you had back down you can opt to walk along the trails again or take the road and see how modern Japanese are living in this rural destination.
Once back in the town center be sure to explore the Rakanji Temple. Discounted entry costs about 400 yen and although the site is small it is full of culture and worth stepping inside. The temple is split into two halves with one still used for prayer and looking like a typical temple. On the other side of the road you’ll see what I reminds me of a Hobbit House from Lord of the Rings!
Inside the red doors photography and even sketching isn’t allowed. This sacred shrine is home to 500 stone Buddhas and the perfect place for a meditation or just a moment to take it all in.
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