Nagasaki island coal mine’s closure set to leave employees high and dry

by Koichi Tsujimura

Kyodo

On the small island of Ikeshima in Nagasaki Prefecture, coal mining facilities dot the landscape, testimony to the area’s heavy reliance on the Ikeshima Mine and a reminder of the devastating effect its closure will have on the local population.

The biggest problem confronting the island is finding employment for the 600 workers who will hit the unemployment line when the mine closes at the end of November after being in operation since 1959.

Matsushima Coal Mining Co. on Oct. 12 sent a formal notice of closure to the Sotome town office.

A day earlier, a commerce and industrial official said, “A hollowing out of the manufacturing industry is steadily on the way, as all factories are being relocated to other countries.

“It is almost impossible to lure corporations to locate their facilities on the island because of the transportation costs,” he said.

He added that land development projects for industrial complexes in various locations carried out by officials have ended in failure.

He voiced pessimism about the outlook of the 600 miners who will be thrown out of work when the final curtain drops.

A former coal mine town on Takashima, an outlying island like Ikeshima, has faced difficult times since its mine shut down 15 years ago.

When Takashima Coal Mine ceased operations in 1986, the town had a population of about 5,500. The number fell to about 2,000 a year later.

As of the end of September, the islanders only numbered about 950.

The town succeeded in attracting six companies to the island following the closure, only to see half of them, including a marine-product processing company, go bankrupt.

A town official said the direct cause of the mine’s failure was the double cost of transporting raw and finished products to and from the island.

Japan’s biggest coal mine, Miike Coal Mine of Mitsui Mining Co., stopped operating in March 1997. The municipal government in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, completed a land development project called Omuta Techno Park in March last year.

The industrial complex, covering about 66.5 hectares has enough space for more than a dozen companies to locate their factories. However, only three corporations have decided to set up facilities and only one is currently in operation.

Nagasaki prefectural officials and Sotome officials have not worked out any advance measures to help create new jobs for the workers at Ikeshima Mine, saying it would be difficult to take action before the company made a formal decision on shutting down the mine.

The prefecture and the town have yet to design any employment programs.

Officials at six towns neighboring Sotome are studying plans to merge with others to cope with people leaving the island and the aging population.

Rough times lie ahead for Ikeshima as the town office is faced with the problem of whether it can come up with any concrete measures to revive the area.