by James Mallonee
This mine is still in production, however they have created a "mine museum" and sell finished rhodonite jewelry that they make in their workshops. It is a 1 1/2 hour drive from Misawa Airbase to the mine at 35-40 miles an hour and the trip is a popular one and includes a tour of the neighboring cave complex at Ryosenko. According to the Geologic Survey of Japan (1957) the Noda Tamagawa mine lies in an area of manganiferous ores. Primary minerals are hematite-magnetite, quartz, epidote, chlorite and limonite, as well as manganese minerals such as rhodonite and rhodochrosite.
I enjoyed the trip down even though they had to change buses because of a suspension problem, every time we went over a bump we would lurch like we were on a ship in high seas.
The area here is a lot like the coast of the Pacific Northwest, cool, damp, forested, and with volcanic mountains on the horizon so there was a lot to see. The fact that we drove along the coast also was nice, even if the Pacific Ocean is kind of cold and rough around here. The road we went on, Route 45 is kind of like some of the State Routes in the US, it meanders here and there through small towns.
After we had finished at the Ryosendo caves, which is another story, we went to the mines. The mine is set in the side of a forested hill near enough to the ocean to see it if you look carefully, in fact, the name means "you can see the ocean from here" according to the guide books.
I was kind of disappointed that we were on the side where they had stopped working and so, no spoil piles... I kind of raced through the mine, since the things are almost always the same, plus the lighting could have been brighter. They had the normal displays of carts, men with picks, sorting lines for the ore and lighted sections with rhodonite veins. They also had some displays of minerals of Japan, only a very few with maps and those not in any great detail.
They had filled one long tunnel with world wide displays, and while all the other Americans were ooing and ahing, I was making with the legs and heading out. (Talking to them later, most of them had been of the opinion that they had found ALL the minerals for the display someplace in the mine...Kind of hard to believe an amethyst cathedral you could walk through would come from there).
By the time I left I only had 30 minutes to wander around looking for rocks before the bus left. So, I wandered around the other side of the buildings looking around. The first thing I spotted were pieces of black rock. When I broke a corner off one, I found it was clear quartz heavily with a black substance probably manganese. Most of the pieces contained lenses or "flakes" of pyrite.
Very pretty, now if I can only get the black off of them without breaking them to pieces (suggestions would be appreciated). Unfortunately that was about the extent of my collecting at this site. Some of the pieces contain quite a bit of pyrite, some are mostly darkened quartz with pyrite inclusions.
Anyway, it was an interesting trip, especially considering the prices they wanted for finished pieces of rhodonite. The most expensive was about $500 and was a necklace. Rings were in the 100-200 dollar range. Makes one understand why they say Japan is expensive...