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  • Japanese: 石炭 (sekitan)

Coal was (and remains) a particularly prized commodity in the modern period; the desire for coaling stations for ships traveling across the Pacific was a key element of the American and European push to "open" Japan in the early-to-mid-19th century. However, as early as the Edo period, if not earlier, coal was used as fuel for various purposes in Japan, including the extraction of salt from seawater.[1]

In 1762, the shogunate established a clearinghouse, or kaisho, for coal, as it had for several other commodities, seeking to monopolize the trade in the material, so as to extract revenues for government purposes, and to control the trade. A guild was further established in 1773 for dealers in coal, charcoal, and firewood, banning those outside the guild from engaging in such business, and aiming to lower and control prices. An additional kaisho was established in 1775.

In the Meiji period, the Yaeyama Islands, and Iriomote-jima in particular, became the site of significant coal mining efforts; these ended after World War II.[2]


  • John Whitney Hall, Tanuma Okitsugu (1719-1788): Forerunner of Modern Japan, Harvard University Press (1955), 79.
  1. Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 91-92.
  2. Gallery labels, "Nature on Iriomotejima Island," Gallery 4 (Folklife), National Museum of Japanese History, July 2013.; George Kerr, Okinawa: the History of an Island People, Revised ed., Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing (2000), 362.