Genre painting of coal mine (inside the pit)

Meiji Taisho Showa era: Waiting for coal box “Hako-machi”

Sakiyama (workers carrying pickaxes and lanterns down into the mine)

Atoyama (workers carrying coal to assist the sakiyama miner)

The vast number of paintings by coal miner Sakubei Yamamoto clearly depict the life of the men and women in the mines around the Chikuho region near Kitakyushu. Deep in the coal mines, men in loincloths shovel coal while women in sashes carry it away. His paintings suggest that there were often pairs of men and women who worked in the mines together. The mines were dimly lit, and there was always the danger of a cave-in, flood, or gas explosion. Their hard labor cannot be forgotten as it was these individuals who provided the coal—the main source of energy at the time—that sustained the steel industry and, in turn, fueled the modernization of Japan. In recognition of its significance, Sakubei Yamamoto's work was the first in Japan to be recognized in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

*Collection of all artworks: Kitakyushu Museum of Natural History & Human History


Born in 1892 in the Kaho District of Fukuoka Prefecture. From the age of seven or eight, he began to accompany his parents to coal mines in the Chikuho region, working in 18 different mines over a period of about 50 years. There was a period during his youth when he quit his work as a miner and set his sights on becoming a painter—even becoming an apprentice to a house painter in Fukuoka City. However, after considering his family's circumstances, he eventually returned to life as a coal miner. From that time on, his paintbrushes did little more than collect dust as he spent the next 40 years immersed in everyday life. In his mid-60s, he finally picked up his paintbrush again to record life in the coal mines, leaving behind as many as 2,000 paintings. His collected works include Life in the Coal Mines: An Anthology (1967) and Sakubei Yamamoto Anthology: The Chikuho Coal Mine Collection (1973). He died in 1984 at the age of 92. On May 25, 2011, a 697-item collection of personally annotated paintings and diaries were registered as the first Japanese entry in the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme.