I discovered this amazing place totally by accident. I was headed to Oya-ji Temple (separate story) which is known for its 88 feet high Kannon made from Oya stone and I got a bit lost.
The Museum is called the Oya Stone Museum and I figured it was related to the temple, so stopped for a look and to see if I could get directions, as it turns out the Museum and the Temple are about 500 meters from each other.
The museum is tiny, but with some really interesting artifacts from the stone mining period.
But the surprise part, is below the surface of the museum, where one of the mines that closed in 1986 has been opened to the public.
This massive underground cavern, is over 20,000 square meter space with over 300,000 cubic meters of stone removed over the 70 years it was in operation.
The deepest point being 60 meters below ground, being deep, so it was also really cold, (2° C today according to the website) – I think colder!
During my visit there were coloured lights everywhere, illuminating the massive walls and chambers of the underground quarry. I don’t know if this is permanent, but the effect was dramatic and made some photography easier.
The space has been variously used for an underground munitions factory (during the war); a rice warehouse and more recently various art exhibitions, concerts, and performances of traditional Noh theatre, and as a location for shooting movies and TV shows. There is even a “stone” church inside the cavern.
Ōya stone can only be found in an area of around 20 sq km around the town of Oya northwest of Utsunomiya.
Ōya stone is an igneous rock, created from lava and ash (a volcanic tuff – not a spelling mistake!) and is easy to carve and shape as well as being fireproof – the most famous use of it in Japan was the facing of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (no longer in existence).
All around this region you can see buildings, storehouses, walls and other structures made of it.
The website is quite detailed, although in Japanese, but it translates quite well. But the museum itself actually has an English guide sheet explaining the key points.
Oya Museum Website Here