Sakubei Yamamoto and his Historical Coal Mine Paintings
Obtaining drinking water at Meiji era coal mines

The yama folk had to wait in line with their buckets to get water.

It was no simple task to get water from the well.

There was no public water supply to the small coal mines in the Meiji era, so drinking water had to be obtained from wells or springs. Where springs were available, bamboo gutters were set up at people would wait in line to fill up their buckets.

During the rainy season there was plenty of water, but when rain levels decreased and the water slowed to a trickle, it just wasn't enough. During such times, everyone could be seen standing in a long line with their buckets slung over their shoulders, waiting to get their drinking water. Each load (a pair of buckets) held 36 liters; children's buckets held about half that amount.

Children would begin to help their parents by hauling water once they reached the age of 10 or so, but this was only marginally helpful as water tended to spill quite easily.

Water was carried in buckets slung over the shoulders.

The people had to work hard for their water. Wells were rather far away, and in addition, many had dried up or had undrinkable water because of high iron content. In the heat of summer it was sometimes necessary to moisten the overly dry buckets so that their bands wouldn't come loose; this was a particular worry for housewives, who used water night and day while taking care of the kitchen. After laboring in the coal mines, they still had to force their already worn-out body to go and draw water.

They had to invest a great deal of time in drawing this precious resource, and as such made sure not to waste even a drop. Water used to wash the rice was often re-used for other washing purposes; people would even use it for their tea without a second thought. Sakubei would hear from the elderly people of the time that even boatmen living out at sea weren't caused such headaches on account of water!

As the end of the Meiji era drew near, pipes and water ways began to be installed to supply water to mid-sized coal mines. The Kamimio mine of Aso was the first to receive running water – apparently not just drinking water, but also the water supply for the boiler were in trouble at that particular location. They installed a brick base on the mountain, installed a boiler, and used an evans pump to push the water through.

Steam pumps gave way to electric pumps towards the beginning of the Taisho era, but the steam pumps were still used an average of once per week as power outages were quite frequent at the time.

The large-scale coal mine Sumitomotadakuma finally received running water in the year Meiji 32 (1899), having faucets installed in one out of every two or three storage buildings.

a scene at the Yama : Yama Children
The children at the coal mines did whatever they could to help out their parents. They would primarily do jobs such as carrying home pickaxes that had been sent to the smith for sharpening, taking care of the younger children, drawing water, and cleaning lamps. When electricity became a practical reality, making lamp cleaning obsolete, the children likely got even more excited than their parents did.