The mining sector was the smallest of Japan's industrial-based economy, accounting for 0.16% of GDP in 1999. The mineral-processing industry, however, was among the world's largest and most technologically advanced, accounting for 5.15% of Japan's GDP, and it played a key role in supplying steel, nonferrous metals, and chemicals for the country's world-class manufacturing sector, as well as to those of the region. Japan was the world's largest producer and consumer of cadmium, the leading producer of selenium metal, electrolytic manganese dioxide, and titanium sponge metal; the second-leading producer of iodine, pig iron, nickel metal, and crude steel; the third-largest producer of copper metal, diatomite, and zinc metal; and the fourth-largest producer of cement. Japan also produced and had considerable resources of limestone, carbonate rocks (construction aggregates and dolomite), clays (bentonite and fire clay), pyrophyllite, and silica. Since the beginning of the 20th century, most mineral production has undergone a steady decline, and Japan was a net importer of minerals, relying heavily on imports for petroleum, iron ore, chromium, cobalt, copper concentrate (Japan was the world's largest importer), copper metal, primary aluminum, ilmenite, rutile, natural gas, gallium (Japan was the world's largest consumer), uranium, manganese (for all its requirements), indium (the world's largest consumer), nickel (world's largest consumer), and coal, although coal accounted for slightly more than half of all mineral production by value. The construction sector continued its slowdown in 2000, and, with the exception of gold and zinc, Japan's ore reserves for other minerals, especially oil, gas, and metallic minerals, were very low.
Of Japan's $479.2 billion in total exports in 2000, minerals, mineral-related chemicals, and processed minerals products were valued at $34.8 billion; iron and steel products, and nonferrous, rare, and other base metals totaled $23.8 billion; processed mineral products of asbestos, cement, ceramics, glass, mica, and stone, $5.0 billion; mineral-related chemicals and fertilizer, $2.2 billion; precious and semiprecious stones, and precious metals, $1.9 billion; salt, sulfur, earths, stone, plastering materials, lime, and cement, $312 million; and ferrous and nonferrous metal ores, slag, and ash, $35 million. Chemicals were Japan's fourth-leading export commodity in 2002.
Among metal minerals, Japan produced 8,400 kg of mine gold (metal content) in 2000, and 103,781 kg of mine silver (87,180 in 1997). Sumitomo Metal Mining, the main producer of gold and silver, planned to boost its output of gold (from 36 tons per year, to 60) and silver (from 300 tons per year, to 480) by 2003, and to expand its copper refining capacity to 400,000 tons per year. In addition, Japan produced the metal minerals alumina, antimony oxide, high-purity arsenic, bismuth, mine copper, germanium oxide, iron ore, iron sand concentrate, mine lead, manganese oxide, rare-earth oxide (including oxide of cerium, europium, gadolinium, lanthanum, neodymium, praseodymium, samarium, terbium, and yttrium), elemental selenium, high-purity silicon, elemental tellurium, titanium dioxide, mine zinc, and zirconium oxide. Gold ore reserves totaled 178,762 kg (metal content); and zinc ore (metal content), 3.25 million tons.
Among industrial minerals, output totals for 2000 were: hydraulic cement, 81.07 million tons (94.49 million tons in 1996); elemental iodine (mostly from Chiba Prefecture), 6,157 tons; diatomite, 190,000 tons; limestone (crushed and broken),185.6 million tons (201.4 million tons in 1997); dolomite (crushed and broken), 3.54 million tons (4.01 in 1997); bentonite, 415,155 tons (495,646 in 1997); crude fire clay, 506,314 tons (577,666 in 1998); pyrophyllite (from Nagasaki, Okayama, and Hiroshima prefectures), 692,998 tons (913,822 in 1997); silica sand, 2.75 million tons (3.56 in 1996); and silica stone (quartzite), 15.58 million tons (19.03 in 1996). In addition, Japan produced asbestos, elemental bromine, kaolin clay, feldspar, aplite, gypsum, quicklime, nitrogen, perlite, salt, sodium compounds (soda ash and sulfate), sulfur, talc, and vermiculite. Reserves of iodine totaled 4.9 million tons; limestone, 57.9 billion tons; dolomite, 1.19 billion tons; pyrophyllite, 160.4 million tons; silica sand, 200.95 million tons; white silica stone, 880.7 million tons; and kaolin, 36.03 million tons.
Japan's mineral industry consisted of a small mining sector of coal and nonferrous metals, a large mining sector of industrial minerals, and a large minerals-processing sector of ferrous and nonferrous metals and industrial minerals. Mining and mineral-processing businesses were owned and operated by private companies. There were 13 operating metal mines in 2000, and 515 operating industrial mines, employing a total of 12,103 people. The mineral-processing industry produced, among other things, inorganic chemicals and compounds, ferrous metals, industrial minerals, nonferrous metals, petrochemicals, and refined petroleum products—for domestic consumption and for exports. To clean up mining and mineral-processing sites where soils were contaminated by heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and petroleum hydrocarbons, Dowa Mining Co. Ltd. established a soil remedy business unit to investigate such treatment technologies as incineration, bioremedy, soil washing, and chemical treatment.
In a massive reorganization of the government, 23 ministries and agencies were to be reduced to 13 in 2001, and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) would become the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), into which were rolled many agencies and institutes that dealt with mining, geology, metals, chemicals, and the environment. The government, through its Metal Mining Agency of Japan (MMAJ), collaborating with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, continued to promote overseas mineral exploration by providing loans and technical assistance, and by carrying out basic exploration. Among projects supported by MMAJ were reconnaissance surveys for copper, gold, lead, and zinc in the southern Andes region of Argentina, and for copper and gold in north-central Mongolia; exploration for gold in Alta Floresta, Brazil, for copper, gold, and molybdenum in Chile, for copper, gold, and zinc in Umm Ad Damar, Saudi Arabia, and for copper and gold in Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, the Philippines, and Oman; discoveries and further exploration for gold in Baoule-Banifing and Kekoro, Mali; and regional development planning for lead and zinc in Krib-Mehez, Tunisia. In line with its mineral policy to secure and diversify its long-term supply of raw materials, Japan was expected to continue its active search for direct investment in joint exploration and development of minerals in developed and developing countries. The targeted minerals were antimony, chromium, coal, columbium (niobium), copper, gold, iron ore, lead, lithium, manganese, molybdenum, natural gas, nickel, crude petroleum, rare earths, silver, strontium, tantalum, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, and zinc.