During the Meiji Era (1868–1912) Japan underwent a root-andbranch modernization. This development, taking place within little more than a single generation, transformed a rural civilization into one of the world's great industrial and commercial nations, standing equal with the other great powers. This massive change, with its concomitant vast social reconstruction, is one of the most significant historical developments of the period. There is abundant material relating to these changes, but it is almost all from the archives of the Japanese Government, or else from the documents left by the great industrialists, financiers and traders involved in it.
Voices from the grass-roots are very rare. Sakubei Yamamoto (1892–1984) was the son of a poor family, who was swept up in these momentous changes. In 1899 his family moved to a newly developing coal-field area, and he went into a coal-mine as a coal-face worker at the age of twelve. He continued to work at the coal-face until, at the age of 63, he started to work as a security guard at the mine. From a very young age he kept diaries and note-books in which he recorded what he saw at the mine. In 1955 he started to paint pictures from his memories and diaries of incidents he had witnessed: eventually he produced 589 paintings, 65 diaries, 15 notebooks and 28 assorted papers and documents. The paintings, diaries and note-books he left are a unique grass-roots record of the social changes of the Meiji Era, and are of immense historical and cultural value. Sakubei Yamamoto died at the age of 92. Most of his collection was donated into public repositories. This documentary heritage was inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 2011.