The Historic Nakamura Residence, which still stands in Nakauta-cho, was built by the Omi merchant, Uhee Ohashi who was a broker of marine products and conducted business from the Edo Period with fishermen who worked along the coast of the Japan Sea.
The building construction is typical for wholesale dealers of the time. It is built on a foundation of shakudani stones shipped by kitamaebune cargo vessels that traveled between Esashi and the Hokuriku region, and consists of a large 2-story main building with a gabled roof made of cypress (hiba), plus a corridor that extends from the main building to the beach, and through the library, storehouse, and outside roofed passage. The residence was transferred from the Ohashi family to Yonekichi Nakamura in the early Taisho Era, and designated a national important cultural property in 1971. The Nakamura family later donated the property to the town in 1974. Restorations were completed in 1982 and it was opened to the public.
Esashi, where herring is not a fish
The word for herring is written in kanji characters as “鰊.” In Esashi, this was read as “鯡.” At that time, the Matsumae Clan could not get hold of rice, but maintained their livelihood through abundant hauls of herring. That is said to be because of the concept that “herring is not fish, but rice.” Herring was an extremely important source of revenue that supported the economy of the Matsumae Clan.
At that time, the prosperity of Esashi was said to be greater than that of Edo. Numerous merchant homes lined the narrow shore, and while Esashi was a port town in the north, it was proud to have an abundant assortment of goods that rivaled Edo and Osaka. Though over a century has passed since that era of prosperity which is today a distant memory, many buildings still remain that tell of the circumstances of that time.
The Historic Nakamura Residence was built by a merchant from Omi, Uhee Ohashi, who constructed the cypress wood building on a foundation of shakudani stones from Echizen that were shipped by kitamaebune cargo vessels. It is an unusual design. There is an office just inside the entrance facing the road where 3 clerks would sit. Further inside, there is an office for the head clerk. Only the office areas have a 2-story construction. The second floor has an alcove made of a great deal of ebony and red sandalwood, one of the three most precious kinds of wood in Japan. The walls were opulent for the times, constructed in a resplendent traditional Japanese style of architecture called shoin-zukuri and covered with iron sand and abalone shell.
Continuing on from the office through the living room and Buddhist altar room, the entrance to the storehouse is visible. In those days, this storehouse held valuable items. The upper window is constructed of glass made in Japan, characterized by distortion. Back then, fires occurred quite often, and the merchant homes had fire doors to prevent fire from spreading from room to room. There is a foothold in the upper area of the library that could be reached from the servant’s room to open and close the fire door. The storehouse door is four layers thick, but has wooden rollers attached so that the heavy door could easily be opened and shut. From 1982, restoration costing 160 million yen was carried out in accordance with a 3-year plan. Since the height of the road was increased, new rocks were brought in to raise the foundation 55 centimeters. This is an amazing building that even today communicates the prosperity of Esashi.
22 Nakauta-cho, Aza, Esashi-cho, Hiyama-gun, Hokkaido 043-0034
■ Tel +81(0)139 52-1617
■ Entrance Fee
Adults: 300 yen Elementary/Jr. High/High School Students: 100 yen
(10% discount for groups of 15 or more)
■ Hours 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Open daily from April 1st to October 31st
Closed Mondays/day after national holidays from November 1st to December 30th
Closed from December 31st to March 31st
Esashi Oiwake Kaikan/Esashi Yama Kaikan
Esashi Travel Guide
Kitamaebune (cargo vessels)