Kitamaebune“Even Edo is not as busy as Esashi in May”
The Golden Age of the Herring Trade Conveyed Even Today
Kitamaebune (cargo vessels)

 

The Dawn of Hokkaido Culture

From the age of the Matsumae Clan to the Meiji Period, Esashi saw prosperous trade between Osaka and Sakai through kitamaebune (cargo vessels), and thrived as a town of commerce and industry. Many artists and writers also visited Esashi around that time. It is no exaggeration to say that culture in Hokkaido blossomed from Esashi.

(Esashi Oiwake Kaikan curtain)

(Esashi Oiwake Kaikan curtain)

Esashi Folding Screens

This pair of screens was painted in 1753 by the Matsumae artist, Teiryo Kodama. One depicts spring in Esashi, and the other fall around Fukuyama Castle. It was drawn during a period of affluence brought about through the herring trade in Esashi that was so great that it financially supported the Matsumae Clan. These screens are the oldest objects from which the prosperity of Esashi in those days can be gleaned.

 

Kitamaebune Cargo Vessels

Long ago, from the Edo Period until early in the Meiji Period, Esashi flourished as a production site for cypress wood, a base for herring fishing, and a commercial port of Hokkaido. The large Japanese junks called kitamaebune played an active part in the trade of those commodities. Kitamaebune cargo vessels sailed back and forth along western shipping routes in the Japan Sea from the starting point in the Seto Inland Sea to Esashi. The cypress wood and herring loaded on the vessels in Esashi were actively traded in various locations. During the heyday of the kitamaebune trade, many kitamaebune ship owners and wealthy merchants lived in Esashi, and the town buzzed with activity. In addition, the coming and going of the kitamaebune led to the birth and development of Esashi culture, which derived from Kansai culture.

 

Votive Picture of Ships

Votive Picture of Ships

This is a votive picture of ships. During the era of trade using kitamaebune cargo vessels, when ship owners purchased a new boat, they made a votive picture of a ship and dedicated it to their shrine of worship. A ship owner from Ubagami-cho, Ibee Taguchi presented this picture together with 6 ships’ boatmen.

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.

 

Soba uri (Selling soba noodles) in Hokkaido Originated in Esashi

In the Bunka Period (1804~1818), two daughters of a tea shop owner in Esashi placed beans , rice cake, and soba into a food box and went around selling them to cargo ships anchored off the coast of Esashi Port. This is said to be the first instance of soba uri in Hokkaido.