Sakata, a base for merchant vessels. Open access begets a rich culture.
Related to the sea, there is one thing that must be mentioned, Kitamaebune. It was a freighter that took a western route from Hokkaido to Osaka, sailing in the Sea of Japan, stopping at Tsuruga and Moji, then passing through Seto Inland Sea. Kitamaebune, which ran incessantly from the mid-Edo period until the late Meiji period, helped grow each region’s trade by loading every possible commodity. It was known as a “moving general trading company”. Sakata, Shonai is one of the regions, which benefitted. Sankyosoko, a rice storage house built with white mud covered walls, was located right next to Sakata Port and is still in service. Hiyoriyama was used as a weather forecaster before each voyage. A lantern was lit all night long and also used as a lighthouse. A hogakuishi was a stone denoting direction. In Sakata, all of these contributed to safe navigation by the Kitamaebune and still remain to this day.
“As a local specialty of Sakata, a large amount of rice was loaded onto the Kitamaebune. On the return trip, it came back with food, stones, and tiles,” Mr. Makoto Seino explained, the office head of Honma Museum of Art. “The cargo was used in order to maintain stability of the ship. At same time, it was also merchandise to be sold, such as aoishi, a bluish stone from Iyo, shakudaniishi, a greenish stone from Fukui, and akagawara, a reddish tile from Echizen. Such fine commodities as these from each region were brought to Sakata, and many of them still exist in the city.” The faith at Zenpoji, where a deity of the sea is enshrined, was also spread across the country through the interaction with other regions by the Kitamaebune.
Samurai in Sakata spoke a Shonai and Edo mixed dialect, being influenced by Edo culture. On the other hand, merchants spoke a Kyoto flavored Shonai dialect because of exchanges with the Kansai region. As a lot of merchandise came and went, the spirit of “everyone is always welcome to come and go” had developed, at least among merchants. It sounds funny, but there is the view that Sakata is quite livable for those who have divorced.”
Anyway, water is mysterious. Rain and snow fall on mountains, becoming groundwater or rivers that flow through villages, and at last reach the ocean. Seawater evaporates and rises up into the air, turning into rain or snow, and falls on mountains once again. Agriculture, fishing, and commerce have developed by benefiting in some sort from this eternal cycle. If the balance with water falls apart, farmers can lose their harvests, fishermen can lose their livelihood, or even their lives, and merchants can lose their income. People in Shonai have learned to respect maintaining a certain distance with water from each of these perspectives.
Looking at the smartphone in his hand, Mr. Yusei starts the boat and heads to port. “We have this (his phone), coming from a highly civilized society, so, actually we don’t really need weather lore,” Mr. Yusei said freely, letting himself accept a modern digital tool. “But being rewarded with a good catch depends on auspiciousness. We must have both skill and luck.” Yet once he again looked at the sea, his face turned serious.