Kitamae Shipping

Unknown, Unappreciated
Without a moments hesitation, Mr Okizaki, whom I had only just met, climbed on to sofa opposite where I was sitting.  He was anxious to show me the location of some of the important trading points where ships plying the Japan Sea called on their way to the northern island of Hokkaido.

Although I had noticed the map on the wall I had not fully appreciated that it was rather unusual.  It was not Japan seen from the South.  Instead it was Japan and a large part of the Asian continent seen from the North West and thus focused on the Japan Sea coastline.

Mr Okizaki, a director of a company supplying processed sea foods, had be recommended to me as a very knowledgable person on the subject of the Kitamae trading ships that cursed the Japan Sea coast up until the development of the telegraph and national railway system in the early part of the twentieth-century.

I had not really understood just how important shipping routes were to Japan in the past.  I knew that major land routes such as the Tokaido, so interestingly portrayed by Utagawa Hiroshige, were used but they were not suited to the transportation of any goods in bulk, due to the often steep inclines and narrowness of the routes.  And then there were the bands of marauding lord-less samurai, numerous check points and paperwork to be dealt with. too.

The rock out-crops just off shore made it impossible for a large ship to draw near to off load its cargo.  It had to be done using a small boat that could navigate the narrow channels that were natural or manmade.
Although they had existed before it was not until the later part of the 19th century that the Kitamae shipping routes through the Japan Sea became especially developed.  In fact, sea routes along the Pacific Coast as well as along the Japan Sea had existed since the Edo period, which began in the early part of 17th century.

Catch the fish, fillet the fish and dry the fish.
Goods passed from centres of production and/or consumption in and around the Kansai area focused on Osaka.  Ships would navigate a way through the Inland Sea before making their way along the Japan Sea coast, stopping off to trade at places large and small on the way to Hokkaido.  It was there that they would pick up marine products such as dried seaweed as well as timber.

Admittedly the Pacific coastal route to Hokkaido was also well used.  It was, however, the Japan Sea route with its many trading points that became instrumental in the development of culture as well as trade along the seaboard, especially with the end of the feudal period in 1868.  After this Japan’s industrial development was meteoric and saw the nation beginning to take its place on the world stage for the first time..

Until relatively recently, I really had not appreciated the importance of the Kitamae trading routes.  So this is only the beginning of the story.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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