“Akagawara” red tiles
“Funa dansu” ship chests
The Kaga Hashitate townscape

Hashitate: Japan’s wealthiest village

A town bearing witnesses of Kitamaebune’s glorious past

From the 17th to the 19th century, many ship owners, merchants and navigators bound to the Kitamaebune trade companies built sumptuous residences in the vicinities of Hashitate which, back in the days was commonly dubbed as “Japan’s wealthiest village”. The settlement of those men who, as people often said, made “thousands out of one trip” in such a small and sparsely populated port town, helped to bring prosperity in the neighboring communities. Today we still wonder why on earth so many gorgeous mansions were gathered here.
Discovering behind those high fences splendid estates often equipped with large storehouses, leaves the stroller absolutely bewildered. Indeed, the richness of the town that the maritime transportation industry merchants had built remains beyond the borders of imagination.

Following the tracks of the Kitamaebune ship owners

With their elegant red tiles rooves nicely melting within the rustic townscape of Hashitate, the Kitamaebune ship owners’ estates don’t have the flamboyant aspect of their contemporary samurai residences. However their structures often seem to blend together a certain sense of aesthetic with the robustness of experienced sailors. The facades are covered with ship boards to firmly protect the house from the deteriorating effects of the nearby Sea of Japan’s salty breeze. Stones that once served as ballasts to stabilize the ships were reused either as stone steps or stepping stones in the shrine. Indeed, there are many towns filled with charm and history around, but the port of call of Hashitate and its ship owners’ residences display a very distinctive atmosphere that is also pervasive everywhere in its shrines, temples, traditional festivities and entertainments. Hashitate is taking us in another dimension, into a unique place filled with history and emotions; a place that breathes with the memories of men who braved the waves to pursue their dreams and contributed to create a part of Japan’s modernity by carrying people, goods and culture all across the country.


The Kitamaebune adventure created an original folklore blended with superstitions. There were a few things that the sailors should not do and words that should never be said aboard. For example, seeds from umeboshi (dried pickled plums) should never be thrown away in the sea as it was believed to cause storms. As well, because the word “kaeru” which ordinary means “going back” could also be understood as “turning over” (of the ship), the sailors were required to always use the synonym verb “modoru” to express the idea of “returning”.
At the end of their journey, after the last unloading, the Kitamaebune ships would sail back up to the Yodo River from Osaka and anchor in the fresh waters at the mouth of the Kizu River. By doing so they wanted to avoid the damages caused by shipworms; marine insects that are notorious for boring into the immersed boat structures. Even now, it is possible to admire shipboards from those times as they were commonly reused for the exterior walls of several ship owners' houses in Hashitate. If one pays close attention enough, he will certainly find one that was partly riddled by the insects.

Kitamaebune Ship Museum

Kitamaebune Ship Owner Residence - Zorokuen

Izumi Shrine

Akagawara(red tiles)


  • Kitamaebune Ship Museum

  • Kitamaebune Ship Owner Residence - Zorokuen

  • Izumi Shrine

  • Akagawara
    (red tiles)

  • Shakudani-ishi