Mikuni once enjoyed prosperity as a port of call of kitamaebune, or cargo ships sailing along the Japan Sea in the Edo and Meiji Period carrying specialty goods of various regions. In ancient days, Mikuni prospered with powerful clans around it and the history of Mikuni has always been closely related to Mikuni port.
Mikuni port has developed its function as a port town as a part of a manor of a big temple in the Middle Ages. During the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, Mikuni was protected and ruled by successive daimyo, or feudal lord, such as Asakura clan, Shibata clan, etc. In the Edo Era, acceleration of urbanization increased the population of Mikuni. It is thought that general outline of current city area of Mikuni was completed in this period. In the middle of the Edo Era, sailors in Hokuriku region started trading by kitamaebune, in which they shipped goods between Osaka and Hokkaido and bought or sold specialty items and, thereby, gained huge marginal profits. Merchants in Mikuni also started to put their efforts into cargo vessel business.
In late Edo Period, Mikuni developed into one of the greatest relay stations of kitamaebune business on the Japan Sea side, generating wealthy merchants like the Moritas and the Uchidas. The development of commerce also promoted townsmen culture and craftsmanship that supported great prosperity of Mikuni port. In the most prosperous period of Mikuni port from the end of the Edo Era to the beginning of the Meiji Era, Shoryu elementary school was built and Mikuni pier was constructed employing the first Western-style construction method in Japan directed by a Dutch engineer.
However, as the railway opened in the Meiji Era, hub function of Mikuni port started to be lost and Mikuni port transformed itself from a prosperous trading port to a fishing port. This is a brief overview of how Mikuni was developed and prospered as a port town for about 1,700 years.
When we walked into a narrow lane from a main street, we used to see nostalgic town houses that tell us traditional architectural styles of good old days, precious constructions and private residences of wealthy merchants, and old traditional stores. However, we have long failed to see their true cultural values just until recently, when we started to promote environmental protection of these old residences as our cultural heritage by bringing together the public and private sectors. A series of efforts have changed our old district thoroughly into new sophisticated sightseeing spot that is indispensable for further development of Mikuni-cho.
The pure white Western-style building standing on the hill commanding the whole town of Mikuni is The Hometown Museum of Mikuni-cho also known as Mikuni Ryushokan. It was built by imitating Shoryu Elementary School built in the 12th year of the Meiji Era (1879) designed by G. A. Escher, a Dutch engineer who directed the construction of Mikuni pier. It is a five-storied building with unusual octagonal structure. Exhibition corners are made from the 1st to the 3rd floor. The first floor exhibits the nature of Mikuni and the second floor exhibits how Mikuni developed and the third floor exhibits lives of ordinary people and modern literature related to Mikuni. Each floor shows a lot of detailed photos, materials, articles left behind, scale models, etc. One-fifth scale model of Sengokubune, or a large junk with the capacity of 1,000 koku of rice, and a float of Mikuni festival which is as high as 11 meters are highlights among the entire exhibitions. Restored study of Jun Takami, a famous novelist, born in Fukui and articles left behind and photos of men of letters related to Mikuni remind us of old days when they actually lived. The fourth floor is a panoramic observation deck where works of trick art are also exhibited. From this 360-degree panoramic observation deck, you can command beautiful Japan Sea off the coast of Mikuni and old district of Mikuni.
Morita Bank was established by the Moritas, the wealthiest merchant in Mikuni-cho. This building was completed in 1920 as the main office of Morita Bank which later was used as the Mikuni branch of Fukui Bank until recent years. However, due to deterioration, the ownership was transferred to Mikuni-cho and restoration for preservation was made based on detailed investigation. As a result, it was reopened as cultural heritage site of Mikuni-cho in July, 1999. Basically, no admission is required and visitors can appreciate sophisticated designing both inside and outside of this building. The appearance of this building is based on the design of Western classical style commonly known as modern revival style. The winding-up shutter attached on the window, which was a state-of-the-art device at that time, is something we should see. The interior has an extensive open ceiling space based on wood and carving with white lime plaster. Especially the ornament with white lime plaster on the ceiling of the management office is really a sight to see. This building is now used for various exhibitions and concerts as well and familiar to many local people, including tourists.
This is one of the most famous temples in Hokuriku region. This is also the oldest temple in Mikuni-cho established in the 1st year of the Eiwa Era (1375). Takidanji Temple has belonged to Chisan-ha of Shingon sect. This temple prospered during the Age of the Warring States because it was the focus of worship by Asakura clan and Shibata clan who ruled Echizen no kuni, now known as Fukui Prefecture. Walking up the entrance pass paved with stone stairs, you can see in the precincts many precious buildings such as Hondo Main Hall, Kan-nondo, Temple kitchen, Chinjudo, Sanmon Gate, Kaizando designated as National Important Cultural Property. Shoro-mon, or the gate with bell tower, still remains as it is now. This gate is said to have been donated by Katsuie Shibata who once ruled Fukui area when he welcomed Oichi no kata to marry her. In the treasure house are Kondoumouchou housougemonkei, a bronze percussion which was hit when an important statement is officially announced, and precious old documents that feast our eyes. A landscape garden which was first designated in Fukui Prefecture as a National Site of Scenic Beauty in 1929 is a splendid Japanese garden in which an old pine tree, an inscribed stone, a stone lantern, etc. are elaborately arranged around a small pond.
|Related links||Website of Takidanji Temple|
This is the shrine that enshrines Kuinomikoto and Emperor Keitai. In this shrine, a sword, Ryuganmon, or a petition and prayer text, and a full-scale colored sacred horse made of wood are kept. Both the sword and Ryuganmon are designated by Fukui Prefecture as cultural properties. Besides these, Zuishinmon, or Zuishin Gate, with profound atmosphere which is said to have been made by imitating Sakuramon, or Sakura Gate, in Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, exquisite sculptures of ho-ou, or Chinese Phoenix, and touka, or pawlownia, in haiden, or the hall of worship, and excellent sculptures of a group of monkeys are also kept here in a quiet atmosphere. In the shrine precincts, huge cidars, pines, tabunoki, or Machiluses, keyaki, or zelkovas, sudajii, or Castanopsis sieboldii, etc grow thickly, creating magnificent and profound atmosphere. An especially large keyaki, or zelkova tree, which is said to be about 600 years old, stands in state on the right of the shrine gate. During Mikuni festival, which is one of the three major festivals in Hokuriku region, floats are dedicated to this shrine.
|Related links||Website of Mikuni Shrine|
Mikuni festival is held annually as one of the festivals of Mikuni Shrine from May 19 to 21. The highlight of this festival is the parade of floats held on May 20 with huge brave warrior dolls on them. Since their height reaches as high as 6 meters and floats parade through narrow streets of old district in Mikuni, not only people pulling and operating the floats, but also the spectators have a hard time during the parade. Each community joins the parade with a unique float built elaborately by the community members with pride. They parade through narrow streets with lively accompaniment of drums, fifes, and shamisen. Since this is one of the three major festivals in Hokuriku region, Mikuni is visited by many spectators both from in and out of Fukui prefecture. Many street stalls and food stands run business busily during the festival. In Mikuni Ryushokan, you can see one of these floats actually used for the parade as a permanent exhibition.
Illuminated by flickering light of dimly lit paper lanterns hung at the eaves edges of old residences with refined atmosphere standing in a row, dancers in summer kimono called yukata dance gracefully in a leisurely pace to the song of Mikunibushi, or a Japanese folk song specially made for Mikuni, accompanied by shamisen and fifes. They dance slowly through the streets of old district in Mikuni at dusk. This is an event that reminds us of the arrival of early fall.
|Related links||Website of Mikuni minato obi no machinagashi (An event of dancing gracefully in the summer evening in kimono through the streets of old district in Mikuni)|