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Prosperity of shipping town still visible in Mikuni

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Raging waves crash into the Tojinbo cliffs, a national scenic spot and natural monument. The scene contrasts with summertime, when the sea is relatively tranquil.

Koichi Saijo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSAKAI, Fukui — Waves crashed into the Tojinbo cliffs, a 20-meter-tall precipice that extends for a kilometer in the Mikuni district of Sakai, Fukui Prefecture. Those who look out onto the Sea of Japan from the clifftop grow weak in the knees as they become overwhelmed by the powerful scenery.

The waves around Tojinbo are very rough during winter. I visited the cliffs at the end of last year and heard that wind speeds sometimes exceed 10 meters per second. I grimaced as the waves crashed into the base of the cliff far below my feet. Having enjoyed the view, I departed so as to not break my camera in the rough conditions.

I wondered how nice the view would have been had I taken a sightseeing boat. Unfortunately, the boats were out of operation until the end of January.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The former main office of Morita Bank evokes the prosperity of Mikuni’s past eras.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

“You should take in the view from the sea, too. You could have seen many distinctive rocks,” said Satoru Kobari, who operates sightseeing boats for Tojinbo and is also the chief of the Sakai City Mikuni Tourist Association. “However, the waves are still too rough in February,” he added. “Unfortunately, we can only operate the boat for 4 or 5 days during the month.”

Kobari said the boats operate for an average of about 230 days a year. The waves grow calm in the spring, and I look forward to my next visit to the area.

I next headed to Mikuni’s central area.

Mikuni’s port opens at the mouth of the Kuzuryugawa river. Although the port is now famous for its hauls of Echizen-gani crab, it once prospered as a port of call for Kitamae-bune cargo ships that navigated the Sea of Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867).

The ships would stock up on seafood from Hokkaido, rice from the Hokuriku region and other products. They would then enter the Seto Inland Sea from the west before heading to Osaka. Afterward, the ships collected sake and other goods in western Japan for delivery to northern Japan. It is said that the business was very profitable and a year’s worth of transactions covered the cost of building a ship.

Mikuni Minato Kitamae dori (Mikuni Port Kitamae Street) offers a glimpse into the prosperity of those days. The street is lined with the homes of the Morita, Kishina and other merchant families who profited from shipping and other businesses.

The former main office of Morita Bank, built in 1920, is registered as one of the nation’s tangible cultural assets and is open to the public free of charge.

Mieko Ikegami, a 72-year-old volunteer guide, told me, “Ornaments are plastered on the soaring ceiling. The construction is really gorgeous compared to other structures of the time.”

The merchants contributed to the region, not only through repairing the port facilities but also by building a Shinto shrine, a school and other facilities. However, their wealth gradually diminished as railway emerged as a means of transporting goods.

“Mikuni is famous for the Tojinbo cliffs and Echizen-gani crab, but I would be happy if visitors learned our local history, too,” laughed Ikegami, who has been a guide here for 10 years.

For lunch, I made my way to Uoshiro, a restaurant converted from a Meiji- (1868-1912) and Taisho- (1912-1926) era teahouse. The building is a nationally designated tangible cultural asset.

After entering through an old-fashioned lattice door, I ordered amaebi-tendon, a popular rice bowl dish topped with sweet shrimp tempura. I used to believe sweet shrimp was best eaten raw, but this dish proved me wrong. The shrimp had recently molted and the shell was pleasantly soft, which made for a firm texture that allowed me to eat the tail.

As I sat at the counter of this elegant restaurant, I thought about the rise and fall of Edo-era merchants.

Access

Take the Tokaido Shinkansen and a local express train for 3 hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo Station to Fukui Station. From Fukui Station, take the Echizen Railway Mikuni Awara line for 45 minutes to Mikuni. A bus is also available from Awara Onsen Station. For more information, call Sakai City Tourist Information at (0776) 43-0753.

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&d

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