Peppermint Era Inns
Peppermint Era Inns
Ono Katsumi's father had been a peppermint grower and inspector at the local Hokkaido Agricultural Products Inspection Station, so he became interested in the history of peppermint growing in Kitami. In the late 1960's he conducted a series of interviews with elderly farmers who had grown peppermint.
He found that the main peppermint growing areas in the Kitami district in the late Taisho and early Showa eras (1910's and 1920's) were Nikoro, the Chushi and Hokuto districts of Tanno, and the Yoshino district of Tokoro. Apart from what was needed for subsistence crops such as wheat, millet and potatoes, farmers in those districts planted nearly all of their land in peppermint. Some farms grew five to eight hectares.
The task of distilling peppermint oil on such large scale farms would frequently take more than a month using the inefficient equipment of those days. The work continued day and night. At the start a father would keep a close eye on the extraction process, but as tiredness mounted more and more of it was left in the hands of sons.
They would then collude to put aside a little of the oil each day secretly for themselves. The proceeds were used to fund their entertainment at New Year, Obon and other festivals.
Favourite places of recreation were establishments in the village of Nikoro, such as the Suzuki Ryokan, Kashimaya and Yamane, which later became a clock shop, a bicycle shop and a bus company parking lot. Now even those have vanished.
Occasionally farmers would go all the way into Nikoro Avenue in Kitami itself where they would stay at an inn and patronize the nearby drinking establishments.
An inn in those days was a simple Japanese-style hostelry with stables and a yard to leave carts. A shingle-roofed building down an alley-way off the main street beside the inn housed stalls and feeding troughs for horses. A lamp hung over the alley entrance provided dim light.
According to Mr Ono's informants there were inns such as Haradaya, Otaya and Hasegawa in the vicinity of Nikoro Avenue. When I first came to live in Kitami in 1960, I remember seeing a building with what appeared to have been wooden stalls for horses behind it. By then they were being used as storage sheds. It was in 3 Jo Higashi 2 Chome and could well have been the former Otaya.
When young farmers set off from home they would wear baggy riding trousers and indigo-dyed hanten jackets they had received from the merchants they dealt with. These carried the firm's name and symbol mark. But once they got to an inn the men would change into a kimono with haori over-jacket or even more fashionable gear such as a long western-style overcoat and hunting cap before going out on the town.
A sad tale is told from those times. At the peak of the peppermint boom, a farmer flush with money after selling his crop stayed on for days on end at inns and restaurants. Towards the end of the year when all his money had run out, he returned to his home in what is now Hokuyo, Nikoro, only to find that his wife, weak from illness, had frozen to death in an unheated room.
This story was spread as a warning to the young men of the day. However even so, farmers who had taken their crops to sell to a merchant would still go on and do the rounds of drinking and eating establishments until they fell down drunk. A horse would sometimes pull a sledge home with nobody driving, just the reins hanging loose. The wife of a farmer who was known to be fond of drink used to insist on accompanying him to town whenever he took a crop in to be sold.
The illustrations, drawn by Tokunaga Yoshiyuki of Saroma, show farmers during the peppermint boom era drinking at an establishment in town, then sadly making their way home the following morning much the worse for hangovers.
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