This autumn, my wife and daughter made a trip around Oku-noto, Ishikawa Prefecture. Until a few decades ago, Oku-Noto was a remote and somewhat mysterious area that people from outside the prefecture rarely visited. Now travel agencies taking advantage of the recent nationwide tourist boom offer a wide variety of tours to Noto Peninsula, which have led to an influx of a great many tourists, both Japanese and overseas visitors. The large number of visitors to the area contrasts greatly with the scarcity of the local population. My wife found it surprising that the personnel working at souvenir shops were the only local people she met. Depopulation seems to have become a serious problem.
Oku-Noto is an administrative area that covers an area of 1,130 square kilometers that includes Wajima City, Suzu City, Anamizu Town and Noto Town and accounts for as much as 27% of Ishikawa prefecture. A population ratio of a mere 5.6%, makes clear the severity of the depopulation problem. In an effort to reverse the outflow, the Noto-cho has launched a project for revitalizing the town by establishing a consultation service for helping people move to their town and an opportunity for experiencing the reality of immigration. Perhaps, this is something for you?
In antiquity and up to medieval times, Noto used to be an area to which criminals were banished. With the end of the Gempei war and the total defeat of the Heikei family, the survivors (Taira no Tokitada) were exiled to Suzushi Otani. The family changed their name to Tokikuni, the name they still use today (Kami Tokikuni and Shimo Tokikuni). In the Edo period, the family functioned as village headmen, a social station somewhat above “wealthy farmers” (gono), and used the large ships they possessed to market konbu (kelp) purchased in Hokaido in Kyoto and Osaka. The present head of the family is the 25th generation.
The Tokukuni family house has been designated an important cultural property. The present building dates back to the Edo period (around 170 years ago) and is said to be a rebuild of the family house on high ground to avoid flooding. It is managed by the present members of the Tokukuni family, so a lucky visitor may be able to speak to the daughter of a family who played a major role in Japanese history some 800 years ago.
On a visit to Soujiji temple in Oku-Noto, my wife and daughter met three Jizos on the temple grounds: Miso-suri (miso preparing) jizo, Chichi morai (mother’s milk giving) Jizo and Osouji (sweeping) Jizo.
Miso preparing Jizo
* [From Wikipedia] Miso (みそ or 味噌) is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (the fungus Aspergillus oryzae) and sometimes rice, barley, seaweed or other ingredients.
Mother’s milk giving Jizo
The signboard beside the statue provides the following explanation of the reason for this unusually named Jizo.
A mother who died while her son was still an infant is said to have visited a sweet stall every night to buy candy to feed her son instead of the mother’s milk she could not provide. This child is said to have been Tsugen Jakurei, the 5th chief priest of Souji Temple. When he became the chief priest, he had a Jizo statue erected in gratitude for the goodness of his mother and for the welfare of motherless children. It is said mothers whose breasts have run dry or parents with child rearing problems visit this Jizo to seek divine favor. Jizo watches over humankind with compassion and has a benevolent smile on his face.
Since I thought candy did not seem a good substitute for mother’s milk, I began to do some research. It turns out that there is a sweet shop called “Ame no Tawaraya” in Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture with a 180 year history dating back to the Edo period! The shop’s brochure, states that Jiemon, the first owner, at around the time he was starting up often saw mothers suffering because they were unable to breastfeed their children and wondered if it would not be possible to make a nutritious substitute for mother’s milk. This effort became the start of the shop. This information makes the story of Tsugen Jakurei more believable.
The brochure also states that “The main ingredients of Tawaraya’s candy were high-quality rice and barley. In an age before sugar entered our lives, it was the wisdom of our ancestors to use the sweetness of grain.” This kind of candy could possibly have served as a substitute for mother’s milk!
The woodblock print below shows a sweet seller of the period who would wander the streets of Edo plying his wares while playing the shamisen or the flute.
Yoshitsuya Utagawa I ”Hazaemon Ichimura as sweet seller Uzumatsu”
Collection of the Toraya Archive – Travel Story of Gastronomic Culture in Edo Period No. 25: Candy and Candy-Seller (Japanese)
Noto Tourist Map prepared by the ”Welcome to Noto” site (Japanese)