The small capital of Hiyama Region on the west coast of the Oshima Peninsula, Esashi (江差) was Hokkaido’s main trading center from 17th- to 19th-century, when Japanese merchants brought herring and woods. Those days this 30,000-strong town was called ‘Even Edo is not as busy as Esashi in May’. Esashi makes for pleasant strolling on the Inishie Kaido (いにしえ街道) street with historic houses.
A combination ticket (¥500) is available for the the Old Nakamura House, the Old Hiyama-Nishi-gun Government Office and the Old Sekikawa Summer House.
01 LOCAL CULTURE
Esashi Oiwake Hall
193-3 Nakauta-cho / 9am-5pm / Closed Mon & day after a holiday of Nov-Mar / ¥500 / Wi-Fi / esashi-oiwake.com
Esashi Oiwake folk song has been singing from the Edo period and is called the ‘king of min’yo (folk song)’ in Japan. This is the usual venue for performances the Esashi Oiwake and Hokkaido’s major folk songs by local singers three times a day (11am, 1pm and 3pm) from late April to late October. You can expect to hear the Oiwake master’s songs from the Meiji period at the reference room. Two floats for the local festival also displayed here.
02 HISTORIC BUILDING
Old Nakamura House
旧中村家 / 22 Nakauta-cho / 9am-5pm Feb-Nov / Closed Mon & day after a holiday of Nov & Feb-Mar / ¥300 / Wi-Fi
Dating from the late-Edo period, once the wholesaler’s house of Kyu-Nakamura-ke offers insight into Esashi’s heyday history of trading and herring fishing. Those days the house was facing the sea and a barge of cargo ships landed here.
03 HISTORIC BUILDING
Old Hiyama-Nishi-gun Government Office
旧檜山爾志郡役所 · 江差町郷土資料館 / Kyu-Hiyama-Nishi-gun Yakusho / 112 Nakauta-cho / 9am-5pm Feb-Nov / Closed Mon & day after a holiday of Nov & Feb-Mar / ¥300 / Wi-Fi / www.hokkaido-esashi.jp/museum/top.htm
Once the region’s government office, Esashi’s historical museum occupies a Western-style beautiful timbered building dating from 1887, designed by a Russian architect. You can tour the restored interior, local-history artefacts and verandah.
04 HISTORIC BUILDING
横山家 / Yokoyama-ke / 45 Ubagami-cho / yokoyamake.jp
Yokoyama family has been business since 1822 and this traditional house was built in the late Edo period (currently closed).
05 HISTORIC BUILDING
Old Sekikawa Summer House
旧関川家別荘 / Kyu-Sekikawa-ke Besso / 55 Toyokawa-cho / 9am-5pm Sat & Sun & holiday of May-Oct / ¥100 / Wi-Fi
Completed in the mid-Edo period, this small wooden summer house contains relics of the Sekikawa family who once Matsumae’s richest marchant. In the grounds there is a Japanese garden (Ezodate Park: えぞだて公園).It is about a 10-minute walk northeast of the town center.
99 Ubagami-cho / 24hrs (shrine office 9am-5pm) / FREE
Officially founded in 1644, Ubagami Dai-jingu is one of Hokkaido’s oldest shrines and the Matsumae clan played for a good haul.
07 LOCAL HISTORY
1-10 Ubagami-cho / 9am-5pm Mar-Dec / Closed Mon & day after a holiday Nov-Dec & Mar / ¥500 / www.kaiyou-maru.com
The Edo shogunate’s battle ship Kaiyo-maru was built in the Nederlands in 1866 and participated the Boshin civil war, but it went down off Esashi in 1868. Today the recreated museum ship, berthed outside Kamome-jima, is made up of 3000 historical relics retrieved from the real Kaiyo-maru, including cannon, pistols and swords.
08 ISLAND & CAMPING
The seagull-shaped tied island of Kamome-jima is easily reached from the town center, with small beaches, footpaths, historic remnants and a free campsite (mid Apr-mid Oct) with green lawns. Esashi’s symbolic rock Heishi-iwa with a sacred rope stands just offshore from the sandy beach.
Nakauta-cho (中歌町), in front of the Esashi Oiwake Hall, is the main bus stop of Central Esashi. Buses from and to Central Esashi:
Hakodate: 5 daily / 2hrs 15min
Kikonai: 6 daily / 1hr 40min
Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station: 5 daily / 1hr 15min
Yakumo: 2 daily / 2hrs