Monday, April 18, 2011
illustration friday (journey)
Men and women with huge packs fastened to their backs used to be a common sight when I was young, when trains, rather than automobiles, were the most common means of travel in Hokkaido. These packs would be wrapped in large furoshiki (wrapping cloths), the ends of which were pulled to the front and tied in a knot across the chest. Many of these travelers were peddlers of one sort or another-- and, as I discovered many years later, some of those with the largest packs were the fabled medicine peddlers from Toyama prefecture.
Medicine manufacturing developed into Toyama's biggest industry in the 17th century. These medicines for common ailments were sold by peddlers who traveled far and wide at a time when traveling outside of one's feudal domain was still uncommon and actually discouraged by the authorities. Their business was based on a policy of "use now pay later." With each visit, the peddler would restock the medicine box in the client household and take payment only for the products that had been used since his last visit. It was an innovative business method for those days and welcomed by villagers who lacked cash income. Pharmaceuticals continues to be Toyama prefecture's major industry, though the peddlers are now called "salesmen" and they travel in vans filled with plastic boxes instead of carrying enormous bamboo cases on their backs.
Read this article if you are interested in learning more about how this tradition is surviving the 21st century.