Kameya Sakyō

Kameya Sakyō

An Ōmi merchant who made a fortune selling weeds from Mt. Ibuki

place Area: Maibara access_time Published: 2020.03.12

Name in Japanese: 亀屋左京 
Dates: 1782 to 1850

Kameya Sakyō (1782 to 1850) was an Ōmi merchant in the late Edo period. He sold moxa and popularised Ibuki moxa through commercial songs.

Before the advent of European medicine, the Japanese relied on Chinese treatments. Moxibustion was something of a cure-all. It involved drying the aromatic weed mugwort, forming it into lumps or sticks, which were placed on the meridian points specified in Chinese medicine and burned to stimulate the flow of blood and chi. Mugwort grows prolifically on Mt. Ibuki.

Kameya Sakyō was born in 1782, the second son of a moxa merchant in Kashiwabara-juku, the 60th post town on the Nakasendō road in Ōmi. He was commonly known as Shichibei. In the Edo period, the Nakasendō linked Kyōto and today’s Tōkyo through the mountains of central Japan, and it was a major commercial route.

When Shichibei was around twenty years old, he went to Edo to peddle moxa. Using the money he earned, he visited the prostitution area, Yoshiwara. He taught the prostitutes a song called “The moxa of Kameya Sakyō from the bottom of Mt. Ibuki”. The song was very popular, and as a result, the name of Ibuki Moxa spread throughout the country.

Shichibei earned a lot of money. He bought fields in Kashiwabara and took a wife, but he inspired the envy of his neighbours and was subjected to violence. He immediately had the story made into a ballad drama which was performed in Osaka and Kyoto with the title “Ibuki Moxa”. It was a big hit, and the fame of the Ibuki Moxa brand grew. Kameya Sakyō thrived more than ever.

Shichibei used his earnings to build a garden behind his mansion, and he opened it to travellers on the road as a resting place, besides selling moxa. This public spiritedness was typical of the sanpō yoshi philosophy of the Ōmi merchants that placed emphasis on social service as well as customer satisfaction.

The ukioe artist Utagawa Hiroshige made a series of prints showing scenes of the Nakasendō, one of which features the Kameya Sakyō shop, and the adjacent garden and rest area. Although cars have replaced the palanquins in the picture, the scene is pretty much the same today.