A short distance from the Toyosato Elementary School is the Yutaka Merchant History and Folk Museum, which offers a fascinating insight into the life and times of the Ōmi merchants.
The museum is the old home of Fujino Kihei who ran a shipping business. In the latter half of the Edo period, he started a kimono shop with the trade name of Matajū. Later he ventured into Hokkaidō, where he gained the trust of the local Matsumae clan, who monopolized trading rights with the indigenous Ainu people. Kihei developed many of the rich fishing grounds of Hokkaidō, and the produce of Hokkaidō was packaged in tins under the Akebono brand. Ships with the Matajū trademark on the sail plied the Japan Sea between Kansai and Hokkaidō. This business was passed down for several generations.
The museum retains its original drawing room, principal residence, library and garden by Katsumoto Donketsu. It has an eclectic collection of historic items including an astonishing array of weapons and armour of the Ii clan, clocks, women’s accessories, and exhibits related to the business of the Ōmi merchants, including painted screens and model ships.
Ii Naosuke once stayed at the house and an attempt on his life was made here. You can still see marks of sword cuts that missed him. The building and garden were built by the second generation of the family, Shirōbei in 1836 as a means of providing work and relief to economic refugees during the Tenpō Famine.
A visit to this museum is essential for gaining an insight into the business and philosophy of the Ōmi. It’s also an opportunity to see many beautiful and evocative artifacts under a single roof.