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Introduction to Kitamaebune

Kitamaebune of Obama(小浜) port (c)IDA Haruhiko
ca. Meiji medium-term

Kitamaebune(北前船, literally "northern-bound ships") is a generic term used to refer to Japanese commercial ships from the Edo to the Meiji periods, which sailed connecting Osaka and Ezo (now Hokkaidō and the south Kurile islands) via various ports in the Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan coast.

Kitamaebune's owner dealt in all sorts of goods, but he mainly exported goods such as cotton, clothing, sake, salt, tobacco, medicine and other staples from Osaka to Ezo and imported goods such as herring, salmon, sea cabbages (kelp) to Honshū. Dry herring were in huge demand as fertilizer for commercial crop like cottons, but not edible.