Among the iconic kura warehouses of Nakamachi Street sits an intriguing repository of Matsumoto’s past. Centuries of commerce and trade, A once-thriving sericulture industry. A couple of extra buildings out back and a collection of fuzzy photos from 1888. At a glance the range of exhibits appears quite eclectic. But there’s a common thread that winds through the Matsumoto Scale Museum, a part of town 1,300 years in the making.
Keiichiro Tanaka’s Weighty Aspirations
Born in the 19th Century in what is now the City of Ina, Keiichiro Tanaka came to Matsumoto in 1902. He opened up the Takeuchi Weights and Measures Shop. More than a retailer, Tanaka managed to obtain a license to manufacture wooden measuring boxes called masu, and was given the authority to repair and calibrate scales.
“Big deal,” you may say. But reliable weights and measures have been a cornerstone of trade in Japan as far back as the 7th Century.
Controlling the Masses
The Taiho Code, instituted at the dawn of the 8th Century, outlined a revised Japanese system of government, that, among many things, established standardized weights and measurements to be used nationwide. Yet over time and from place to place measurements varied wildly.
It was not until the late 16th Century and the rise of Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the unifier of Japan that standards of weights and measures were truly established. During the Edo Era (1603-1868), the laws of measurement were strictly enforced, allowed to be practice by only a select group. Penalties for breaking the law were severe.
Shinshu: Hot bed of Sericulture
From the middle of the Edo Era into the 1900s the silkworm industry in Japan thrived. Early on, many people in rural Japan raised silkworms in the upper floors of their homes. With the Meiji Era came advancements in the silk industry, with Nagano (Shinshu) at the center of the boom. One major player was the Katakura family, operating right here in Matsumoto.
It was this rise of sericulture that inspired Keiichiro Tanaka to open Takeuchi Weights and Measures. Scales had become an integral instrument in the production of high-quality silk, with one particular advancement being the increased importance of distinguishing between male and female silk moths.
To serve this growing niche in silkworm-breeding, Tanaka devised a sorting machine that separated male and female silkworms based on the weight of their seed cocoons.
These sensitive, delicate inventions are on display in one of the buildings in the rear courtyard.
Fire & Kura
In the short corridor leading out to the courtyard are monochrome photos of the early days of Tanaka’s shop and the workings of the sericulture industry, along with images of the aftermath of a fire that raged through this Nakamachi neighborhood.
At the time most buildings were constructed of wood. After the fire of 1888 they were rebuilt as fire-resistant warehouse-style structures called kura. They are easily recognizable with their distinctive black and white criss-cross pattern.
The courtyard building housing the sericulture displays is also of this kura style. The other building is a wooden warehouse that was converted into a residence. Both buildings are open for leisurely viewing.
Tipping the Scales in Your Favor
While the various displays do come together into one broader picture, precious little of the written explanations are in English. Nevertheless, it is possible to get a feel for the history behind the exhibits as you go.
But for a deeper look and a more complete understanding of the journey from the Taiho Code of 703 to the Takeuchi Shop of the 20th Century, join us for a visit to the Scale Museum as part of our Castle Town Secrets tour. And get the fuller story of a place 1,300 years in the making!
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