From the Meiji (1868 – 1912) to the Taisho (1912 – 1926) era, Otaru thrived from a booming herring industry. During that era, fishery owners competed by having extravagant homes built for themselves. These residences, which were also used for fish processing, were nicknamed Nishin Goten (Herring Mansion). The largest existing Nishin Goten took 7 years to build and was completed in 1897 in Tomari-mura Village. Material used for this home consists of Hokkaido fir and cypress wood from the Tohoku region. The power and wealth of the fishermen during the height of the herring era is reflected in the amount of wood used for the historic residence which is enough to supply construction of 20 standard houses. Decadence was order of the day. However the industry destroyed itself, overfishing until the herring stocks dropped below sustainable replenishment rates. The massive canneries, fishing fleet and the cash that created the so called “Northern Wall Street” inevitably shared the same fate as the herring.
The building, which was moved to Shukutsu in Otaru, became the first residential building to be designated as a Hokkaido tangible cultural asset. The mansion is now open to the public and displays tools used during the time as well as references and photographs. Admission: adults 200 yen / Open everyday 9:00am-5:00pm early April – late November / 0134-22-1038. A 20 minute bus ride from JR Otaru Station.