HOKKAIDO
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ARTS, CULTURE, HISTORY

Swing by a charming historical town by the Sea of Okhotsk in northeastern Hokkaido

Explore the Pierson Memorial House and the Kitami Mint Memorial Museum to find out more about the city’s rich history and culture.
Swing by a charming historical town by the Sea of Okhotsk in northeastern Hokkaido

Visit the top Kitami memorials

Visit the top Kitami memorials

Kitami has its share of amusement parks, impressive aquariums, and even some local events. These include the Kitami Winter Festival (every second week of February) and the Kitami Chrysanthemum Festival (mid-October to early November). In the winter season, Kitami is popular for its ski grounds and powder-like snow. Kitami also holds Japan’s first indoor curling hall, the Tokoro Curling Hall.

Nevertheless, Kitami is also home to a handful of tourist spots that have become lovely memorials. These include shrines, such as the Kitami Shrine and the Tokoro Shrine. Kitami also has several museums where you can learn about the city’s rich history and culture. Some of these include the Tokoro Iseki no Yakata (Tokoro Mansion of Ruins), which displays excavated relics and house models. Visitors can observe the restoration of excavated earthenware and stone tools.

The most popular memorials, however, are the Pierson Memorial House and the Kitami Mint Memorial Museum.

Pierson Memorial House

Pierson Memorial House

The Pierson Memorial House is Japan’s northernmost wooden Western-style building. It was once the home of George and Ida Pierson, two American missionaries who came to Hokkaido in the late nineteenth century. The Pierson Memorial House was the work of architect William Merrell Vories in 1914. It played an important role in the local culture and spirit of the city of Kitami during the fifteen years the couple resided there.

Today, this Hokkaido heritage site serves as a museum. Visitors can wander through the historic halls and rooms preserved with their original furniture. When you visit, you will find plush couches, a wooden writing desk, and a reed organ, among many other preserved items.

The Piersons’ missionary work

The Piersons’ missionary work

George Pierson spent forty years in Japan, and throughout those years, remained active in missionary work. From Otaru to Sapporo and Asahikawa and Kitami, the couple followed their calling.

In Otaru and Sapporo, George and Ida Pierson contributed to women’s education and also taught at the Sapporo Agricultural College. In Asahikawa, they devoted their lives to mission work among soldiers, prisoners, and Ainu. They also campaigned against prostitution and promoted the development of schools. In Kitami, their work to prevent the establishment of places of prostitution continued, thus transforming the lives of many women and children. They also worked to publish annotated translations of the Old and New Testaments.

The house and surrounding area

The house and surrounding area

The house features former belongings that offer insight into the Pearsons’ lives in Northern Japan. As you walk through the rooms, you will find translated works, letters, pamphlets, and photographs. In the house is also a room dedicated to George Pierson’s hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the United States. The town of Elizabeth has maintained a sister-city relationship with Kitami for more than half a century.

The weatherboard house features a red door and a dark green roof. It is especially charming in the spring when it is framed by the pink petals of cherry blossoms. The surrounding trees provide a picturesque photo opportunity where you can snap a photo. They have also gained attention for their purported spiritual power and restorative energy.

The Pierson Memorial House is a mere 15-minute stroll from Kitami Station. It offers visitors a glimpse back in time into the lives of this missionary couple - a fascinating example of the fusion of Japanese and Western culture.

Kitami Mint Memorial Museum

Kitami Mint Memorial Museum

Kitami was once the home to 70% of the world’s mint production. The city of Kitami in eastern Hokkaido is a delightful destination for fans of this refreshing herb. The mint grown in Kitami is a unique Japanese variety known as hakka. This hakka, also known as Japanese mint, is the only one that contains menthol (as compared to western mint). Hakka is not only used in snacks, such as chewing gum and cookies, but is also renowned for its various medicinal properties. You will find the Kitami mint in cool gel patches, stomach medicine, and even eye drops and other ointments.

The history of the Kitami mint

The history of the Kitami mint

The Kitami Mint Memorial Museum is recognized as a Heritage of Industrial Modernization site by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. It’s on this site where you can discover the cultural and historical legacy of this aromatic herb.

The museum sits on the former grounds of the Hokuren Kitami Hakka Factory, which opened in the 1930s. This was a time when the mint production industry was at its peak and a cornerstone of the local economy.

Kitami was a city with the ideal climate for producing the hakka mint, which does not grow well in strong winds and heavy rains. Kitami’s mild weather conditions and the high percentage of sunlight hours contributed to the ideal conditions required for drying the harvested mint.

At that time, it was also harder to grow rice but very easy to grow hakka, which could then be exchanged for other crops. Hakka mint was also easy to transport. After distilling, the used mint leaves could also serve as livestock feed or fertilizer for the farms.

During World War 2, mint farms were repurposed for food production. Along with the rise of the synthetically-produced mint, Kitami’s mint industry gradually declined. Exports were suspended, and hakka farms were converted into produce farms. The year 1983 saw the factory closing its doors. It reopened a few years later to offer visitors a glimpse into the treasured history of the city’s world-leading mint industry

Touring the museum

Touring the museum

Wander through the former factory laboratory - a quaint colonial building painted in pastel colors. You’ll find the original refining equipment and machinery, as well as enlightening displays about Japanese mint. Kitami Mint Memorial Museum also boasts of an herb garden. In it, you will find over 70 plant varieties that bloom and flourish with the changing seasons.

Stepping inside the Kitami Mint Memorial Museum will give you a glimpse of the machinery they used when the mint factory was still active. You’ll get to see the former laboratory and exhibition rooms that let you know more about the history of the place and the plant.

Essential oils

Essential oils

Nearby is the Mint Distillery Hall. Visitors can enjoy a fragrant demonstration of the oil distillation extracted from the locally-grown mint with the use of a large, specialized kettle. For those who want to create their own aromatic cream, you can select from a range of essential oils - including rosewood and chamomile. When combined with Kitami mint oil, beeswax, jojoba oil, and shea butter, these fragrances produce an original moisturizing cream.

The full 90-minute course costs JPY 3,000 per person. You need to make reservations up to three days in advance. You’ll get a knowledgeable instructor who will walk you through each step. You'll learn how to distill your own mint oil and package your creams in cute, stylish containers. There are also shorter courses available that you can enjoy without making prior reservations. Inquire with the museum staff for the complete details.

While you’re in town, keep a lookout also for products made by Kitami Hakka Tsusho, a company that continues to grow and distill its own mint. Their products - aromatic oils, cosmetics, candies, and more - are unique to Hokkaido. Family and friends will surely enjoy these beautiful gifts.

Explore Kitami’s rich history

Explore Kitami’s rich history

When you take a trip to Kitami, don’t miss out on its memorials, especially the Pierson Memorial House and the Kitami Mint Memorial Museum. These two memorials display a lot about the rich culture and history of Kitami. Make sure to incorporate them into your itinerary when you travel to Kitami - alongside the beautiful nature spots.

Visit Kitami’s top memorials with the help of JAL Japan Explorer Pass.

Getting There