Today, Uchiko is a small, inconspicuous town in a valley between towering mountains. But in its day, Uchiko was known in the civilized world for its pure white candles, as exhibited at the Paris Expo of 1900.
One of the biggest and finest buildings in Uchiko is the Kamihaga Residence, the former home and workshop of the Kamihaga family. This family grew phenomenally rich in the Meiji period from the production of wax, and they flaunted their wealth conspicuously. You can learn all about their wax and its manufacture in the museum here.
Wax used to be made from the berry of a tree that grows in Ehime. Local farmers would be paid a pittance to collect these berries, while a few families made fortunes processing and selling the wax. In Uchiko, a method was developed for producing a unique white wax. Candles made from it were smokeless, windproof, and lasted for an extraordinarily long time. They were the LEDs of their day. After exhibiting their candles at the 1900 Paris Expo, the Kamihagas exported them to Europe and America.
The Kamihaga Residence is a wonderful confection of enormous wooden beams, roofed in weathered gray tiles, and plastered extravagantly in creamy yellow and white. While samurai took pride in their perfectly white plastered houses, merchants rejoiced in yellow, and it presents a fine sight.
The house is built around an inner garden with a variety of evergreen and flowering deciduous trees, stone and water features. The elegant colonnade that surrounds the garden has rooms for every purpose including toilets for men, women and children, a room for ladies to adjust their kimono after a visit to the toilet, a room with no tatami mats for women to give birth, a bathroom with a round iron tub, and kitchens. Despite the finery of the decorations, these various rooms are very simple, and you can see how close people lived to nature in those days, not so very long ago.
There are countless fascinating details to be seen—the sixteen locks on the heavy front door, to keep out the farmers who rioted on occasion; the simple wooden board attached to the roof beams showing the name of the carpenter who built the wooden structure; the hooks in the façade of the building for hanging scaffolding so that the plaster could be fixed periodically.
This fantastic building and its treasures reflect the role that Shikoku played in the Japanese Industrial Revolution.
Name in Japanese: 上芳我邸
Address: 2696 Uchiko, Kita District, Ehime 791-3301