Behind the snow cave there is an old-fashioned merchant house. What makes this house peculiar is the scaffolding and earthenware pot sitting on its roof. These are “Tensui-game” - pots made to prevent fires. They are a characteristic of Akita merchant houses that is rarely seen in other regions of Japan.

Many merchant houses in this area are covered in wooden planks, making them very flammable. If there is a fire, a servant would climb to the roof and scatter the water inside the Tensui-game pot with a broom to fight the fire.

You can still see Tensui-game pots atop of the Kaneko House nowadays. During the Edo Period, the Kaneko family opened a pawn shop, then expanded into selling wholesale cloth, cotton, and hemp fabrics during the Meiji Era. The House used to have six Tensui-game pots. Also, because kilns big enough to create pots as large as the Kanekos’ did not exist in those days, it is speculated that their pots were actually imported from Shimane Prefecture via cargo ship.

The region surrounding the Kaneko House is architecturally varied and very pleasant to explore. It includes a black stucco storehouse that survived a massive fire in 1886, as well as a Snow-Country styled dirt floor passageway known as a “komise” that connects adjacent shops and serves the same purpose as a modern day arcade street would. Also, you can find images of bats sculpted into the transoms that serve as charms for good luck and protection for children.

Were Tensui-game pots really effective in extinguishing fires? There is no way to know that with certainty, but they are interesting to consider as part of Akita locals’ milieu in the olden days.

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