On the left half of the mural, behind the snowman, you can see two wooden towers. These are turrets built over oil wells. Nowadays there are many who don’t know what they were for, but in the past, Akita Prefecture was a leading nationwide supplier of petroleum.
Four distinct petroleum companies line the Yabase District along the Kuzosu - a river whose name originally came from its “stinky water.” Petroleum used to be called “Stinky water” in ancient Japanese. Oil has drifted along the surface of this river from a long time ago.
When Foujita visited Akita in 1936, the Yabase District was picturesque, with around 110 wooden oil turrets. Back then, oil was a major industry; Yabase’s output accounted for over 40% of Japan’s petroleum, and the percentage of oil produced in Akita Prefecture reportedly reached close to 70% by 1959. One theory suggests that the flourishing Kawabata business district supported Akita’s oil industry.
Unfortunately, Akita’s oil production plummeted soon afterwards. Nowadays it no longer produces enough to register as a local industry. Despite that, you can still find oil pumping units working within the city of Akita today.
This is how that casually-painted turret hides a tale of the vicissitudes in Akita’s fortunes, waiting to be unraveled.