Once 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"—and it truly packs a punch. With high menthol content, hakka mint is not only used in snacks such as chewing gum and cookies, but also renowned for its various medicinal properties. At the Kitami Mint Memorial Museum—recognized as a Heritage of Industrial Modernization site by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry—you can discover the cultural and historical legacy of this aromatic herb.
The museum is set in the former grounds of the Hokuren Kitami Hakka Factory, which opened in the 1930s at a time when the mint production industry was at its peak and a cornerstone of the local economy. When mint farms were repurposed for food production during World War 2—and with the rise of synthetically-produced mint, Kitami's mint industry gradually declined, and the factory closed its doors in 1983. The Kitami Mint Memorial Museum opened a few years later to offer visitors a glimpse into the treasured history of the city's world-leading mint industry, a role it still serves today.
Wander through the former factory laboratory—a quaint colonial building painted in pastel colors—to find original refining equipment, machinery, and enlightening displays about Japanese mint. At the nearby Mint Distillery Hall, visitors can enjoy a fragrant demonstration of oil distillation extracted from locally-grown mint with the use of a large, specialized kettle. The museum also boasts an herb garden filled with over 70 plant varieties that take turns flourishing with the changing seasons.
Equipped with an understanding of distillation, why not get hands-on and create an aromatic cream all your own made from your choice of mint oil? Select from a range of essential oils—including rosewood and chamomile—and combine these fragrances with Kitami mint oil, beeswax, jojoba oil, and shea butter to produce an original moisturizing cream. A knowledgeable instructor will walk you through each step, from distilling your own mint oil to packaging your creams in cute, stylish containers. The full 90-minute course costs 3,000 yen per person, and reservations must be made up to three days in advance. Shorter courses are also available and can be enjoyed without prior reservations, so be sure to inquire with museum staff for details.
While you're in town, keep an eye out for products made by Kitami Hakka Tsusho, a company that continues to grow and distill its own mint to fashion a variety of aromatic oils, cosmetics, candies, and more. These souvenirs unique to Hokkaido are sure to refresh your friends and family, and give you the perfect opportunity to display your newfound knowledge of this ubiquitous herb.
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (May to October)
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (November to April)
Address: 1-7-28 Minaminakamachi, Kitami, Hokkaido Prefecture
Airport: Memanbetsu Airport
Mondays (Tuesdays if a public holiday falls on a Monday)
Day after Public Holidays
New Year’s holiday (December 30 to January 6)
About a 10-minute walk from Kitami Station.