Monouri is a street vendor who sells foods or goods, serves as a repairman, buys old things or wastes, or exchanges these things for some goods, traveling by attracting people with musical instruments and distinctive calls. It is also called 'Hikiuri,' but the words 'Monouri no koe' and 'Hikiuri no koe', meaning vender's call, are more familiar to the Japanese. Monouri partly overlaps with food stalls, peddlers, and stallholders, but differs from them in that monouri does not necessarily use the food stall, that peddlers mainly sell goods to fixed customers by door-to-door sales, and that street vendors do their businesses by occupying their places in bazaar or small-town festivals.
Monouri became popular during the Edo period as nicknamed 'botefuri' and dealt with almost anything that has to do with food, clothing, and housing, ranging from everyday foods to necessities of life; only those licensed by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) were allowed to do their businesses as monouri. The bakufu severely punished monouri who violated the license, and also treated monouri as measures for providing jobs to the poor and the weak.
Botefuri sold a lot of seasonal goods, so-called Hasunohaakinai (trade of lotus leaves, which means a dealing with seasonal goods), by slowly cruising the neighborhood, which differed from stallholders who did their businesses in bazaar, festivals, or in temple towns by paying for their places and for the right to carry on their businesses; and also, some of monouri like Yonaki-soba vendors (merchants vending soba at night) and Sushi vendors sold items nothing to do with the season. In those days, most of monouri cruised streets for selling goods by carrying tools and foods not on a large cart but in a pair of boxes, bamboo sieves, baskets, or tubs on both sides of a pole, which was the origin of their nickname 'botefuri' ('bo' is a pole, 'te' is a hand, and 'furi' is to swing), and some of monouri sold goods by carrying tools and goods in a box on a shoulder.
During the Edo period, food stalls cooked foods in front of customers and sold them, and monouri sold processed foods like fried fish and broiled eel by carrying them in a wooden box. In recent years, more and more monouri not only advanced in appearance but also got equipped with enhanced cooking facilities on their bicycles or trailers towed by bicycles (though, monouri were already equipped with cooking facilities during the Edo period,) and from around 1926 to 1974, monouri were widely seen here and there in Japan by changing their items (Japanese style hotchpotch and sweets bread replaced sushi and soba); at present, however, monouri including those who sell tofu (bean curd), natto (fermented soybeans), and goldfish, the items which were already sold in the Edo period, are fading out.
These days, however, there are businesses serving foods, selling box lunch, bread, and the like by cooking them in front of customers on the equipped automobiles at the fixed places where a lot of workers are being around but few restaurants and food shops are in the neighborhood. As the Japanese society is aging, several small businesses have launched traditional style monouri using a whistle for attracting customers for selling tofu curds and processed-soybean products in some regions not only for the pursuit of profits but also for the promotion of regional development and welfare.
Variations of goods old by monouri and their calls and musical instruments
Since edomae-zushi (hand-rolled sushi) originated from monouri and food stalls, still the original style can be seen in some sushi restaurants around Tokyo as their stand-and-eat bars.
They blew a whistle called Yobuko.
As they served boiled buckwheat noodles in the evening by blowing a whistle, they were called 'Yonaki (night cry) soba.'
Their items were changed from Japanese buckwheat noodles to Chinese noodles called ramen and a flute called charumera replaced the whistle.
Unagi (eel) vendors
During the Edo period, eel vendors, in their early period, cut open and cleaned raw eels in front of customers and sold them, and later, some of them began to sell broiled eels or cook eels in front of customers and sold them. The disposable wooden chopsticks were devised by eel vendors and called hikiwaribashi in those days instead of waribashi at present.
Makanai (meal) vendor
It is said that female accounted for only 20 percent and unmarried males occupied large part of the population of Edo city; in those circumstances, makanai vendors sold box lunches to lower-ranking samurai, who served as the government officials under many restrictions.
Oden-uri (Japanese style hotchpotch vendor)
Until about 1974, oden-uri was popular with housewives who brought their pots to buy oden for dinner and with children who buy it for their afternoon snacks.
Ame-uri (candy vendor)
Various types of candy vendors competed so fiercely that some sold candies by using lotteries, some attracted customers with entertainments, and some sold candies by delivering sales pitch, from which derived mountebanks called tekiya in present street stalls and night stalls.
Comparable to popular Amezaiku, which was candy craft made from taffy, Bekkoame candy was made by molding melted candy into various flat shapes and sold.
Agedango (deep-fried dumpling) vendor
Agedango vendors, who were seen until the early Showa period, cooled deep-fried sweetened flour dumplings at the stall and sold them mainly to children.
Kashipan (sweet bread) vendor
The vendors attracted customers with his calls and sounds of bell in hand. The vendors sold sweet bread displayed in a glass case on his two-wheeled street vendor cart.
Yakiimo (baked sweet potato) vendor
The vendors sold baked sweet potatoes by shouting 'Sweet Potatoes! Sweet Potatoes! It's 13 ri (old Japanese unit of distance), 4 ri more delicious than 9 ri!,' which is a wordplay meaning that sweet potatoes are more delicious ('more' is synonym of '4 ri') than chestnuts (synonym of '9 ri'.)
Shijimi asari-uri (Clam vendor)
The vendor usually sold corbicula and short-neck clam by shouting 'Corbicula! Short-neck clam!', but some of them specialized in other clams like cherry stone clam or ark shell.
Iwashi-uri (Sardine vendor)
The vendors sold fresh sardine and anchovy in towns neighboring the seashore by shouting 'Sardine and Anchovy! Sardine and Anchovy!'
The vendor sold other fishes in season including whale meat, the season's first bonito, cuttlefish, whitebait, saury, and horse mackerel.
The vendors sold fermented soybeans from the Edo period by shouting 'Natto! Natto!,' and recently they carried the products mainly on a bicycle.
During the Edo period, Natto vendors were popular along with the clam vendors so that there remains a satirical short poem, 'Natto and Clam wake me up in the morning.'
The vendor sold bean-curds with distinguished notes of pipe that sounded like shouting 'Tofu!' (bean-curd.)
In some regions, tofu vendors were much more like peddlers.
Fruits and vegetables
There were vendors selling fruits and vegetables in season like mandarin orange, watermelon, radish, turnip, yam, and ginger.
Repair and sales of daily commodities
It is said that Josai vendors were around until 1955, selling Chinese herbal drugs by carrying them in a pair of medicine chests on a pole and they wore the same hanten (a short coat originally for craftsmen worn over a kimono) as monouri in the Edo period. Josai vendors walked strongly at a pace so that the metal parts of their medicine chests and the pole knocked against each other to make distinguished noises, by which the neighbors were aware of the vendor.
Rau (bamboo stem of tobacco pipe) vendor
The vendors cleaned out resin from the bamboo stem of a Japanese long thin tobacco pipe or exchanged the parts. The vendors loaded a small boiler to clean pipes with its steam and put the rau on top of the steam exhaust vent of the boiler to make a sound like the steam locomotive whistles to signal their presence.
For further details, see 'Kiseru.'
Saodake (bamboo pole) vendor
The vendor's call 'Saoya--, Saodake--' recently became the book title and attracted the people's attention.
Kingyo (goldfish) vendor
The vendors sold goldfish and glass fish bowls by attracting customers with the call 'Goldfish! Goldfish!'
Incidentally, people in the Edo period hung the glass fish bowl from the eaves and looked up the goldfish from below.
Furin (wind chime) vendor
The wind chime vendors attracted customers with the sound of the bells.
The vendors purchased wide variety of things including used papers, used clothes, metal utensils and fittings, coarse oil-paper umbrellas, human waste, used barrels, used wash tubs, and rice bran; according to a recent study, Japan was one of the most advanced society in recycling throughout the history of the whole world.
Ochi-gai (buyer of fallen hairs)
The vendors purchased fallen hairs by shouting 'Ochanai? Ochanai?'
In Kyoto, ochi-gai was exclusively women's work and they sold the purchased hairs wholesale to wig makers and sellers.
It is said that the call changed from 'Ochite inai ka?' (Are there hair fallen?) to 'Ochanai? Ochanai?'