Gifu Prefecture, located in central Japan, is well known for its exquisite foods and timeless traditions with fascinating customs that have been preserved and passed down through families for centuries.
Located in central Japan, and with easy access via Shinkansen from Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, Gifu Prefecture is home to the great outdoors, exquisite foods, timeless traditions and local culture that have been preserved and passed down through families for centuries. These treasures remain alive in the everyday life of its citizens, and Japanese locals have flocked to many of the destination’s popular regions for decades to get a glimpse of the stunning natural wonders and immerse themselves in long-standing traditions. Gifu Prefecture is particularly well renowned for its high-quality crafts, especially for producing the most sought-after ceramics and cutlery in all of Japan.
As travel to Japan looms ever-closer again post-pandemic, we’ve highlighted three of Gifu’s traditional customs.
Mino Washi Paper
The artform of making Washi, traditional Japanese paper, is practiced in only three Japanese towns – Mino being the most well-known. Mino City is a manufacturing town in Gifu Prefecture. Its 1,300-year heritage in the craft of making hand-made paper draws interest from locals and tourists alike.
Mino Washi (Hon-Minoshi) is designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and is also designated as a Traditional Craft by Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry, due to the vital role it has played in Japanese culture and history.
For a truly authentic experience of making Mino Washi by hand, using carefully preserved traditional methods, visitors can join a Washi paper making tour . The host, Terada-san, is a professional Mino Washi artist. Experienced in showing international visitors the beauty of Washi, Terada-san will take you through the process of creating this unique (and nationally significant) kind of paper, mentor you in the process of making your own Washi item and take you around the Warabi Washi-making district to learn more about this fascinating aspect of Japanese culture.
In the 1300’s, famous swordsmith Motoshige set up shop in Seki after deeming the area an ideal place to create swords thanks to the bounty of the surrounding nature that provided all the raw materials needed. Seki soon became established as a center for blades and its reputation was widespread among samurai warriors who said that Seki blades “never break or bend and are incredibly sharp”. Today Seki City is still regarded as one of the world’s three major cutlery centres. Presently there are around 100 blade manufacturers, in addition to 10 active swordsmiths, that make a wide range of products from kitchen and hunting knives to fingernail clippers and hairstyling tools. Travellers can experience the beauty of the region’s sword craftmanship by visiting the samurai sword, Seki Hamono Museum, which is run by one of Seki City’s preeminent sword makers. After the museum choose from a hands-on smithing experience or wielding a blade yourself in a bamboo-cutting test.
This ancient fishing method, known as “Ukai”, in which fishing masters use cormorants to catch sweetfish, has been performed in Gifu for 1,300 years. Under the darkness of night, the fishing masters and cormorants, guided by the flaming torchlights at the helms of their boats, set to work. For travellers interested in seeing this craft in person, Ukai is performed every night from May 11th to October 15th, except on days of high water and on the night of the Harvest Moon in autumn. There is a famous hot spring area along the river, the Nagaragawa Hot Spring, which spectators should take advantage of! Though short in duration, the Ukai ceremony transports viewers back in time with its subtle yet profound beauty. Charlie Chaplin himself came to watch ukai, and loved it so much that he returned a second time to relive the magic.
When the time is right and it is once again safe to travel to Japan, the people of Gifu await the return of visitors with open arms, warmly welcoming travellers into their very special region. In the meantime, visit Gifu virtually with some entertaining videos filmed on location in Gifu Prefecture