Mino – the ancient washi paper town

Posted on September 22, 2018 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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The preserved townscape of Minoshi

 

I think many people who are interested in Japanese paper would have heard of Mino washi paper, especially after it was was designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2014. The origin of this paper dates back to the Nara period (710 ~ 784 CE), and is considered to be the oldest paper in Japan. Located by the Nagara River, Mino is lined with wooden buildings built from the Edo to Meiji period.

I have wanted to visit Mino (the train/bus station is called Minoshi) for years, but never quite made it somehow. On this trip, I decided to include one night in my itinerary; the bus journey was quite straightforward from Nagoya, and it took about two hours. However, I would recommend using the Nagaragawa Railway (which I took when leaving the town) if you get the chance. Aside from the cute trains, there are also some scenic routes that you can enjoy if you want to see more of the Gifu region.

 

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Nagaragawa Railway train and Minoshi train station

 

I would say that Arimatsu and Mino are two of my favourite towns during my entire trip. I love the fact that both towns have preserved their traditional craftsmanship and townscape. There is rich history, beautiful merchant houses, and best of all, they are not swamped with tourists. When you walk around the two towns, you feel as if you have stepped back in time, and it is hard not to be captivated by the ambience and historical architectural details around you. The two main streets in Mino were developed by the feudal lord Nagachiku Kanamori during the Edo Period, and were designated as an “area preserving traditional architecture” in 1999.

 

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The preserved townscape of Minoshi is full of washi paper merchant houses, shops, sake breweries and temples

 

One unique feature of Mino is its 'udatsu' streets. An udatsu was originally a firewall built at both ends of a roof, and its purpose was to prevent fires from spreading. However, during the Edo period, the designs of the udatsu became wealthy washi merchants' status symbols because of the high costs to install them, and you can still admire them on the rooftops of many buildings in Mino.

 

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One of the most important buildings in Mino is the Former Imai Residence and Mino Archives built in the mid-Edo period (the end of the 18th century). The gable tiles without decorations are the oldest form of udatsu; they are layered twice on the left and the right, while other houses have only one single layer.

 

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Former Imai Residence and Mino Archives

 

The house was not only a residence, but it also had a reception area where the family used to conduct their wholesale paper business. One interesting feature of the house is a skylight which extends about 3 metres up from the ceiling; it was built during renovations in the Meiji Period.

In the garden, there is a suikinkutsu – a Japanese garden ornament and music device buried underground which creates sound similar to koto/Japanese zither when you pour water over it.

 

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Aside from the beautiful traditional architecture, the shops and restaurants here all make efforts to decorate their shop fronts to attract customers in.

 

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Not surprisingly, when you travel to smaller towns and less touristy places, prices tend to drop considerably. This was what I noticed when I traveled around Japan for weeks. I had lunch at a local soba/udon restaurant called Sansui Honten (1902-2 Motozumi-cho) recommended by the owners of my guesthouse; not only the food was tasty with huge portions, it was also a bargain.

 

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Lunch at Sansui Honten

 

And for dinner, I decided to go to an Italian wine bar/restaurant nearby called Barest, and was quite pleasantly surprised by the food quality and cooking.

 

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Barest

 

Yet my favourite cafe/shop in Minoshi has to be The Happy Stand. Opened in the summer of 2017 by a young friendly couple, the cafe is housed inside a building over 150-year-old. The house has been beautifully restored and converted into a shop and cafe with a focus on ocha and matcha tea. I was recommended the Organic Houjicha Latte and it was delicious. The shop area also sells a range of contemporary ceramic ware called Utsuwa that are made locally in Gifu. I particularly loved the extra-tall washi paper lantern hanging in the middle of the shop!

 

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The cute young couple behind The Happy Stand cafe/shop

 

To be continued...


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Traditional arts & crafts, Anything Japanese, Architectural conservation, Japan, washi paper and was tagged with Japan, Architectural conservation, Japanese architecture, Mino, washi paper

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