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Saturday, Dec. 28, 2002
Gifu's gifts from the heart of Japan
By ERIKO ARITA
Discover new tastes as well as something nostalgic from the heart of Japan.
The shop Gifu Best in Tokyo's Roppongi district sells about 650 kinds of foods and goods produced in the mountainous prefecture north of Nagoya. Items include sweets, pickles and sake as well as freshwater river fish.
"Gifu does not face the sea, but it is rich with forests and clean water," said Takayuki Fujita, a clerk at the shop.
The prefecture basically consists of two regions: the northern Hida with some mountains topping 3,000 meters, and the southern Mino, with lower mountains and the Nobi Plain. Three major rivers -- the Kiso, Nagara and Ibi -- run across the prefecture.
Food items at the shop are selected for taste, safety and healthiness, Fujita said. One of the most popular is Shiitake Snack, fried shiitake made in the southern town of Mugi.
"The taste and nutrition of shiitake are condensed in the snack," Fujita said. It comes in four different flavors: soy sauce, wasabi, chili and curry.
The snack was first created about 15 years ago as a unique product in the mountainous region where forestry and cultivation of the mushroom were the only industries, Fujita explained.
The snack has won awards at three nationwide competitions of local products, including the agriculture minister's award.
Spring water has also become popular in recent years. The bottled Koka no Shinsui, meaning water of Koka forests, is from a spring near Koka Shrine in the village of Horado, along the upper reaches of the Nagara River.
The water is touted as one of the softest bottled waters in Japan, Fujita said. Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashi, a native of the prefecture and a fan of the water, drank some while running in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he added.
The timber-producing Hida region is known for woodcraft and architectural techniques that date back to ancient times. The technique of "Hida takumi" craftsmen can be appreciated in traditional "ichii itto bori" yew wood carvings.
The shop sells wood-carving ornaments such as masks, for which craftsman used 40 to 50 different kinds of chisels.
"The technique and tradition of crafts have been handed down from generation to generation," Fujita said.
Mothers in Hida used to make "sarubobo" (monkey baby) dolls by hand. Colored in red and wearing an apron and sleeveless coat, the dolls were originally made to wish children good health, Fujita said, noting the dolls are now used as amulets, a popular item at the store.
Among major sightseeing spots is the village of Shirakawa, whose old thatched-roof homes earned a 1995 UNESCO World Heritage designation.
Under roofs sloping some 60 degrees, the three-story homes are built of heavy timber posts and beams connected by traditional wood joinery techniques. The unique architecture evolved due to the severe weather.
Out of 112 such houses and huts, the oldest is more than 300 years old and the newest was constructed 50 years ago. Locals still live in many of the 59 houses in the district and 20 of them also serve as inns. Information on such tourist spots is available at the shop.
Gifu Best is on the second floor of Lapiross Roppongi Bldg., by the No. 3 exit of Roppongi Station on the Hibiya Line. The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed on weekends, national and yearend holidays. Call the shop at (03) 5771-5223 or fax (03) 5771-5259.