GIFU LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
New Stirrings in Japan's Heartland (October 2, 2003)
Local governments throughout Japan have been stepping up their
efforts to revitalize their regions, and Gifu Prefecture, located in the middle
of Japan's main island of Honshu, is no exception. It has undertaken a number
of unique projects, including one designed to foster the information technology
industry and another to turn the prefecture into a center of culture and fashion.
While these initiatives cover a broad range of fields, they are tied by a common
thread of building on traditional industries and seasonal events.
|A float in the Takayama Autumn (Hachiman) Festival. (Gifu Prefecture Tokyo Tourist Information Center)
The Takayama Festival
Since ancient times, Gifu Prefecture has been a vital hub linking eastern and
western Japan. During the country's Warring States period (1467-1568), when regional
military leaders waged constant wars to defend or enlarge their domains, the conquest
of Mino - the southern part of present-day Gifu - was regarded as the key to subduing
the entire country. And in fact, the general who took control of the region -
Oda Nobunaga - eventually went on to consolidate his position as Japan's
By contrast with southern Gifu and its lush Nobi plain, northern Gifu, or Hida,
is mountainous, and life there has been more austere. Northern Gifu encompasses
the Hida Mountains, with a number of peaks towering more than 3,000 meters high,
and the Kiso Mountains.
The main city of this district is Takayama. The city is now busy preparing for
the Takayama Autumn (Hachiman) Festival, which will unfold over a two-day period
from October 9 to 10, to mark the end of the harvest. The Hachiman Festival and
the Takayama Spring (Sanno) Festival are together called the Takayama Festivals,
considered among the three most spectacular in Japan.
During the Hachiman Festival, hundreds of people wearing the ceremonial dress
of palace guards - a stiff sleeveless jacket and long, pleated skirt - parade
down the narrow streets of Takayama pulling 11 giant floats in a scene that replicates
a historical picture scroll. The guards transport the floats, decorated with elaborate
carvings and mechanical dolls, into the precincts of Hachiman Shrine. The movements
of the dolls are extraordinarily complex, and it is hard to believe they are not wired
with electronic circuitry. The production of these dolls is a Hida tradition that
has been handed down since feudal times.
The highlight of the Hachiman Festival is the evening procession. The streetlights
are turned off, and the floats are pulled through town bathed in the rays of 100
paper lanterns. The entire city is suddenly taken back centuries in time. The
procession elicits constant exclamations of wonder and delight from onlookers.
|Making traditional umbrellas with Gifu paper. (Gifu Prefecture Tokyo Tourist Information Center)
Center for Information Technology
These traditional Hida handicrafts have found a new life in southern Gifu. In
and around the city of Ogaki, which already hosts many information technology
firms, plans for a Japanese Silicon Valley - named Sweet Valley - are moving
forward. When completed in 2005, Sweet Valley is expected to become a large IT
community with some 5,000 workers. The Japanese Government is backing the Gifu
plan, which if successful will remake Ogaki into a technopolis featuring state-of-the-art
Gifu Governor Kajiwara Taku, who was a leading force behind the drafting of this
"Gifu Model," proudly comments, "Gifu may be conservative, but
sentiments are growing that it will once again, like in the time of Nobunaga, be considered
instrumental in winning control of the country."
Under Kajiwara's leadership, Gifu took the initiative in bringing IT firms to
the area and providing solid backing for their operations. And in 1996 it became
the first prefecture to implement IT-promoting policies by building Softopia Japan,
centered on Ogaki, with the aim of attracting a large number of IT companies,
supporting IT ventures, creating new IT technologies, and nurturing talented researchers.
In 2001, five years after its start, Softopia housed 128 IT venture firms and
employed 1,700 workers. In addition, the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and
Sciences opened in the spring of 2001 for the purpose of creating a new pool of
Though the Sweet Valley plan builds on existing IT activities, its significance
as an original Gifu initiative has been recognized by the central government,
and its progress is being watched with much interest.
|A craftsman making an ichii-itto
bori woodcarving. (Gifu Prefecture Tokyo Tourist Information Center)
Although Gifu Prefecture is now coming to be known for its IT efforts, it also
continues to enjoy a reputation for its local industries and traditional crafts.
The artisans of Hida make not only mechanical dolls but also traditional lacquerware
- called Hida shunkei - and woodcarvings - called
ichii-itto bori. These are the unique products of
a mountainous region geographically isolated from surrounding areas.
The city of Seki in southern Gifu is home to a world-class cutlery industry rivaling
that of Solingen in Germany. Sekis artisans are heirs to 800 years of tradition,
and Seki knives and metal kitchen ware, as well as Japanese swords forged under
the name Seki no Magoroku, are valued highly throughout the country.
Not far from Seki is the center of production for Mino ware. Here modern sensibilities
have taken a place alongside traditional ceramic techniques, and the city of Mino
today boosts the highest volume of production and shipments of tableware in Japan.
Mino is also renowned for its handmade Japanese paper. Dating back 1,300 years,
Mino paper is characterized by a fine texture and is used widely as home decorations
and in various visual arts.
The textile industry is also big in Gifu, the prefecture ranking alongside Tokyo
and Osaka as a major apparel district. The prefectural government has designated
2003 as Year One of Cultural Industries, and it is now advancing "The World
Oribe Design Concept," aimed at bringing together local ceramics, clothing,
and industrial establishments to create new local brands. The movement borrows
the name of Gifu-born tea master Furuta Oribe (1544-1615) who was known as an
uninhibited and talented man of culture. Currently, eminent industrial designers
from abroad have been invited to participate in seminars, and international design
contests have been organized with the aim of injecting new life into Gifu's
local industries and producing goods with high added value that can compete on
the world market.
Related Web Sites
Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences
World Oribe Design Concept
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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