Washi Paper in Mino City



Occupying a blessed patch of land, a wet valley irrigated by the Nagara River and the Itadori River, Mino was a center of agriculture and manufacturing, home to the famed Mino washi. Today, the old homes of the washi wholesalers have been preserved, and reborn to house artisans’ workshops, tidy cafes, and homey restaurants. This was once a town of more than modest wealth, built on the backbreaking work of laborers in washi workshops fed by the ice cold mountain streams. The pace is slower now, but the town is still lively—and a great place to pick up washi products.

  • The area dubbed “Udatsu-lined Old Streets” (the English translation is slightly inelegant) is the best-preserved. Two lanes in the former commercial district have been set aside, legally protected to ensure that the old townhouses remain for generations to come. New businesses have been welcomed into the preserved homes, breathing fresh life into the area.

    The udatsu in the district name refers to the decorative feature of shingled roofs from this period; originally simply a piece placed over the roof verge to keep out rain, the udatsu developed into a sort of firewall; and the feature became more fanciful and complicated as local merchants competed to have the best udatsu on the block. The udatsu in the district became works of art, signaling wealth and taste to their neighbors. The merchants are gone but their udatsu have been preserved, becoming one of the attractions of the district.

    One of the homes in the area, the former mansion of the Imai family, has been preserved as it would have looked a century ago, and also houses the district’s archives. Within the house, displays narrate the history of the powerful merchant family that constructed the house and the story of the rise and fall of the washi wholesale district. This is a good stop, if you want to understand the background of Mino and the “Udatsu-lined Old Streets.”

    The house and its grounds, stripped of most furnishings, are minimalist and elegant. The home is dominated by a dramatic skylight, bringing fresh air and sunlight into the interior. The garden features a suikinkutsu, a buried pot that rings out with a zither-like sound as drops of water drum on it. The wealth that was generated by the washi business is hard to imagine now, but in the days before plastics and cardboard, washi was used in innumerably everyday objects. This is the house that washi built.

    Former Imai Family Residence and Mino History Museum


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    One of the other preserved homes, also once the domain of a washi wholesaler, the Yamada residence is a handsome historic residence but has also become a gallery space, showing local work by local artisans, including washi collage. The washi wholesalers are long gone now, but the district is still home to a number of stores selling washi in the form of kami, the thin origami paper, fans, and lanterns.

    Machinami Gallery House of Yamada Family


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    Apart from the historic homes, there are a number of new businesses in the district, with restaurants selling local cuisine, freshwater eel and trout, Hida beef in miso, and homemade miso. Branching away from the central historical district, there are cafes and kissaten tucked into alleys leading to quiet shrines. There is much to discover in Mino Town.

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