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A Pioneering Tradition
Communities in Eastern Kinuura

9_exploring_01.gif The Denmark of Japan?

Diverse faces of Eastern Kinuura

Traditional heritage


The Japanese are fond of theme parks that can immediately transport them to countries far away. Among the most famous are Nagasaki Prefecture's Huis Ten Bosch, which emulates the natural and cultural charms of the Netherlands, and Shima Spain Village in Mie Prefecture, Aichi's southwestern neighbor.

The latest "foreign country" to begin welcoming visitors without passports is Den Park in the city of Anjo, Aichi Prefecture. Opened in April 1997, this theme park recreates a traditional Danish town and its way of life amidst flowers and greenery.

aichi_map_01.gif Anjo is one of the five cities that comprise the Eastern Kinuura district--Anjo, Chiryu, Hekinan, Kariya, and Takahama--and Den Park, alive with weekend sightseers, was the first stop of this reporter's tour through the district.

The Denmark of Japan?

Den Park is laid out over 13.1 hectares, almost three times the size of Nagoya Dome--the all-weather stadium that was completed in Nagoya in 1997. Its centerpiece is a patch of greenery surrounded by ponds, beyond which lie a small brewery making its own brand of beer, a fruit and vegetable farm, and an outdoor restaurant.

The park's highlight is Floral Place--one of the largest greenhouses in Japan. It is much more than just a grand exhibit of flowers blooming from one season to the next; it contains a life-sized replica of an old Danish town that makes visitors feel as if they walked onto a movie set.

"Why Denmark?" the casual visitor might ask. The answer is rooted in Anjo's modern historical development.

About a century ago, Anjo was a barren land with poor water resources. Residents diligently toiled the land, though, with the dream that it would one day turn into fertile fields. Their dream finally came true with the opening of the Meiji Irrigation Canal in 1880 that transformed Anjo into a model of modern agriculture. Anjo thrives today with its productive rice paddies, vegetable fields, orchards, stock farms, and other agricultural enterprises.

This vast experiment prompted some to liken Anjo to Denmark, the most advanced agricultural country at the time, and the city came to be known as the "Denmark of Japan." Den Park, then, is a natural outgrowth of this historical evolution.

Anjo is still widely regarded as an agricultural pioneer, which took the lead, for example, in organizing farms into corporations. While Den Park is primarily for recreation, it is also a testament to the pioneering spirit of the farmers of past years who turned Anjo into a major agricultural region.

Diverse faces of Eastern Kinuura

On the following day, I drove to Hekinan just southwest of Anjo. Hekinan faces the sea and is the home of Kinuura Port, a key regional harbor. While the city developed as a waterfront industrial zone, in recent years it has also become a center for marine sports.

Akashi Park on the waterfront affords a panoramic view of the port. The pier, commonly called the Motor Pool, is filled with vehicles ready for shipment. Cars of all colors, arranged in perfect rows, make the "pool" look like a carpet by the seashore.

Many Japanese immediately recognize the name Kariya, a city northwest of Anjo, as a leading center of automobile production. It was in 1926 that Sakichi Toyoda, one of Japan's best-known inventors, developed a circular power loom here and founded Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd., the predecessor to Toyota Motor Corporation. Since then, Kariya has grown to become one of Japan's major industrial cities, always staying one step ahead of others in innovation. While Anjo came to be known as the "Denmark of Japan," Kariya earned a reputation as "Japan's Detroit."

Although pastoral Anjo offers a stark contrast to the industrial cities of Kariya and Hekinan, its forward-looking initiatives evince an enduring spirit of innovation. Whether in industry or agriculture, the unique qualities of each city in Eastern Kinuura enhance the overall charm of the area.

Traditional heritage

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Doll making in Takahama began in the Edo period and is now recognized as an intangible cultural asset by the Aichi government.
Driving north from Kinuura Port along the Takahama River brings the visitor to another interesting sight. The riverbanks in the city of Takahama are a carpet not of cars but roof tiles. There must be hundreds of thousands of them, neatly arranged in small bundles of 10 each. I asked a young worker there whether they were all used locally. "They're carried by truck to all parts of Japan," the worker said as he busily went on piling up the tiles.

Takahama of old grew around its pottery industry. Today it is the country's largest source of ceramic tiles--the kind known as Sanshu gawara. Its reputation dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868), when the tiles were hauled all the way to Edo, the old name for Tokyo.

The visitor will encounter any number of tile factories on a walk through the city. A craftsman I met on the street told me, "Things have changed a lot over the years. The process is almost entirely automated today, and we're producing quantities no one would have dreamed of in the old days. But there's one thing we'll never compromise on, and that is the warmth these tiles exude. It's the very tradition of Sanshu gawara."

Besides the tiles of Takahama, Eastern Kinuura's other traditional assets include the karakuri ningyo (mechanical dolls) of the city of Chiryu and delicious tenobe somen (thin handmade noodles) of Anjo. These have all been faithfully passed down through the generations.

For a community to continue growing, it always needs the nurturing warmth of new winds. In Eastern Kinuura, you can feel them just about wherever you go--the just-opened Den Park, the energetic progress of automobile and precision industries, and even such traditional industries as tiles and somen that continue to nourish the community. The pride of local residents and their abiding love of their hometowns and ways of life left a deep impression on me as I ended my tour of Eastern Kinuura.

By Masaki Yamada