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Representative office gives visitors hands-on approach to Yamanashi

by Tomoko Otake

The Yamanashi Prefectural Trade and Tourist Center in Tokyo’s Minami-Azabu district is trying to offer more than just tasty delights and souvenir crafts.

“We are different from those pilot shops operated by other prefectures,” claims Sadaichi Osada, director of the center.

“We don’t want to just sell products; we want to provide people with information so they will come to our prefecture and learn about us.”

The center opened in April in upmarket Minami-Azabu — a favorite with diplomatic missions — after it had to move out of a building adjacent to JR Tokyo Station due to redevelopment there.

The facility does display and sell Yamanashi products, including knitted wear and “washi” paper, but its bigger attraction is a monthly workshop on how these traditional products are made, to let visitors learn firsthand about the local industries and culture.

In a workshop during the summer, children — many from expatriate families living in the area — played with 10,000 “tsumiki” pile blocks made from local timber.

On another occasion, visitors learned how to make “tesuki-washi” hand-made paper.

“We want visitors to get to know the prefecture beyond just its tourism aspects,” Osada said. “If it’s just about tourism, visitors will feel like, ‘let’s go to Yamanashi because we went to Tochigi last time.’ They will go see Mount Fuji and that will be it. What we want to do is foster a following that will come back to Yamanashi again and again.”

That is not to say the prefecture has not cashed in on the beloved volcano.

The center offers a variety of tapestries and handkerchiefs bearing the 3,776-meter mountain, the highest in the nation, whose symmetrical beauty has for centuries attracted tourists and artists from Japan and abroad.

The center also sells wooden crafts, including key rings with grape motifs, another local specialty.

The prefecture is a major producer of “inden” deer skin goods, “hanko” seals and “suzuri” ink stones, and some of these traditional items are sold at the center.

The facility caters to an increasingly environmentally friendly, health-conscious public by offering organic cotton products, including T-shirts, pajamas and stuffed dolls.

“Tourists are divided into two types — those who want to get in touch with the traditional part of our prefecture and those who crave something new,” he said.

“Striking a balance between the two is difficult . . . but we are trying to revive our traditional assets by converting them into something contemporary.”