Maze, one of the most beautiful villages in Japan
Region： Maze, Gero
The ayu, or sweetfish, is prized in Japan for its sweet flavor. Residents of Maze (pronounced “mah-zay”) have spared no effort to conserve the natural environment of the sweetfish as an important part of the Maze culinary heritage. The sweetfish is sensitive to its living conditions, and volunteers have been working since the 1940s to maintain the pure water of the Maze River. They have even designated surrounding forests as “fish conservation forests.”
Regional foods: Sweetfish
An essential ingredient of Japanese cuisine, the sweetfish can be prepared in many ways to bring out its delectable flavor. The Maze River sweetfish was determined in a taste competition to be the most delicious of all the regions of Japan, a lofty commendation indeed! Among the many ways to eat sweetfish, salt-grilling them over a charcoal fire is generally regarded as the best.
The mountain village of Maze has a bountiful food culture that can be experienced through innumerable dishes, including salt-grilled sweetfish and hobazushi, sushi ingredients wrapped in a magnolia leaf. A local take on miso incorporates barley koji, a fermentation known for its gentle, sweet flavor, and dishes are often accompanied by a rich variety of pickled vegetables.
The Maze Satoyama Museum is not a building, but an entire area of Maze where the rural scenery and culture are conserved for visitors. The museum has been designated as a member of the Most Beautiful Villages in Japan, a national non-profit association. Another great place to stop is the Sugo area, which was selected by local residents as one of the “10 Beautiful Views of Maze.” Near Sojima Hachiman-jinja Shrine, visitors can take in sweeping views of the rivers, rice paddies, shrines, temples, and forests that protect the natural habitat for the sweetfish. The panoramas of this verdant country will remain in your heart forever.
At night, watch the fishermen on the Maze River use a traditional fishing method in which the sweetfish are driven into nets with torchlight and fire. Viewing this mesmerizing traditional technique in action only enhances one’s appreciation of the salt-grilled fish. In the daytime, take some time to walk around the great outdoors of Satoyama Museum and perhaps have a friendly chat with some of the locals.
The Maze area is about an hour on the JR Takayama Line from Takayama and about 30 minutes from Gero Station (Gero Onsen). Traveling from Hachiman in Gujo will take about an hour by car. Take a day trip with stops along the way or stay overnight at a hot spring hotel or ryokan (inn).