Originally just a tiled firewall on an edge of a house roof – which became the symbol of wealth and success for Edo merchants over time.
“Udatsu” was built to prevent a fire from spreading as merchant houses in the Edo period closely stood side by side. Old-style houses with the raised embellishments gradually disappeared due to fire and urban development. The city of Mino in Gifu prefecture retains one of the most well-preserved such houses in Japan. In 1999, the area was designated as the nation’s Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings.
The quarter holds 19 buildings with “udatsu”. It is notable that each ”udatsu” looks different with its decorative designs representing respective merchant families. Merchants competed in placing eye-catching and costly “udatsu” on roofs to show off their wealth. The place is called “udatsu no agaru machinami” or “a town with ‘udatsu’ houses, which indicates it is the town of prosperous merchants. We say “udatsu ga agaranai” when someone does not get ahead in life or does not become successful. This expression comes from the notion that “udatsu” used to be the symbol of prosperity.
Two of the most prominent “udatsu” houses are the Former Imai Residence and Mino Archives, and Kosaka Residence. The Former Imai Residence, constructed some 280 years ago, possesses the oldest form of “udatsu” decoration. Imai Family was one of the leading merchants in Mino city with a paper wholesale business. The city designated the Former Imai Residence as a cultural property. Kosaka Residence, a long-established sake brewery, was built in the late 18th century. It is designated as a nationally important cultural property.
In addition to “udatsu” houses, Mino city is known for traditional Japanese paper Mino washi.
Learn Japanese History
Learn Japanese Culture