Among the various kinds of millets cultivated in Japan since the Late Jomon period (2,000-1,000 BC), finger millet (Eleusine coracana)—known in Japanese as shikokubie or “Shikoku millet”—is one of the least widespread. Finger millet is so named because it bears its tiny grains in a cluster of finger-like spikes that emerges as a tuft from the top of the stem. It is relatively drought tolerant and can grow at elevations above 2,000 meters. The mountains of northern Gifu Prefecture, in the central part of Honshu, are one of the areas of Japan where this grain has a long tradition. The local name for finger millet in this part of Gifu is karabe, and the village of Asahi and Kawai – in Takayama city and Hida city, are ones of just a handful of places where karabe is still grown. It is appreciated for being a very robust plant, well suited to the mountainous environment.
Karabe is traditionally made into noodles, dumplings, and neri-mochi, a type of cake made by kneading grain flour with hot water. Unless it is processed with hot water, it would cause diarrhea from eating it. It is reported that karabe, along with wheat, used to be cultivated in 80% of the local fields. But today it is grown hardly at all, primarily just to keep the traditional variety alive. There is a roadside rest area in Asahi that sells thick white noodles made from karabe flour, but only in small quantities. Hida-Takayama High school students grow Karabe for their school activity, hoping to preserve this veriety.