GIFU (ATT.JAPAN ISSUE 61)
att.JAPAN Issue 61, Autumn/2012
One of the intriguing tourist routes in Japan starts in Mie Prefecture,home to Ise Jingu Shrine,goes through Aichi Prefecture with an international airport,Shirakawa-go and Hida-Takayama in Gifu Prefecture,and continues along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in Toyama Prefecture,Tojimbo in Fukui Prefecture and ends on the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. The route is shaped like a rearing dragon with the Chita Peninsula in Aichi as its tail and the Noto Peninsula as its head. Travel through Gifu Prefecture following the rearing dragon with some brief detours.
Gifu / Nagara River
The Nagara River is famous for ukai (cormorant fishing) in summer and Mount Kinka is the site of Gifu Castle. A ropeway takes you to the top of Mount Kinka with a great view from the castle at 329 meters on the summit. One of the most famous warlords in the 16th century,Oda Nobunaga,lived in Gifu Castle,which eventually became the center base for his unification of Japan. Enjoy the same view that the great commander enjoyed. Gifu Daibutsu (Great Buddha) in Shoho-ji Temple is one of Japan’s three major Great Buddha statues,along with the one in Nara (Nara Prefecture) and in Kamakura (Kanagawa Prefecture). The statue was created using a unique combination of wood, bamboo,and clay covered in Japanese paper, lacquer,and gold leaf and still beautiful to this day.
The tradition of ukai,cormorant fishing,in the Nagara River is 1,300 years old.Fishermen work together with their trained cormorants to catch fish using torches in the pitch-black darkness. Ride on a tour boat and enjoy watching the skills of the birds and their trainers fishing. The Ukai Museum opened in August 2012. To the west of the boarding docks of the ukai tourist boat is Kawara-machi, a pleasant place for a stroll with its many old houses with traditional lattice doors.
Gujo Hachiman is a castle town in the mountains upstream of the Nagara River. Located in a small basin formed at the junction of four rivers, the town is famous for high-quality spring water, called Sogisui, with clear water springs everywhere around the town. The residents have been using the spring water in their daily life for laundry and you can see public washing places everywhere in the town.
Gujo Hachiman Castle on the top of the mountain is beautifully surrounded by red and yellow maple leaves in autumn and snow in winter. Enjoy the great view from the castle tower. The Yoshida River runs through the town and has great ayu (sweetfish) fishing.
At the base of Hachiman Castle are well-preserved old towns such as Yanagi-machi and Shokunin-machi. These towns, at the center of the Gujo Region since the 15th century, are cultural goldmines. There are many interesting spots to visit throughout the area including Gujo Hachiman Museum, Gujo Hachiman Kyuchosha Kinenkan (an old government memorial hall), Yanaka Mizu no Komichi alley, and Igawa Komichi alley.
The Gujo Odori in summer is a traditional bon odori dance that has been around for 400 years. People come and dance for about 30 nights from the second week in July to the first week in September every year. Join the local residents and enjoy dancing! You can see dance performances any time of the year at the Gujo Hachiman Museum. Gujo is also famous as the birthplace of the food replicas displayed in windows outside many restaurants, and produces the largest amount of replicas in Japan. There are hands-on tours of a replica food factory.
Gero Onsen Hot Spring
Gero Onsen, one of the three most famous hot springs in Japan, is well known for its high-quality water producing beautiful skin. Enjoy the mild water for nice and smooth skin. The dense forest of Osaka includes more than 200 waterfalls with a drop of five meters or more. Take a fantastic tour of the waterfalls! Some courses require a tour guide.
Visitors to Hida Takayama experience a unique Japanese culture different from that of Kyoto. The castle town, built by the Kanamori clan about 400 years ago, had two areas: the elevated area surrounding the castle with residences for the samurai class and the lower area for the common townsfolk. Three streets including Kamimachi and Shimomachi areas developed as a merchant town at the center of the castle town and are now called “Furui Machinami”(old town). The quaint area has a distinctive atmosphere with its canals flowing by houses with latticed bay windows, sakabayashi (a big ball made of cedar needles) hanging outside the front entrances of the sake breweries, massive doors leading to old-style town houses, and traditional restaurants. From the old town area, a 10-minute walk takes you to the elevated area of Higashiyama Teramachi with many temples that were built according to the temples in Higashiyama, Kyoto. The area is perfect for taking a stroll in the quiet, relaxing atmosphere.
Takayama Jin-ya was originally one of the mansions of the Kanamori clan; however, after the Tokugawa Government brought Hida under its direct control, it served as an office for the local governors dispatched from Edo (now Tokyo). There is a farmer’s market every morning in front of the front gate.
The modern-appearance Hida Takayama Museum of Art standing in harmony with its natural surrounding looks like a work of art itself. It includes a display of a superb world-class glass collection. Hida beef curry at the café is also recommended.
The most popular local delicacy in Gifu is Hida beef. The marbled beef produced in the natural and cool climate in the Hida area has the perfect amount of fat with a delicate texture and is a favorite of meat lovers. Enjoy one of the simple but delicious dishes such as steak, yakiniku, and shabu-shabu. Ayu (sweetfish) from the Nagara River is another local delicacy. Hoba-miso, a staple of the breakfast menus at hotels in Hida, is Hida’s local specialty. Miso paste together with other ingredients is roasted on hoba (magnolia leaf), which is said to have antiseptic properties, creating a mouth-watering aroma. It goes really well with rice, so be careful not to eat too much!
Gifu Prefecture has more than 50 local sake breweries. With the pure water from the Hida mountain range and cool winters, Takayama is especially suitable for sake brewing and growing high-quality rice. Local sake breweries start selling their new sake from mid-January. When you see a sakabayashi, a large cedar ball, hung out under the eaves of a sake brewery, it means the new sake is ready. Don’t hesitate to enter and ask to sample the latest brew. The Takayama Festival is held twice a year. The Spring Takayama Festival, aka the Sanno Festival, is held on April 14 and 15, and the Autumn Festival, aka the Hachiman Festival, is held on October 9 and 10. Gorgeously-decorated floats called yatai are pulled around the area.
From Takayama on the Takayama Line, it takes about 20 minutes to get to Hida-Furukawa, another beautiful old castle town with colorful carp swimming in the channels running through the center. Hida-no-Takumi Bunka Kaikan (craft museum) was built with Hida’s local lumber by local carpenters using skills passed down through generations of Hida craftsmen of construction without using nails. Okuhida Onsen-go hot spring resort includes five hot springs that overlook the Northern Alps. Enjoy a relaxing time in the hot spring baths.
Shirakawa-go is one of the areas with a harsh climate and the most snow in Japan. The famous thatched houses (gassho-zukuri) with steep raftered roofs that look like a pair of hands in prayer (gassho) stand in the idyllic landscape. People have been living in these thatched houses for many decades, even in the heavy snow that lasts for five months of the year. The houses all face the same direction to avoid the snow and wind. The snow-covered houses are lit up in winter, creating an enchanting atmosphere. The traditional rural culture is still very much alive in this area and it is a designated World Heritage Site.
Shiroyama viewpoint is the perfect place to see a panorama of Ogimachi Gassho Village. The Wada House is the biggest gassho-zukuri house in the Ogimachi village. Although the house is currently used as a residence, the first and second floors are open for tourists. The Kanda House, with a fire burning in the irori fireplace throughout the year, has all floors open for tourists. Doburoku Festival Museum on the premises of the Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine offers local unrefined sake (doburoku) tasting. Some gassho-zukuri houses offer accommodations. Enjoy dining on unpretentious dishes while sitting by the fireside.
*Most of the gassho-zukuri houses are still currently used as residences. Please maintain proper tourist manners when walking around in the area.
Inquiries: Shirakawa-go Tourist Information Center
Mountains, Snow, and Waters in Gifu
Gifu Prefecture has mountains over 3,000 meters high, including Mt. Ontake and Mt. Norikura, is blessed with abundant nature. In Goshikigahara forest at the foot of Mt. Norikura, eco-tours are available where you can learn about the ecosystem of the plants and animals with mountain streams, waterfalls, ponds, and wetlands.
Okuhida, famous for having extreme temperature differences, has some of the most beautiful autumn foliage in Japan. Take a ride on the Shinhotaka ropeway to enjoy the spectacular view. Beautiful snowy scenery can be found from November to the end of May. From January to March (dates may vary depending on the weather), there is a “snow corridor” in Sengokuenchi Nature Park near Nishi-Hotaka Station on the Shinhotaka ropeway. The walls of the corridor can be as high as three meters! Between January and May, the usual height of the snow walls is two meters.
Traveling on Nagaragawa Railway
Nagaragawa Railway is a local line running along the Nagara River from Mino-ota Station to Hokuno Station through Seki, Minoshi, and Gujo-Hachiman stations. The Seki and Mino areas are famous for traditional crafts. The cutlery of Seki has been made by skilled craftsmen since the 12th century and is one of the world’s top brands. Popular souvenirs from this area include cooking knives, shavers, make-up scissors, and nail clippers. The Seki Sword Traditional Museum has an exhibition of Japanese sword making. Mino, with 18th century town houses with fire protection walls on the roofs, is famous for washi, Japanese handmade paper. Beautiful washi products such as letter sets, towels, and socks, make perfect souvenirs.