Japan City Guides: Gifu
- Situated 30km north of Nagoya
- Known for its castle on the historic Nakasendo highway
- Population: 400,000
- Famous for its comorant fishing and paper products
- Easy to navigate on foot, rental bicycle or bus
- Town has excellent museums
- Number one attraction is Gifu Castle
- Easy day trip from Nagoya
Gifu is a pleasant, relaxing town only 30 minutes by train from Nagoya. The administrative capital of Gifu prefecture, the town was devastated by an earthquake in 1891 and again later in World War II, but has been rebuilt and its historic buildings carefully restored.
Gifu Castle (Tel: 058 263 4853), in Gifu Park, is located on the summit of the 300m-high Mount Kinka and was previously known as Inabayama Castle. Gifu Castle is associated with the life of local Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who strengthened the castle's fortifications and renamed the fortress after moving his power base from Kiyosu Castle to the south.
Present-day Gifu Castle dates from the 1950s and exhibits collections of Edo Period armor and weapons. There are spectacular views from the top observation deck over the Nagara River below. A small museum below the castle contains musical instruments and other period artifacts and is included in the price of admission.
There's a restaurant with excellent views, beer and food just up from the ropeway station at the top of the mountain.
Gifu Castle was reconstructed in 1956
View of the Oda Nobunaga statue outside Gifu Station
Gifu Park, a short bus journey from Gifu JR or Meitetsu stations, also offers Nawa Insect Museum (Tel: 058 263 0038) with over 18,000 species of insects on display and the Gifu City Museum of History (Tel: 058 265 0010).
Near where Gifu Park meets the Nagara River is the Chinese-style Japan-China Friendship Garden and a monument to haiku-master, Basho, who spent time in the town and admired the cormorant fishing.
Nearby is Shohiji Temple (Tel: 058 264 2760) with a 13.7m-tall image of Buddha made from lacquered paper on a basketwork frame and completed in 1832. Jyozaiji Temple (Tel: 058 263 6632) just round the corner has a pleasant garden to sit and take in the serenity. The large Inaba Shrine is just a short walk further south.
Besides Gifu Castle, the town's other main tourist draw is the summer cormorant fishing (ukai) on the clear Nagara River. After dark from mid-May to mid-October, excursion boats can be hired, from hotels and at the booking office (Tel: 058 262 0104) just below Nagara Bridge, to participate in a traditional practice of catching Japanese sweetfish (ayu) using comorants.
The cormorants are tethered by rings around the neck so that they don't swallow the fish and the birds are released in to the river in search of Japanese trout from long, covered, wooden fishing boats with braziers out front to attract the fish.
The captured fish are salted and grilled on charcoal and traditionally served up with soy sauce, Japanese beer and sake.
Ukai cormorant fishing from river boats also takes place in Arashiyama in Kyoto and other river towns around Japan.
The best view for spectators is the far bank of the Nagara River. Gifu Castle is clearly visible on the hill above.
Near the boat office is the historic Kawaramachi Street with restored Meiji Period and earlier wooden buildings. Another good riverside walk is across the Nagara River in the "Greenway Cormorant Fishing Village" which contains the often traditional houses of the masters of the ukai fishing boats on the banks of the river and various monuments to their traditional 1,300-year-old trade, which has enabled them to become some of the richest people in Gifu.
Also on the north bank of the Nagara River are the modern Nagaragawa Convention Center (Tel: 058 296 1200), Mirai Hall (Tel: 058 296 0886) and the Gifu Memorial Sports Center (Tel: 058 233 8822), which is the home stadium of the Gifu FC J-League soccer team, perennial strugglers near the foot of the second division and very much in a dire financial predicament after attaining professional status in 2007 and joining the J-League the following year.
Kasamatsu Racecourse: Enjoy a day at the races at the picturesque Kasamatsu racecourse. Situated on the banks of the Kiso River, races begin at 11 am and continue until about 4pm. Food and refreshments are available at the many local food stalls. Information about fixtures and wow to bet are available from Horse Racing in Japan
Admission: 100 yen. Meetings are held twice a month. Location: A five minute walk from Kasamatsu Meitetsu station (minutes from Meitetsu Gifu Station).
International tennis can be seen during Golden Week (Late April-early May) in Gifu. The Kangaroo Cup, formally known as the Japan Ladies Open has been held every year since 1990. Part of the ITF challenger tour it gives the opportunity to see promising players of the future. Star players, Ana Ivanovic, Kimiko Date and Ai Sugiyama have appeared in this tournament in recent years.
Location: Nagaragawa Tennis Plaza in the Gifu Memorial Center. Admission free. Buses available from JR Gifu station stand number 11. Further info at www.itftennis.com
Baseball: Chunichi Dragons and the Yomiuri Giants play at least one game a year at the Nagaragawa baseball ground in the Gifu Memorial Centre.
View of the Nagaragawa River from Mt. Kinka
Gifu Castle keep on the summit of Mt. Kinka
North of the Nagara River there is a pleasant riverside park with a roller-blading space and a memorial to marathon runner Takahashi Naoko (aka Q-chan), one of Gifu's most famous daughters who won the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the women's marathon. Also of interest is nearby Sofukuji Temple (Tel: 058 231 2613), which is associated with Nobunaga Oda and his family.
The riverside park on the north bank is a good location to watch the large fireworks displays held on the Nagara River on the last Saturday in July and the first Saturday in August. Both events draw hundreds of thousands of spectators.
The Nagara River Park Tejikara Fire Festival is held on the second Saturday in August and also the second Saturday of April at Tejikarao Shrine (Access from Tejikara Station on the Meitetsu-Kamigahara Line).
There are a number of shops selling Gifu's signature goods in the shopping arcades north of Gifu JR Station around Kogane Shrine and on Yanagase Street.
Other places off interest in the city are Bairin Park, which is famous for plum blossoms and has an excellent, traditional noodle restaurant nearby.
South of JR Gifu Station are the remains of Kano Castle, Kano Tenmangu Shrine and the Gifu Museum of Fine Arts (Tel: 058 271 1313) near Gifu Library.
Heartful Square Peace Room
A room not only dedicated to the citizens of Gifu who were killed during the later stages of World War Two but also to the promotion of peace. The Heartful Square Peace Room contains graphic images of the devastation caused by war and some interesting artifacts from the period. At the front of the room peace scarves, banners and flags are dedicated to promoting international peace. From Gifu JR station pass through the main ticket barrier; go past the Gifu Tourism Office and proceed to the adjacent building, take the right hand passage way by the stage and follow it until you reach the peace room.
Heartful Square Peace Room, Gifu
Eating & Drinking in Gifu
If you are looking for Indian food in Gifu with vegetarian options, Indo Dining Himalaya (Tel: 0582 32 0312) comes recommended. The restaurant is located at Noritake 428-40, Dai Ni Kawa, Kita Plaza 101.
The Bier Hall
The Bier Hall has been popular with expats and locals alike for over twenty years. Run by a friendly couple it has reasonably priced beer and offers good bar meals.
Location: Five minute walk north of JR Gifu station.
Beer garden: a beer garden is open during July and August underneath the tower building a few minutes' walk on the concourse from JR Gifu station.
Much of Gifu's nightlife is centered on one street, Kinkabashi Dori, running north from Gifu Station up to Takashimaya department store from the Comfort Hotel Gifu. There are a number of traditional Japanese eateries plus foreign-style pubs and bars.
Gifu Station Square
Gifu Tourist Information
Gifu Tourist Information Office (Tel: 058 262 4415) is on the 2nd floor of the JR station building. Open daily from 9am-7pm (closes at 6pm from December to February), information is available in English, Korean, French and Chinese. English speaking staff.
Gifu Convention and Visitors Bureau (Tel: 058 263 7291) is next to the Gifu City Hall South Office.
Hotels in Gifu City
Gifu city has a cluster of 3 and 2 star hotels around Gifu JR Station and Gifu Meitetsu Station. For more luxury head north nearer to Gifu Castle and the Gifu Miyako Hotel.
Chubu International Airport is the nearest airport to Gifu. There are direct connecting trains on the Meitetsu Centrair service (55 minutes).
Gifu is 30km north from Nagoya. By Tokaido Shinkansen, Nagoya is 52 minutes from Osaka and 1 hour 40 minutes from Tokyo.
From Nagoya Station, Gifu is less than 30 minutes by either JR Tokaido Line or the Meitetsu Nagoya Line. From Inuyama, Gifu is also around 30 minutes travel time by Meitetsu train.
Buses To & From Gifu
Getting Around Gifu
Gifu's street cars (trams) no longer run, though you can see one preserved in downtown Kogane Park. There are numerous city buses running from the bus station outside the JR station.
Cheap bicycle hire is available from the Tourist Office (Tel: 058 262 4415) on the 2nd floor of the JR station building, Gifu Park, Gifu City Hall (South Office) and the Cormorant Fishing Viewing Boat Office.
Map of Gifu City
View Nagoya & Gifu Map - Aichi & Gifu Prefectures in a larger map
Fee: 100 yen/day. Return bicycle to any of the reception points
JR Gifu Station south exit
Gifu City Hall South Office 1F
Gifu General Information Office
Cormorant Fishing Office