Japan City Guides: Gujo Hachiman, Gifu Prefecture
Gujo Hachiman, Gifu 郡上八幡
Located on an old trade route north to the Japan Sea, Gujo sits in a valley where the Yoshida, Kodara and Nagara Rivers all converge to form a natural moat around the town.
Gujo's castle, which originally dates from the mid sixteenth century, was pulled down in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and rebuilt on a grander scale in 1933. There are fine views looking down on the town from the castle, which is a 20-30 minute hike uphill from the center of Gujo Hachiman from the main bridge.
The prevalence of Gujo's fast-running, clean water streams has seen the town's citizens build a system of channels and stone or wooden basins (mizu fune) to provide drinking water and places to wash vegetables and even laundry. Nowadays these pretty water channels are stocked with an abundance of koi carp.
The Sogi Sui water spring and shrine, named after a fifteenth century Japanese poet, is a tourist draw and a place to sample Gujo's fresh mineral water.
The town's deep rivers are noted for their supply of Japanese trout (ayu) and provide a safe place for children to make their traditional rite of passage jumps from Gujo's main bridges. In winter, the waters are also used by local indigo dyers to fix their fabric dyes.
Gujo's streets are lined with wood and plaster Edo Period-style buildings with the sound of running water everywhere in evidence. British writer Alan Booth's description of the town in his 1995 book Looking For The Lost still rings true: "The lanes...are narrow, steeply walled, and end in dimly lanterned eating places or in small stone bridges that arch over splashing streams. It was like an Edo-era stage set."
There are a number of temples and shrines worth visiting in Gujo. Jionji has a noted Zen Garden famed for its autumn leaves, Anyoji is the largest wooden temple in Gifu Prefecture.
Gujo Hachiman is now best known for its annual Gujo Odori, which lasts for 31 festive nights from mid-July to mid-September and includes four nights of all-night street dancing involving thousands of yukata-clad dancers during the Obon Festival in mid-August.
Accommodation fills up fast at this time so book early or stay in nearby Nagoya or Gifu. The dance festival dates from the Edo Period (1603-1868), when the feudal lord Endo Yoshitaka supposedly encouraged the dances to bring his subjects together. There are ten traditional dances and visitors can take lessons in season at the Tourist Office.
Gujo also hosts a dai kagura lion dance festival in Spring and a amazake (sweet sake) festival to mark the end of winter.
Gujo has several small museums: the Gujo Hachiman Hakurankan/City Museum explains the town's history and the Odori dance festival, the Saito Museum is a tea ceremony museum, the Omodakaya Museum exhibits local folk crafts and the Yudokan Art Gallery features origami.
It is also possible to visit a couple of local craft workshops on a limited basis: the Watababe Indigo Dyers and Shima Bamboo Crafts. Gujo Hachiman also lays claim to inventing plastic food replicas and to producing 80% of Japan's total food replica output!
There are a number of interesting cave complexes near Gujo which can be explored, including the 800m long Otaki Shonyudo - with a 30m high waterfall - the tallest underground waterfall in Japan. The entrance to the cave is reached by funicular.
Gujo Hachiman Tourist Office
Accommodation in Gujo
It is possible to stay in a variety of ryokan or minshuku in Gujo Hachiman and details can be obtained from the tourist office in town or in Nagoya.
There are express Meitetsu buses from both Gifu Station (approx 1 hour; every 30 minutes) and Nagoya Station (approx 1 hour, 40 minutes-2 hours; 2 buses a day) or take the more scenic but slower train route from Nagoya Station (2 hours and 45 minutes). This involves catching a JR Takayama Line train to Mino Ota via Gifu, then changing to the Nagaragawa Railway for the journey to Gujo Hachiman Station.
There are Kintetsu West Liner Highway buses from Osaka from Osaka JR Station, Osaka City Air Terminal (OCAT) or Universal Studios. The journey takes 3 hours and 30 minutes and the bus stops outside town - take a taxi to the center.
By car take the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway north from Ichinomiya to Gujo Hachiman Interchange or National Highway 156 from Gifu city.
The journey back to Nagoya on the Expressway and Highway can be crowded on public holidays and weekends.
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