Japan Onsen Guides: Gero Onsen Gifu Prefecture
Gifu Prefecture: Gero Onsen 下呂温泉
Gero, situated on the banks of the crystal clear Hida River, in a pleasant mountainous valley in Gifu Precture, is within easy reach of Nagoya via Nakatsugawa on the Chuo Expressway and then route 257, direct from Nagoya on route 41 or by JR train on the Takayama Honsen north from Nagoya Station and Gifu or south from Takayama and Toyama.
Gero has been known as a noted hot-spring center since the 10th century and is one of Japan's "Three Famous Springs" (Nihon Sanmeisen) along with Arima Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture near Kobe and Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma Prefecture.
The main hot spring hotels and ryokan lie nestled in the hills to the north of Gero's JR Station across the Hida River.
There are free rotemburo (open air spas) on the rocky river banks of the river and some interesting public baths (sento) where the visitor can take a hot dip for a nominal fee, such as the Shirasagi-no-Yu, which opened in 1926 and has good views of the river below from its aromatic cypress bath.
Scattered throughout Gero are numerous footbaths (ashi-no-yu) - shallow hot pools where visitors can sit on wooden benches and soak their aching feet.
Onsenji Temple is a peaceful hilltop temple with fine views of Gero town below.
The pleasant Gero Onsen Museum in the center of town exhibits historical documents of the town's history as an onsen resort, maps and also has information on other spas in Japan as well as its very own footbath.
Onsenji Temple, up the hill behind Gero Onsen Museum, is well worth the short climb of its 173 stone steps for its tranquility and fantastic views of the valley below. The temple is instrinsically connected with the town's main symbol - the white heron or egret (shirasagi) which can be seen on manhole covers and railings around Gero. The town was flattened by an earthquake in 1265, which caused the main hot springs to dry up.
Legend has it that a white heron led the villagers to a new source of gushing hot water near the Mashita River. The bird then settled in a pine tree, at the foot of which was an image of the Buddha. The grateful inhabitants built Onsenji Temple in thanks for their salvation. The steps to the temple are lined with many graves of the Takekawa family - important local shipping and timber entrepreneurs in the Edo Period.
One stop north from Gero on the JR Line towards Takayama is Zenshoji, which is famous for Zenshoji Temple, a Zen temple noted for its garden and teahouse and an ink painting by Sesshu (1420-1506) - a Buddhist priest and sumi-e painter. Zenshoji Temple is a 5-minute walk from Zenshoji Station.
Mori Hachiman Shrine, located on the north bank of the Hida River and set within an ancient copse, contains 10 carved, primitive statues of Shinto deities dating from the 11th century, which have been designated as Important Cultural Properties. The carvings are kept in an impressively locked and bolted storehouse to your left as you enter the shrine.
Mori Hachiman Shrine hosts a Heian era style festival (Hanagasa Matsuri) on February 14th every year when people of the town dance wearing hats decorated with colored paper.
A short car, bus journey or twenty minute walk north east of Gero town is Gero Onsen Gassho Village (Admission 800 yen; children 400 yen; 8.15am-5pm; Tel: 0576 25 2239) where 10 thatched A-frame longhouses from the UNESCO World Heritage site of nearby Shirakawa-go have been re-assembled. There is also a museum of komainu - stone dog guardians, and occasional performances by traveling theater groups.
There is a morning produce market (April - November) on your right on the road up to the Gassho Village. The same venue hosts a night market, too, July through August. Gero has a local beer - Gero Gensen Beer - and two sake breweries; the tea, rice, beef and fresh vegetables are considered local delicacies. Gero is also famous for its tomato juice, drunk as a detox after your hot bath.
Gero plays host to a number of festivals throughout the year.
The Tanokami or Hanagasa Festival, which originates from Mori Hachiman Shrine is a dance involving young people wearing colorful paper hats held annually on February 14.
In early April, the nearby village of Osaka holds a Spring festival involving lion dances and cockfights.
The Ryujin Fire Festival is held on August 1 each year followed by a parade of Geisha floats and Geisha dances on the 2nd and a music and fireworks festival on the river bank on August 3rd.
There are also amateur kabuki performances in May and November and fireworks displays with music in August and December.
Gero Tourist Office
Gero Tourist Office
It is possible to stay in a variety of ryokan or minshuku in Gero and details can be obtained from either the Gero tourist office near the station or in Nagoya.
Zenshoji Temple famous for its ink painting by Sesshu, beautiful garden and ancient cedar tree.
A hire car is ideal for exploring the area around Gero, though it is possible to visit some of the nearest attractions by train or bus. A short distance north of Gero is the excellent Zenshoji Temple (禅昌寺, mentioned above), a Rinzai-sect Buddhist temple, which displays an ink painting Happo Nirami Daruma by the celebrated artist Sesshu and also features a lovely garden in the rear of the temple. An ancient, huge cedar tree over 1000 years old is also one of Zenshoji's main sights. Close to Hida-Hagiwara, the next station along the line is the spacious Kuzu Hachiman Shrine, also surrounded by huge cedar trees.
To the north east accessed by bus from the village of Hida-osaka is the beautiful Gandate Gorge, at the base of Mt. Ontake, famed for its waterfalls such as the Mitsudake Falls and spectacular autumn foliage. There are numerous hiking trails along the Osaka River. Visible from Gandate Koen is the huge 72m tall and 120m wide rock wall from where the trails head off into the mountains.
Gandate Gorge is known for its rock wall, mountain hikes, spectacular waterfalls and autumn leaves.
From Nagoya Station or Gifu take the JR Takayama Honsen Line Wide View Hida express (tokkyu; 3990 yen; 1 hour 28 minutes) north to Gero or travel south on the same line from Takayama and Toyama (2 hours 16 minutes).
Gero Bus Station is directly opposite JR Gero Station.
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