Where is Gifu?
Gifu is a large, landlocked prefecture in the center of Honshu. Takayama, a beautiful town in the mountains, and Shirakawa-go, a collection of small villages even deeper in the mountains, are Gifu's main tourist attractions. The prefectural capital Gifu City is famous for cormorant fishing.
Shirakawa-go, formally Shirakawa-mura, is a historic village in Gifu. Together with Gokayama in Toyama, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on December 9, 1995.
The village is famous for its farmhouses, which are built in a unique architectural style known as gassho. The name means "hands together" as in prayer, referring to the steep roofs that keep the snow off in the winter. Underneath the roofs, the large attic area was used to house silkworms.
Another feature which has brought fame to the village is the recent Japanese game series ['Higurashi no Naku Koro ni'] (2002) and the anime series that followed. Although the village residents are not too altogether thrilled that an anime series depicting large levels of violence has based itself on their village, it has brought the tourists none-the-less. A number of locations from the anime series can be visited in Shirakawa; the most prevalent site being the Hachiman Shrine, the site where the shrine maiden Rika Furude met an unfortunate end and also the major shrine of the village.
Takayama is a city in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. To differentiate it from other places named Takayama, the city is also commonly referred to as Hida-Takayama. Takayama retains a traditional touch like few other Japanese cities, especially in its beautifully preserved old town. It now ranks as one of the prime candidates among travelers wishing to add a rural element into their itineraries.
Takayama gained importance as a source of high quality timber and highly skilled carpenters during the feudal ages. The city was consequently put under direct control of the shogun and enjoyed quite a bit of prosperity considering its remote mountain location. The Takayama Festival, held in spring and autumn, is considered one of Japan's best festivals.
Weather in Gifu
Gifu has a humid subtropical climate that is mild with no dry season, constantly moist (year-round rainfall). Summers are hot and muggy with thunderstorms. Winters are mild with precipitation from mid-latitude cyclones. Seasonality is moderate.
Shirakawa-go Winter Light-Up
The main reason for the steep roofs and massive structure of Shirakawa-go's farmhouses is the large amount of snow the region receives every winter. Ogimachi Village typically gets covered by one to two meters of snow during the peak of the white season. While causing the locals quite a bit of hardship, the snow turns Shirakawa-go into an idyllic winter landscape. To make it even better, the village organizes special illumination events on selected Sunday and Monday evenings in January and February that attract a lot of tourists.
During the light-up event, many of the village's gassho-zukuri farmhouses are lit up individually from 18:00 to 19:30, while the entire village is nicely illuminated by floodlights until around 20:00. Just like during daytime, the Shiroyama Viewpoint is one of the best places to enjoy the sight of the village, but note that the only way to reach the viewpoint during the light-up event is by the walking trail from the village, which can get closed during bad weather. The road to the viewpoint is closed to both cars and pedestrians.
Ogimachi is the biggest village and main attraction of Shirakawa-go. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, the village is home to several dozen well preserved gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.
The farmhouses are quite amazing structures, designed to withstand the harsh winters while providing a place to work and live, and are best seen either covered in snow or surrounded by green fields. Many of the farmhouses are now restaurants, museums or minshuku, where you can stay overnight.
The Shiroyama Viewpoint is located in north of the village center and offers nice views of Ogimachi and its farmhouses. The viewpoint can be accessed through a walking trail (closed during/after heavy snow) in about 15 to 20 minutes from the village center or by a shuttle bus, which stops in front of the tourist information office in the center of the village.
Ainokura is the most remote village in the Gokayama region. It is also the largest of the villages with nearly 20 gassho-zukuri farmhouses. Many of them remain private residences, although a few have been renovated into restaurants, museums, and minshuku.
Ainokura, along with Suganuma and Ogimachi, was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. As it is less developed and harder to get to than Ogimachi, Ainokura is quieter with less tourist traffic, and offers similar attractions including the highly recommend overnight at a farmhouse.
Being so secluded, Ainokura, along with the rest of Gokayama, has been able to maintain a lot of its traditional culture. This can be seen in its folk dances and music, which use many traditional instruments unique to the area. For example, the sasara, an instrument made of over a hundred wooden clappers strung together, is symbolic of the region and is a popular souvenir.
Suganuma, one of the main attractions of Gokayama, is made up of two areas, Suganuma Village and the Gokayama Gassho no Sato. These two areas are connected to each other by a tunnel, which also connects to the parking lot on the hill overlooking the village via an elevator.
Suganuma Village and nine of its gassho-zukuri farmhouses, were designated a UNESCO world heritage site along with Ainokura and Ogimachi in 1995. A beautiful place to see gassho-zukuri farmhouses, the ones here have been well preserved and a few of them have become restaurants, minshuku, and museums showing the daily life and the washi paper and saltpeter industries that sustained the region.
It is situated in a quiet area.
The Takayama Festival (Takayama Matsuri) is ranked as one of Japan's three most beautiful festivals along with Kyoto's Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Yomatsuri. It is held twice a year in spring and fall in the old town of Takayama and attracts large numbers of tourists.
The Spring Festival (April 14-15) is the annual festival of the Hie Shrine in the southern half of Takayama's old town. Since the shrine is also known as Sanno-sama, the spring festival is also called Sanno Festival.
Additionally, the Fall Festival (October 9-10) is the annual festival of the Hachiman Shrine in the northern half of the old town, and the festival is also known as Hachiman Festival.
The spring and fall festivals have similar attractions and schedules. Each festival features its own set of about a dozen festival food stalls (yatai). During the year, the tall and heavily decorated food stalls are stored in storehouses, which are scattered across Takayama's old town (except the floats exhibited in the Yatai Kaikan). A set of replicafood stalls are, furthermore, exhibited year round at the Matsuri no Mori festival museum.
Old Town (Sanmachi Street)
Takayama's old town has been magnificently preserved with many buildings and whole streets of houses dating from the Edo Period (1600-1868), when the city thrived as a wealthy town of merchants.
The southern half of the old town, especially the Sannomachi Street, remains in a particularly pretty state with many old homes, shops, coffee houses and sake breweries, some of which have been in business for centuries. The shops in the area are typically open daily from 9:00 to 17:00.
Some homes in the old town open their doors to the public. They provide a glimpse behind the facade into the former living quarters of the local merchants and exhibit traditional household goods and local arts and crafts.
Due to its beneficial timber resources, the Hida Region around Takayama was put under direct control of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1692. The Takayama Jinya served as the local government office headed by the officials dispatched from Edo (present day Tokyo).
The building complex was in official use until 1969, and is now open to the public as a museum. It includes various beautifully maintained tatami mat rooms that once served as offices, conference rooms, guest rooms and residential space. There is also an interesting interrogation room.
Beside the main building stands a large storehouse built in the 1600s. Known as the biggest traditional rice storehouse in Japan, it now functions as a museum, exhibiting belongings and official documents of past feudal lords, old maps of the Hida Region and historic town plans.
Morning Markets (Asaichi)
Takayama morning market is one of the biggest morning markets in Japan. Two morning markets (Asaichi) are held in Takayama on a daily basis from around 6:30 (7:00 in winter) to noon: One is held in front of the Takayama Jinya, and the other at the Miyagawa River side. At the Miyagawa market, sixty shops and stalls are open in approximately 350 meters from Kaji bashi Bridge to Yayoi bashi Bridge along the Miyagawa River in the center of the town. The stalls on river side sell vegetables, fruits, pickles and spices while shops on the other side sell Japanese sweets and crafts.
Some shops sell Japanese souvenirs such as chopsticks and small items in addition to Takayama local souvenirs including sarubobo dolls and Ichii Itto-bori wooden carvings.
(The number of stalls might decrease to about 10 when it rains or during winter.)
The Jinya-mae market started more than 300 years ago. The origin of the market started with silk raising farmers who sold leaves of mulberry trees and even today only farmers were allowed to open stalls. Many stalls sell fresh green vegetables, dried foods, and homemade pickles, and they are happy to tell you how to eat and to preserve their foods. Unusual ingredients including stems of potato, carrot leaves and wild vegetables can be found.
Furukawa is a small town in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture and the center of the rural municipality of Hida City. Furukawa is situated only about a 15 minute train ride north of the city of Takayama. To distinguish it from identically named places elsewhere in Japan, the town is commonly referred to as Hida Furukawa.
Furukawa is smaller and quieter than Takayama. Like Takayama, the town gained wealth and fame through the high quality timber found in the region and the high level craftsmanship skills of the local carpenters. Like Takayama, Furukawa has a beautifully preserved old town and a famous festival. Held one week after the Takayama Spring Festival, the Furukawa Festival features large drums, barely dressed men and tall, beautifully decorated floats.
The Shin-Hotaka Ropeway is one of Japan's most unique ropeways. It has one of the largest elevation gains in the country as it climbs over 1000 meters up the side of the Hotake Mountain Range, which includes Oku-Hotakedake, Japan's third highest peak. But its most distinguishing feature is its double decker gondola cars, the first of their kind in Japan, which offer excellent views of the Okuhida Region.
The ropeway is actually made up of two ropeways. The first is a short 200 meter climb on a single-story ropeway from the bus stop to Nabedaira Kogen. Here you will find the Shin-Hotaka Visitors Center, a public bath, restaurants, a gift shop, a small art gallery, hiking trails and the departure point of the double decker ropeway. Nabedaira Kogen is also accessible by car, but there is no bus service.
What to eat in Gifu
Hida Beef or Hida-gyu as it is known in Japanese has been voted the best beef in Japan along with Kobe and Matsusaka for a very long time. The Hida region is located in the northern part of Gifu Prefecture, and is an area known for its ancient mountains and hot springs.
The beef is highly prized and famous for its thick marbled fat and quality. You can find Hida Beef everywhere in Hida Takayama from steak, Hida beef burgers and sukiyaki to sushi, takoyaki and ramen toppings.
The ultimate Gifu food and the pride and joy of the prefecture, Ayu is fished from the famed Nagara River. Ayu is a wild sweetfish found in rivers that has been fished here in Gifu Prefecture for over 1,300 years. The Nagara River is one of the cleanest rivers in Japan with the upper stream in Gujo particular pristine. The cleaner the water the better tasting the Ayu, so Gujo has the best reputation for Ayu in Japan.
This unique ramen can be found in Hida Takayama and features thin ramen noodles in a soy based stock. Takayama’s ramen is also called “chuka soba” or Chinese style ramen. It comes in many different varieties ranging from vegetarian to various types of meat.