Located in the mountainous Gifu region in the center part of mainland Japan, Gujo Hachiman is an attractive castle town filled with a classical rural feel.
Recently my wife and I visited the town to check out its majestic castle and impressive streets filled with traditional houses.
The Gujo Hachiman Castle, made up of a five-storied white donjon, stone walls and various scaffolding, is considered as one of the most beautiful mountain castles in Japan, and has been the symbol of town ever since its foundation in 1559.
Situated high on the top of Mount Shiroyama, the castle enabled us to look down the whole of Gujo Hachiman town, along with surrounding mountains, rivers and irrigation channels.
While looking around the castle, we saw how cleverly traditional wooden buildings, turrets, scaffolding and walls were laid out to prevent enemies from invading.
For all the castle’s beauty, a tombstone on a corner of castle hit us. The inscription on it detailed how a young girl called Oyoshi was buried alive at that spot as a human sacrifice when the castle was refurbished.
Going out of the castle, we went down to the center of town. It was fun walking along the classic-looking Shokunin and Kajiya Streets, home to impressive traditional wooden town houses. As the town is surrounded by the Kodaragawa and Yoshida Rivers and irrigation channels, wind from the rivers kept us cool even on such a hot day.
Among the many bridges over the rivers, the beautiful red wooden Shimizubashi Bridge over the Kodaragawa River is must-see spot where you can take nice photos against three or four-storied tiny houses built along the river bank.
Overall, streets were very clean and attractive.
We noticed there were large white lanterns with black letters that read, “Gujoodori” (Gujo-dancing), hanging over the street. We stopped by a local liquor shop under one of the lanterns to chat with the shopkeeper.
These lanterns are being lit up throughout the period of Gujo Odori, a local bon odori festival held from mid-July through the beginning of September, according to Hiroyuki Matsuura, the owner of Ueda Saketen.
Through chatting with Matsuura, we learned that the festival is known as one of the three best bon dances in Japan, and has been a yearly tradition for more than 400 years.
“While regular dancing continues every evening for nearly two months, 32 nights on and around bon period (Aug. 13-16), we dance overnight,” Matsuura said. “The overnight dancing is called Urabon-e.”
Unfortunately, we only visited the town for a day stroll, but decided we’d return for an overnight to enjoy the festival one year.
Matsuura explains that he and other residents are very proud of their town and have paid good attention in keeping it clean and beautiful.
“I feel the majestic castle, clean water, traditional Gujo Odori, and a lot of other cultural assets have kept us united and motivated us to preserve them for the next generations,” Matsuura said.
After leaving Matsuura’s shop with a few souvenirs, we visited a sluice gate housed in tiny wooden building, which is called Sogisui Spring. Here, we sampled the spring water, which was once named the top mineral water in Japan.
Hachiman Town (Gujo City)
Location: Gujo City, Gifu Prefecture
Attractions: Gujo Hachiman Castle, Soogisui Water Spring, Shokunin Street, Kajiya Street
Gujo Hachiman Castle
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Sept. – June),
Location: Yanagimachi, Gujo City, Gifu Pref.
Admission: adult: 310 yen, 14 and below: 150 yen
Uueda Sake Ten
Location: 846-3 Honmachi, Hachimancho, Gujo City, Gifu Pref.