Gujo Hachiman, a picturesque town nestled in a valley in Gifu Prefecture, is an increasingly popular destination for visitors to Japan. Find out why you should add Gujo to your itinerary…
The first thing you will notice in Gujo is the pristine white castle perched on a mountain above the town centre. Photography fans will find great views from both inside and outside the keep. Indeed, pictures of the castle floating on a sea of clouds have helped to make the town famous.
Gujo Hachiman Castle is surrounded by maple trees, which must be stunning in autumn -- Photo by Emma Parker
This place is a good spot to get your bearings and start your exploration of Gujo. However, unless you have your own transport, you will need to climb up a lot of steep stone steps! Once you make it to the top, reward yourself with a bottle of Gujo Hachiman cider. “Cider” in Japan is not alcoholic, nor does it contain any apples. Rather, cider is a sweet, fizzy drink — just the thing to refresh you after the climb, and the retro bottle features Gujo Odori dancers.
Gujo Cider tastes even better after climbing the mountain! -- Photo by Emma Parker
At the castle ticket booth, you will find a variety of combination tickets on offer. Gujo is a small town with several attractions, so one of these can save you money. A joint ticket for the castle and Hakurankan
museum, where you can see a demonstration of the Gujo Odori dance, costs 650 yen. If you are keen to see everything, a passport for eight different museums costs 1,500 yen. However, I recommend the “Gujo Hachiman Totte Oki Sansaku Coupon”. For 1,050 yen, you get admission to the castle, Hakurankan, and one other museum from a choice of three, plus two coupons that you can exchange for snacks as you explore the town!
The Sansaku Coupon comes with a handy illustrated map and pictures of the snacks that you can choose from! -- Photo by Emma Parker
For the museum visit, choose between the
Saito Art Museum, a tranquil space displaying exquisite items related to tea ceremony, and the
Yudokan, home to a range of quirky creations from a local artist — everything from paper cup castles to leaf fish!
The Saito Art Museum is in the former Saito home, a peaceful oasis in the town centre -- Photo by Emma Parker
From the castle, you will see that the town below is centred around its rivers. Gujo is famous for pure mineral water, which is key to many local industries, from sake brewing to indigo dyeing. Springs are available throughout the town, all with cups on hand, so Gujo is one place where you don't need to look for a vending machine! The most famous is Sogi Sui
, a spring reputedly visited by the famous Kyoto poet Sogi. A shrine has been constructed on the spot and many people come here to drink or collect the water.
Throwing water is a way to cool down the streets in summer. This water comes directly from the nearby river -- Photo by Emma Parker
Right beside the spring is the Kodara River. This and the larger Yoshida River into which it flows are lively places in summer. Children are bathing or daring each other to jump from large rocks, and several fishermen are in pursuit of Japanese trout. You can find these fish on sale at several stalls around town, grilled on sticks over charcoal. Very tasty, the fish are not cheap at 500 yen per small piece. Unagi
, or eel, is another popular summer dish available in many restaurants. Meanwhile, a great place to sit and watch all the aquatic activity is
Yoshidagawa Garden Terrace, where you can cool down with shaved ice drenched in brown sugar syrup.
Fishing is a popular Gujo pastime for those of all ages -- Photo by Emma Parker
The plentiful supply of fresh, cold water has also been put to good use for the mizu-bune (“water boats”) that you can see in front of many houses and shops. Water cascades down a series of wooden troughs, which were traditionally used for different purposes, drinking water at the top and water for laundry at the bottom. Nowadays, you will often find tomatoes, cucumber and other vegetables cooling there in summer.
Cool as a cucumber with this mizu-bune... -- Photo by Emma Parker
And of course, pure water is a prerequisite for high-quality sake. You can sample the local brews at
Ueda Liquor Store or exchange one of your snack coupons for a larger glass. At the same time, you can take a photo with the deep-fried Godzilla on display outside.
Godzilla has never looked this tasty! -- Photo by Emma Parker
The Chubu Region of Japan, in which Gujo is located, is famous for its red miso, which you can find at
Daikokuya, an old-style shop. Besides soup, a popular local miso dish is meat or fish grilled with vegetables on a large hoba
leaf. The dish is often served at ryokan
, but you can buy a leaf spread with flavoured miso here to recreate it at home. Keichan
is another Gujo dish that is good for lunch: chicken cubes marinated in miso before being grilled and served on rice.
Miso and more in this inviting shop. -- Photo by Emma Parker
If you feel like a sweet treat as you stroll around, head to Omamiya
. This charmingly retro sweet shop is the home of another unusual Gujo food, cinnamon-flavoured boiled sweets! These treats are delicious but have quite a kick to them. You can use one of your snack coupons here, too.
So many sweets from which to choose -- Photo by Emma Parker
But perhaps the most memorable way to use your snack coupon is not even edible, though it looks good enough to be. The man who invented models of food, now so common throughout Japan, was from Gujo. Gujo honors this with several shops in the town selling incredibly realistic replicas. Sample no Gujoya
is dominated by an enormous wedding cake, while a whole wall displays grilled fish. Here you will find everything from octopus dumplings to edamame. You can exchange a coupon for a delicious-looking keyring.
Hard to believe these tasty box lunches are not edible -- Photo by Emma Parker
Gujo Hachiman is small enough to enjoy on foot in a day, but its retro streets and laid-back atmosphere will tempt you to linger. If you visit during July or August, the Gujo Odori dance will keep you entertained for much of the night, too. So, head over for a memorable and tasty experience!
ACCESS: Gujo Hachiman can be reached by train from Nagoya in about two and a half hours, changing in Tajimi and again in Mino-Ota. The final 90 minutes of the journey is on the picturesque Nagaragawa Tetsudo private line. If you are driving, you can also enjoy visits to Hida-Takayama and Shirakawago.
Start your explorations at the Castle, the heart of Gujo Hachiman